Anyone who has ever been at Refettorio Paris knows Solene and Maxime, the ‘dream team’ who cooks for the guests of the project and works hard every night to make them feel welcome and restored.
The kitchen of Refettorio Paris is the heart of the project, and it plays an important role in advocating for a healthier and more equitable food system. The chefs of the project are not only great at transforming undervalued ingredients into nourishing and beautiful dishes for those in need, but they have also made their mission to encourage the younger generations to be more educated and trained towards a creative, zero-waste cuisine. Part of what they do at the Refettorio is involving students from culinary schools, showing them how to cook with surplus ingredients and then giving them the responsibility to create a whole menu for the day – “At the end of the day they are proud to see the menu that they managed to put together using only surplus food.”- says Maxime.
According to Maxime and Solene, communicating what food surplus is, and what to do with it, is the first step towards a new consciousness, and it’s all about engaging people, training and communicating with them – “I’m not only talking about making recipes, because if you do write down a recipe and you give it to someone, they will only buy the ingredients needed for that recipe. It’s about mentality” – explains Maxime. But it’s also about inspiration and Solene’s creative recipes are popular with the volunteers of the project who can smell her famous chocolate brownies, which she makes using her mother’s recipe, as soon as they step inside the Refettorio.
Refettorio Paris is certainly a place where every gesture is made with love and Maxime and Solene’s recipes are no exception. When we asked Pascal, one of the regular guests at the Refettorio, what beauty means to him, he immediately associated it with the food: “For me beauty is about the presentation, the colours and shapes – food can have a completely new form if it’s well made. Here chefs have a way of imagining and transforming something that could be boring, they are artists.”
Every night, Solene goes into the dining room, during and after the service, to make sure the guests are enjoying their meal or just to give them a smile. “I don’t often go out to meet the guests, I’m quite shy in that respect. Solene goes out each night and listens to the story of each person. It’s an interesting duality between Solene, who is really close to them, and me. I know all of them and I really like them, but you have to have a lot of patience to speak with people, and Solene has that.” – says Maxime.
Those who have tasted at least once one of her dishes will surely understand why she believes that cooking is an act of love. For those who haven’t had the pleasure yet, she tried to put it into words and, more importantly, she gifted us with one of her favourite recipes in the hope that it will inspire all of us to look at food with new eyes.
"Why for me, cooking is an act of love? Because cooking is all about stirring up new emotions and bringing back memories. It is also for this reason that my cooking is instinctive and turned towards others. At the Refettorio, I give the same intention and generosity to every plate without making any social distinction because I care about people. I strongly believe that everyone has the right to have access to quality food that respects people and the land. "
Boil the water in a large saucepan, throw in some salt and a bouquet garni. Once the water is boiling, put the crabs in. When the water starts boiling again, count 15 minutes of cooking, medium heat. Take the crabs outs, separate the claws from the body. Take out the legs by twisting them a quarter turn. On the back on the crab’s head, insert a knife and separate the body from the shell. Take out all the meat. Clean the shell thoroughly.
Peel and mince the shallot.
In a hot saucepan with olive oil, sauté the empty shells for 10 minutes until caramelized. Add the shallot, the bouquet garni and the crushed garlic, cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the lemon zests and keep cooking for 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine, add water and cook for 45 minutes.
Mix vinegar, salt, fennel seeds and 50cl of water, put to heat.
When lukewarm, add the mini pak choi cut in half vertically, take off the heat and let marinate.
Peel and bevel the carrots. Prepare small bunches of romanesco cabbage. Blanch them in salted boiling water. They have to remain crunchy.
Filter the crab stock, and reduce to 40cl. Pour the cream and add a splash of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Let it cook for 10 more minutes and whip the sauce with butter.
Set up the crab meat in the shell, add the crunchy veggies and coat with the bisque.
Finish up by adding pickles and fennel leaves.