RIO DE JANEIRO — Consider what it takes to keep all those Olympian machines nourished and hydrated for one meal at the Rio Games: 250 tons of raw ingredients to fill the bellies of
18,000 athletes, coaches and officials in the Olympic Village.
Now multiply that figure by three — for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and again for each day of the Games.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Italian chef Massimo Bottura also did the math and was inspired, not by the tantalizing dimensions of herculean consumption but by the prospect of colossal waste.
“I thought, this is an opportunity to do something that can make a difference,” said Mr. Bottura, 53, a fast-talking blur of a man whose restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana, recently earned the top award from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
On Thursday night, that something looked like this: In a fraying section of downtown Rio, a pack of the world’s most venerated chefs were rushing around a slapdash kitchen amid a crush of volunteers as they improvised a dinner for 70 homeless people.
All of the ingredients, most of which might have otherwise been thrown away, had been donated, as had the labor of the chefs and orange-aproned servers, some of whom had traveled to Rio from California, Germany and Japan.
The creators of this place, Refettorio Gastromotiva — refettorio means dining hall in Italian — hope it will change the way Brazilians, and the world, think about hunger, food waste and the nourishing of human dignity.
“This is not just a charity; it’s not just about feeding people,” said Mr. Bottura, pausing to pick
In the days since it began operating on Wednesday out of a hastily erected translucent box in the downtrodden neighborhood of Lapa, Refettorio Gastromotiva has become something of a sensation: a feel-good counterpoint to the commercialization of the Games, and to the gluttony that unfolds each night in the pop-up pavilions that many countries have set up throughout the city.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and the Brazilian actress and television host Regina Casé have stopped by, and culinary luminaries like Alain Ducasse, Virgilio Martínez Véliz and Joan Roca are among the 50 chefs who have signed up for kitchen shifts.
On Thursday night, Alex Atala, who runs D.O.M., one of Brazil’s top-rated restaurants, and is the former host of a popular cooking show, helped prepare the evening’s menu: Italian-style couscous with sautéed beef and panzanella, a Tuscan bread-and-tomato dish that was produced with ingredients donated by the catering companies that supply the Olympic Village.
Mr. Atala said the astounding deluge of international support was born of seemingly unrelated global movements: the growing awareness of food waste, the rise of the celebrity chef and widespread frustration over the persistence of hunger in even the most developed countries.
“We are a generation of young chefs who are not competing with each other, but who want to share,” Mr. Atala, 48, said.
The project is not Mr. Bottura’s first venture into culinary philanthropy. During the World Expo in Milan last year, he turned an abandoned theater into Refettorio Ambrosiano, and the center continues to operate.
His latest refettorio is a collaboration with David Hertz, a Brazilian chef who has spent the past decade training disadvantaged men and women to work as kitchen assistants and spreading the gospel of slow food, a movement that emphasizes local culinary traditions and high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.
His nonprofit, Gastromotiva, runs four schools in Brazil that have graduated 2,500 people, most of whom have been snapped up quickly by restaurants across the country. A branch in Mexico City produced its first class last month, and another is set to open in South Africa in September.
Those successes have earned Mr. Hertz speaking engagements at TED Talks and at the World Economic Forum, but he said he had grown frustrated by what he described as the “empty talk” of the moneyed elite.
Nine months before the start of the Games, and with little time to waste, Mr. Hertz persuaded the city’s mayor to provide an empty lot, and Mr. Bottura began the difficult task of raising $250,000.
They found a chilly reception, an outgrowth of the political polarization that has roiled Brazil amid efforts to force President Dilma Rousseff from office, said Cristina Reni, the refettorio’s project manager.