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Food for Soul: Lara Gilmore's refettori are no ordinary soup kitchens

In the ancient crypt beneath La Madeleine church in Paris is a beautiful dining room. Designer plates are set at the wooden tables, the warm glow of small lamps sets off translucent clouds that hang from the curved sandstone ceiling … the clouds have been suspended just so by acclaimed French artist JR.

 This is a place designed to restore faith, but it is a faith that has little to do with the religion espoused in the church above.

 Beyond the dining room a kitchen bustles, preparing for service. The room is full each night, serving a three-course menu that changes daily depending on the available produce. This hidden kitchen has played host to some of the world’s best chefs, from Ann Sophie Pic to Alain Passard, from Alex Atala to Dominique Crenn.

 As with all the finest dining rooms around the world, this Refettorio is a place where food and hospitality are combined with art and culture. And yet, these are no ordinary restaurants (now one of four, Refettorio Paris has sister kitchens in Milan, Rio de Janeiro and London); ostensibly they’re soup kitchens, but, again, these are no ordinary soup kitchens. When it comes to Lara Gilmore and her husband Massimo Bottura, co-owners of Osteria Francescana and founders of Food for Soul, we have learnt to expect the unexpected.

“The unspoken can give value and an immediate sense of wellbeing,” explains Gilmore, “to seat someone at a beautiful wood table, with silverware and a plate that isn’t plastic – it says I trust you, it makes someone feel different. These small details communicate big messages and that can make change happen.”

Read the full story online at Good Food.