Slow Food Heroes: Cooking for Those in Need

Francesco and Hugo, two friends from Italy, own a gourmet restaurant in Brussels named Racine. During the first shutdown, they had to close their business indefinitely, like many others in the city. Once the shock passed, they decided to lend a helping hand to local organizations, and began cooking for those in need.

We are Hugo and Francesco, we come from Italy, and arrived in Belgium about 8 years ago to open our restaurant Racines in Brussels. We’ve been following the Slow Food movement for twenty years now, and we’re clearly building our approach to food on their philosophy.

We offer meat that does not come from beef, but from old cows raised in Belgium, and we do not buy large quantities. We decided to do the opposite of what people usually expect, that is, vegetables are the main dish and meat is the side dish. It takes time for customers to get used to it, but we get there. As for the fish, we only buy sustainably caught around the Belgian coasts by small-scale fishermen. Also, we no longer give our customers a choice of what they will eat. When they come to our restaurant, they just need to sit back and let themselves be amazed. This allows us to be more creative and significantly reduce food waste.

When the first lockdown started (March 2020), we had to shut down for weeks, and found ourselves with massive amounts of fresh pasta leftovers. We decided to reach out to a local organization called “No Javel,” a group that fights waste and precarious livelihoods, and has a grocery store for needy people who get their food there for free. When COVID19 struck, many workers in the catering sector ended up with nothing, as all bars, cafes and restaurants were told to close indefinitely. At that time, the organization began helping about 150-200 families whose members worked in the catering sector.

At Racines we have been fortunate enough to continue to do well during lockdown. We started making takeaway menus which were very popular but knowing that 200 of our colleagues in Brussels had not had the same luck, we decided to help them in any way we could. We started making boxes of fresh pasta that “la javelle” can be divided among all families. We gain nothing from it, it was all voluntary which our team happily accepted. In all, we produced 25 kg of fresh pasta (equivalent to 175 servings) for “No Javel”.

Besides, we also participated in a solidarity project with another organization “Waste No More”, which had a partnership with “Feed the Culture”, an organization that provides artists with emergency food and first-need products. The technical sector also suffered greatly from the epidemic, which led to a drastic reduction in its sources of income. They needed cooked meals, so we started making 150 servings a week during both shutdowns.

At that time, several solidarity movements were created throughout Brussels. Many associations, restaurants and individuals have taken action to help those who have been hit hard by COVID19 restrictions. We were pleased to see.

Why did we help these organizations? Well, we both went through a tough depression during our initial lockdown, and we felt the need to do something meaningful. Before COVID19, our lives were like a train traveling at 500 km/h, and we didn’t take the time to stop and look around. Suddenly it all stopped, and it was a huge shock. We needed to feed our minds and souls, we were so happy to help feed the people who need it most, so it was a win-win.

We’ll definitely do it again, but COVID19 has made it difficult to hire in the catering sector, so right now, we’re short on staff. It’s a tough job, and we’re never sure how long we’re allowed to stay open, when or if the next closure will be imposed, a lot of people have changed career paths.

Our only advice to restaurateurs who want to help solidarity organizations, is not to hesitate to reach out to them, they always need help and volunteers. We know it’s not always easy to find when you don’t know where to look, so we suggest exploring social media. For example, we found “No Javel” on Instagram.

Check out the “Racines” or follow them on Instagram, for a mouth-watering try!
For those who live in Brussels and would like to lend a helping hand, check out the following organisations:

Slow Food Heroes is a funded project by the European Cultural Foundation, with CRC Foundation Contribution.
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