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Serving up a better future
At Miele, striving for betterment is a constant driving force. This too is the case for restaurateur Lara Gilmore.
While the rich and famous clamour for a table at their feted restaurant, it is the poor and underprivileged who they enthusiastically feed – for free.
As the power couple behind the reigning World’s Best restaurant, Lara Gilmore – together with her husband Massimo Bottura – are the brightest stars in the culinary world right now, and their lives are decidedly glamorous. Though based in Modena, Italy, where Osteria Francescana operates, they jet-set to ritzy cities like New York (from which Lara hails) , London and Paris; they hang out with the biggest names in the global food scene, from David Chang and Daniel Humm to Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adria; and earlier this year, they opened a restaurant on the grounds of the swanky Gucci Garden in Florence, Italy.
Yet they remain down-to-earth, driven neither by fame nor fortune, but a fervent passion for food, art and the community. Where Massimo is the excitable face of the restaurant, Lara, who oversees the operation’s growth and international marketing and communications, is the energetic yet measured counterpart. Daughter to the man who was editor-in-chief for Reader’s Digest, Lara learnt the value of dedication from a young age. And through her mother who was a social worker, she was exposed to volunteerism early in her life, and was engaged in various activities from teaching younger children to read to singing in prisons on family day. “What I learned from those early experiences is that community can be defined in many different ways,” she shares. “And often, our sense of community comes from what we do for others rather than what we do for ourselves.”
Her community: the world
Later in her life, as mother to a special needs son, Lara formed a community for parents like herself. “We formed a support network for other families who face similar issues, and together we have created many opportunities for our children and their families. This family organisation has gone on to become a non-profit association – Tortellante.” In November 2018, Tortellante will launch a fresh pasta lab and workshop where young adults with autism can learn to make traditional Modenese tortellini. “I am very proud of this work because it brings together two worlds that I care deeply about – the culinary and the social – in an extraordinary way,” enthuses Lara.
Yet more than mother to her own two children, Lara is also mother to Osteria Francescana’s team of 40 that hails from four corners of the world. This means that her family has expanded beyond geo-political boundaries – and that her worldview has changed. So while others might have leveraged on their prominence and popularity to expand the business empire, Lara and Massimo are devoting their energies to another kind of expansion: the spreading of their idea that food can create good for the world.
Active members in the international culinary conference circuit, Lara and Massimo started noticing “a new kind of chef community forming; one that was crossing barriers and bringing culinary ideas into the social realm” – a community that they are certainly part of. In 2010 a recipe – An eel swimming up the Po River – was used to highlight ecological and economic problems in the parks of the Po River. The same recipe inspired the production of a short film and a movement to clean up the lagoons. When the 2012 earthquakes in Emilia Romagna devastated the local Parmigiano Reggiano production, threating to put some 360,000 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano to waste and putting heritage artisans out of business, the couple used a cleverly simple recipe of risotto cacio e pepe to make a worldwide appeal for people buy and use the cheeses. Every single wheel was saved. “When discussions around Expo 2015 began back in 2013, we were already aligned mentally and emotionally to embrace the theme – Feed the Planet – with an idea and a message of our own,” says Lara. At the Milan expo, they set up Refettorio Ambrosiano – their first community kitchen designed to feed the poor with cleverly repurposed supermarket scraps and restaurant leftovers. This would lead to the founding of Food for Soul in 2016. Since then, the Food for Soul refettorios (communal dining halls) have been mushrooming around the globe, with outposts in Rio de Janeiro, London and Paris. The couple are also in talks with the Rockefeller Foundation with regards to setting up a facility in North America. To date, the organisation has helped to turn over 45 tonnes of potential food waste into delicious meals for more than 150,000 guests at their various refettorios.
The refettorios are also a platform for Lara and Massimo to spread their love for art. “Beauty is a universal good that cannot be divided. The more beauty there is, the more there is. It really is as simple as that,” says Lara, who majored in fine arts in university. “Beauty is often considered superfluous to social projects. We see Beauty, in this broader definition, as the means to the message. It is a universal language and next to good food, enhances the way all of us live.” Thus rather than following a certain aesthetic, the refettorio projects are designed to “resonate with communities, welcome and represent them,” explains Lara. “Beauty can be a great unifier but without hospitality it can also be superficial. In all of our projects we try to add value by applying the same principles that Osteria Francescana was built on: the quality of the idea, the power of beauty and the value of hospitality.”
They might have been called crazy and told that what they want to do is impossible – yet that is exactly what drives Lara and Massimo. “We like to imagine the impossible and make it come to life. But both of us get a lot of energy and enthusiasm from working with people outside the culinary world. Creating synergies between the arts, sciences, and humanities keeps us on our toes. Making connections between different worlds is one of the things that drives me. For example, when I see an 80 year old grandmother teaching a 14 year old autistic boy how to make homemade pasta, it fills me with joy because I see that they are helping each other: it is a two way exchange. Creating opportunities like this is a driving force in my life. And I have found over the years that through gastronomy, the unexpected leads to incredible discoveries.”
Just as Lara extends her reach through collaborations with the like-minded – both within and outside of the culinary industry, Miele has been working with a diverse range of community partners around the world to champion social projects, especially in the areas of learning, education and culture. While the Miele Foundation focuses on the promoting public welfare in the German city of Gütersloh – the home of the company, its subsidiaries around the world have lent their support to initiatives ranging from buildings schools and homes for underprivileged children to making donations for critically ill children. After all, it is all part of the company’s slogan “Immer Besser” – through building a kinder world, we build a better future.