Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney: A Transformative Journey

In the vibrant city of Sydney, where diverse cultures converge, Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney stands as a symbol of transformation and community nourishment. As we celebrate the second anniversary of this impactful project, we delve into its journey with Nicole, its Project Manager who has been there from the beginning.

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Over the past two years, Refettorio OzHarvest has not only redefined the culinary landscape but has become a thriving community hub, embodying values of inclusivity, sustainability, and social impact. The project has witnessed exponential growth, with a remarkable 300% increase in staff, hosting over 65 events and guest chef dinners, and experiencing a 71.5% surge in event revenue compared to 2022. 

The collective impacts of Refettorio OzHarvest are equally striking, with over 9,000 kg of rescued food since January 2023, serving more than 14,000 guests, and providing an astounding 42,700 meals. This remarkable achievement has been made possible through the dedication of 173 volunteers, highlighting the power of collaboration and community engagement.

As Refettorio OzHarvest marks its second year, Nicole reflects on the project’s evolution, the significant transformations observed, and the impactful moments that have touched lives. From hosting renowned chefs to winning prestigious awards, the project has become a warm, safe space embraced by the Sydney community.


Over the past two years, Refettorio has actively engaged on multiple fronts — community inclusion, fighting food waste, advocating for a healthy and sustainable food system, and raising awareness for a more sustainable future. How has Refettorio successfully integrated these diverse aspects, and what are the most significant achievements in this regard?
Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney has certainly made its mark in Sydney over the last two years. Our special guests tell us that dining at Refettorio is the highlight of their week – they come in as they are, into a safe space, enjoy a delicious meal, and leave with their hearts and bellies full. Our chefs are experts at transforming rescued ingredients otherwise destined for landfill into delicious vegetarian meals made with love. Our existence is advocacy in itself – an example of how we can nourish people with nutritious food, in a way that is sustainable for the planet and the community.


How has Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney evolved since you joined, and what significant transformations have you observed?
Refettorio OzHarvest has had quite the journey over the last two years, with events like Covid, bushfires, and now the cost of living crisis. We’ve had to adapt to the ever-changing world, but our mission has always remained the same: to create a dignified experience to nourish our community.

People from all walks of life have walked through our doors —some who have been with us from the beginning and others whom we assisted for a brief moment to help them get back on their feet. Our team has tripled in size, our volunteer team is continually growing, and every year we’ve expanded our opening hours for a greater impact. Now, we host ‘Pay It Forward’ dinners every Thursday for the general public to dine at Refettorio, with each ticket sold helping feed at least four people in need during the day. 


As Refettorio OzHarvest marks its second year, and you have been part of the project since its inception, what impacts have you witnessed during this period, and what are your expectations for the project’s future?
Witnessing the evolution of Refettorio from a dream to concept to now a real, thriving community hub has been so rewarding. There have been many things to celebrate, such as having some of Australia and the world’s best chefs cook in our kitchen for a ‘Guest Chef Series,’ winning the Good Food ‘Food for Good’ award, and witnessing Sydney embrace Refettorio OzHarvest as a warm, safe space for those most vulnerable in our communities. We’re just getting started and have so many exciting collaborations and projects on the cards this year, including Vivid Sydney!


As a member of the Learning Network of Partners, Refettorio Sydney and OzHarvest actively shared milestones, challenges, and experiences with other partners. How has this dynamic exchange influenced the growth of the project? Additionally, looking ahead, how do you envision Refettorio OzHarvest contributing to and benefiting from the broader network in the coming years?
Every Refettorio project has manifested in unique ways which is a source of community, inspiration and knowledge for us. I have had the pleasure of visiting one myself and look forward to connecting to more! There is much to learn from the team of chefs, managers, volunteers and change-makers. Perhaps someone will make the trip down-under to visit Refettorio OzHarvest Sydney.   


Within the Refettorio context, have you had experiences or moments that particularly highlighted the value of inclusion and resilience? Can you share any significant stories or experiences in this regard?
I am so lucky that everyday I get to see how Refettorio Ozharvest Sydney transforms lives. There are many people who make the trip to dine with us from across town as the highlight of their week. For many guests, we are actually the first place that they reached out to for help, simply because we are so inclusive and respectful. Many single parents or families doing it tough dine with us as something that “fills their cup”. I cannot count how many times people have said that we have “made them feel human again” particularly when their circumstances have made them feel so low. We have a group of people who visit regularly from a mental health service and one guest who has experienced trauma and war is writing a picture book called  “How to heal eating disorders with fine dining”  We also love that those who are experiencing extreme financial insecurity have discovered that we are the perfect place for a lunch date with loved ones! It is so special to see our guests proudly bring partners, parents and children to experience Refettorio OzHarvest.