Chef Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore understand the empowering potential of food. It’s seem them launch a series of spaces (‘Refettorios’) around the world where the needy can enjoy gourmet meals cooked with food waste in a dignified setting, under the banner of their Food for Soul non-profit.
It’s also led them to get involved with a similarly worthy project a lot closer to home, both literally and figuratively.
Il Tortellante was launched in 2016 in Modena, Italy, home to Bottura, his family and their three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana restaurant, as a way to support young people with autism and their families. Bottura and Gilmore themselves have a son, Charlie, with special needs and were looking for an after school project for him.
At Il Tortellante, these young people are paired with Modense women known as the ‘Rezdore,’ the mothers, grandmothers and aunts, mostly retired, who have for years cooked for their families, to teach them how to make tortellini pasta, a staple in Emilia-Romagna and the one food Bottura, who grew up in Modena, says he would take to a desert island. The kids are then allowed to take the pasta they’ve made home to their families.
Until recently, autism was not classified as an adult disability in Italy, and Bottura says Il Tortellante has given the kids an “open future,” something they didn’t have previously. “After high school there’s nothing for them to do,” he says. Their families have been given hope too and have reported significant decreases in stress. The project is also improving the lives of the Rezdore and helping to keep handmade pasta-making traditions alive. “We’re transferring the traditions from the grandmothers to the kids,” says Bottura.
What started out with 10 boys aged 14 to 20 has now grown and Bottura and Gilmore have just been given the keys to a new site in Modena, which will house a lab for the project and a shop where the handmade pasta will be sold when it opens later in 2018. “Now we start the restoration, because right now the mayor of Modena really believes in what we’re doing,” says Bottura.
Watch Lara Gilmore speak about the project at the Yedi conference in Istanbul last October, in the video below. Like Food for Soul, there is the seed of an idea here that could grow and blossom into a movement.