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The genesis of Mater

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In 2017, agroundbreaking idea emerged in the mind of Walter el Nagar, a chef with avision far beyond the confines of traditional gastronomy. This idea, seeded inthe bustling heart of Geneva, was destined to challenge the culinary status quoand redefine the meaning of fine dining.

Walter, then acelebrated chef at the Ritz Carlton, found himself at a crossroads. The glaringcontrast between the opulence of elite gastronomy and the scarcity faced bymany in shelters and soup kitchens around Geneva struck a profound chord inhim. Driven by a desire for ethical change, he made a bold decision: to leavebehind the glamour of cooking for the rich elite and instead open the doors ofhigh-quality gastronomy to the underserved. It was a choice that sought todemocratize fine dining and establish a new sense of freedom in his profession.

The firstiteration of this vision was "Societe Anonyme Cuisiniers," a chef’scollective. These chefs, united by a shared ethos, organized pop-up restaurantsin shelters and soup kitchens. Their mission was clear: to bring exquisiteculinary experiences to those who least expected it, blending high-endgastronomy with social responsibility.

In 2018, thevision took a more concrete shape. Walter, along with his long-time businesspartner, Mr. Guido Zwicker, and newfound allies in Geneva, including ICRCdelegate Nour Khadam, refined the concept. The result was "Le Cinquieme Jour," aprovocative, avant-garde chef's counter restaurant. Thisestablishment was a chef's dream, breaking boundaries by serving the samehyper-local, creative, and ultra-modern food to both the elite and the poor inthe same space. It stood as a symbol of culinary equality, a place where socialstatus was left at the door and everyone shared in the same high-qualityexperience.

As 2020 dawned,"Le Cinquieme Jour," the avant-garde restaurant that had redefinedgastronomy in Geneva, encountered a pivotal moment. The restaurant, which hadstarted as a bold statement against culinary elitism, reached its ethicallimits. It was time to evolve, to expand the impact within the city, and tobetter align the original vision with daily practice. Until then, "LeCinquieme Jour" had operated as a private entity, bound by the constraintsand expectations of investors. This model, while successful, was becomingincreasingly misaligned with the ethos and aspirations of its founders.

At the eve ofthe COVID-19 pandemic, the visionary behind this transformative project,decided to make another groundbreaking decision. In an effort to stay true tothe core ideals of accessibility and equality, he chose to close "LeCinquieme Jour" and the company managing it. This bold move was more thana closure; it was a metamorphosis. The intention was to create somethingfar-reaching, a platform that could dramatically expand the number of peopleserved and resonate more deeply with the project's founding principles.

Thus, MaterFondazione was born. Established as a nonprofit organization, it marked asignificant shift from a private enterprise to a model that could freely pursueits altruistic goals without the constraints of traditional business models.This transition was a commitment to coherence, to living the ideals that hadsparked the original vision.

Mater Fondazioneemerged as a beacon of hope and change during a time of global uncertainty. Itscreation was not just about serving meals but about nurturing communities,advocating for food equality, and creating spaces where everyone, regardless oftheir social status, could enjoy the dignity and pleasure of quality food. Thefoundation was envisioned as a catalyst for social change, expanding its reachfar beyond the walls of a restaurant.

The journey from"Le Cinquieme Jour" to Mater Fondazione is a narrative of courage,innovation, and unwavering commitment to ethical principles. It's a story oftransformation, reflecting a deep understanding that true change requires boldsteps and a willingness to venture into uncharted territories. Mater Fondazionestands as a tribute to the power of visionary thinking and the impact ofturning ideals into action.

In its nascentstages, Mater Fondazione, true to the bold and daring spirit of its founder,immediately sprang into action. Leveraging the network and credibility builtthrough "Le Cinquieme Jour," Walter, along with countless new allies,set the stage for a remarkable initiative. Among these new partners was JimmyThiebaud, a financial broker who, like Walter, had pivoted his career towardshumanitarian aid. Their shared journey from professional success to socialimpact became a cornerstone of the foundation's narrative.

The foundation'sfirst major initiative was 'Commissary Kitchen,' a series of pop-up kitchensacross Geneva. This endeavor was a rapid and empathetic response to the urgentneeds brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Geneva faced an unprecedentedsituation, with thousands standing in line for food aid, a scenario thatreceived worldwide attention. Mater Fondazione's answer to this crisis wasimmediate and impactful: helping the community by doing what they do best –cooking great food.

With a largegroup of chefs and an even larger group of volunteers, including the vitalsupport of 'Serve the City' led by Gary Vanatter, Mater Fondazione organizedthese pop-up kitchens with efficiency and compassion. The mission was clear: toprepare and deliver gastronomic meals to those left vulnerable on the streetsdue to the Covid emergency. Approximately 35,000 gourmet food parcels wereprepared from scratch, using only local ingredients and adhering to the highestculinary standards. These meals, crafted with care and excellence, weredistributed free of charge through various humanitarian organizations inGeneva.

This initiativenot only showcased the foundation's commitment to culinary excellence andsocial responsibility but also set a precedent for the kind of impactful workMater Fondazione aimed to continue. In these early days, the foundationdemonstrated its ability to mobilize resources, galvanize volunteers, andcreate meaningful change through the universal language of food. The success of'Commissary Kitchen' laid a solid groundwork for the foundation, reinforcingits mission to serve not just meals, but dignity and hope, during a time ofglobal crisis.

The year 2022marked another significant milestone in the journey of Mater Fondazione.Building on the incredible success and the impactful example set by the'Commissary Kitchen' initiative, Walter was ready to realize another dream: theopening of a Refettorio. However, in true Walter fashion, this was to be noordinary establishment.

RefettorioGeneva, conceived as a blend of the economic principles of "Le CinquiemeJour" and the visionary commitment of Chef Massimo Bottura's zero-wastesoup kitchens, brought to life a totally new kind of restaurant, unparalleledin the world. This project was a harmonious fusion of high culinary standardswith a steadfast commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

The impactachieved through Mater Fondazione's earlier initiatives, along with theunwavering support of an incredible group of people, paved the way for this newventure. Key supporters, both old and new, played an instrumental role inbringing this dream to fruition. Notable among them were Cristina Reni, MarcBerrebi, Antoine Muller, and His Excellency Thierry Aphotéloz. Their collectiveefforts and belief in the vision of Mater Fondazione were crucial in makingRefettorio Geneva a reality.

In January 2022,Refettorio Geneva opened its doors, symbolizing a new chapter in thefoundation's history. It wasn't just a restaurant; it was a illustration to thepower of dreams, perseverance, and community collaboration. Refettorio Genevastood as a beacon of innovation in the culinary world, seamlessly integratingthe art of fine dining with the ethos of zero waste and inclusivity.

At RefettorioGeneva, guests from all walks of life could experience the joy and dignity of agourmet meal, prepared with surplus ingredients that would otherwise go towaste. This establishment was not only about feeding the hungry; it was aboutnourishing souls, reducing food waste, and creating a community space whereeveryone, regardless of their socio-economic status, was welcome.

The years2022-2023 were a defining period for Mater Fondazione. The birth of RefettorioGeneva was a bold statement in the world of gastronomy and socialentrepreneurship, echoing the foundation's ongoing commitment to breakingbarriers and creating inclusive, sustainable culinary experiences.