efe-epaBy Judith Mora London

An innovative community project in London is offering the homeless and people in need nutritious meals often whipped up by Michelin star chefs at a diner that has become affectionately known as "The Ritz."

The "Refettorio Felix," part of the global "Food for Soul" project with superstar Italian chef Massimo Botturo at the helm, offers 70 people a hearty meal every day, as well as gives them a chance to use other facilities at the St Cuthbert's community center in west London.

"We launched about 30 years ago, as a drop-in center for vulnerable people, and then we partnered with 'Food for Soul,' it was refurbished two years ago and we now manage the Refettorio as part of our charity," the center's director Alistair Kingsley told Efe.

"They found us, we had the same values of using food to bring people together," he added.

Since the project started diners have been treated to meals cooked by the likes of Michel Roux of "La Gavroche" restaurant, Brett Graham from "The Ledbury," Angela Harnett from "Murano" and Clare Smyth from "Core."

The renowned chefs have shared their creations on a voluntary basis using food waste donated by supermarkets and other providers such as bakeries.

When Efe visited, Argentinian chef Martín Milesi was creating an appetizing menu making the most of apples, tomatoes, avocados, chicken and rice, which had been donated for the menu of the day.

"We immediately knew we were going to make an apple tart with whipped cream for the pudding. Simple and tasty, perfect for a pre-afternoon nap," the chef said.

The team has made gazpacho with the ripe tomatoes and added cubes of warm watermelon to the cold soup.

The main dish consists of Peruvian-style chicken stew that has been marinated and cooked with herbs.

Diners start piling into the Refettorio at noon and they are greeted by hosts at the door.

No drugs nor alcohol are allowed, something the charity imposes as a way to ensure a peaceful atmosphere.

Among the diners there are many homeless people from eastern Europe, who have failed to find employment after arriving in the United Kingdom, as well as lonely older people.

They sit at long tables and a team of sprightly young volunteers serves the Latin American inspired meal.

The atmosphere starts off quiet, but as the guests begin to fill their bellies the mood picks up and the sound of chattering starts to fill the room.

By the time coffee is served, some of the diners are even smiling.

Among those who visit the Refettorio in search of some company is Jean Usher, a former secretary who is now 80.

She comes nearly every day and meets her good friend Fidela Ortega, a 70-year-old Filipino lady who has no family in London after fleeing from her home following years of domestic violence.

We do many fun activities here, such as sewing, art and the reading club, Ortega told Efe.

For a while now we have been enjoying these special meals, she added, while explaining to her friend that gazpacho, unlike British soups, is meant to be served cold.

For Andrew Ank, a 61-year-old market stall seller, the center is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.

He collects photos of all the chefs and their dishes and has an impressive archive on his phone.

According to Ank, there have been occasions where up to three Michelin star chefs have been cooking the meals. "I'm better off than the Queen here," he joked.

The feast comes to an end with a round of applause for the cooks and several people have a nap in a corner of the room before venturing out into the swarming streets of London.

As well as being a haven for the homeless and vulnerable, the Refettorio is a springboard for budding entrepreneurs like Milesi who hopes to open his own London restaurant soon.

"It is also a challenge for chefs. The van arrives at 7.30, they choose the ingredients, they only have what is there to work out what to cook, which is served to between 70 or 80 diners simultaneously at 12.30," Kingsley added.

For the Argentinian chef, it was an immediate connection.

"To see the faces of people that eat here is very different to those of clients, beautiful things happen within," he concluded. EFE-EPA

jm/ch/sh