Rafael Rincón is the culinary icon that Latin America (and the world) needs

As Rafael Rincón is announced the winner of the Icon Award with Volvo ahead of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022, 50 Best catches up with the Spanish-born, Chile-based social entrepreneur leading a movement making fine dining a strength for positive change

For Rafael Rincón, gastronomy has enormous untapped potential in the role it can play in changing the world. Coming from a family of Madrid restaurateurs, he had hospitality in his DNA, but when he moved to Chile in 2005, discovering the world of social gastronomy changed his life forever.

It all started in 2011, when Rincón co-founded Ñam, Chile’s first and largest food festival. For the Spanish entrepreneur, it was a call for food lovers to unite and show the world the value of Chilean and Ibero-American food heritage. The festival has attracted celebrity chefs and speakers from all over Latin America, from Pía León of Peru to Jefferson Rueda of Brazil, and has taken place every year until 2019, with editions held not only in Santiago but also in Valparaíso, Valdivia and the Bolivian capital of La Paz. A pandemic-induced hiatus followed, but Rincón swore she would reappear.

Rincón had noticed the incredible power of social gastronomy and, inspired by role models such as Gustu in Bolivia and Gastromotiva in Brazil, he founded his own company in Chile: Fundación Gastronomía Social. This multifaceted nonprofit has become a force to be reckoned with in the country, working hard not only to provide free meals to the hungry, but also to prove that fine dining can do so much more: it can be a place where the unemployed can get free culinary training and possibly a job; it can work with local entities to solve social inclusion problems; it can make food healthier for people and, in essence, better for the planet.

Through the Comida Para Todos initiative, Rincón served meals to the hungry during the pandemic

The global pandemic of 2020 saw everything come to a halt – but not Rincón. He got to work creating a charity model to make good use of temporarily closed kitchens while donating food to those in need. This model became Comida Para Todos, a network of restaurants and soup kitchens that raised funds, employed restaurants and fed those in need, with programs that took place in Chile, Spain, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina.

Ñam will return in 2023, expanding with new initiatives and a digital platform that will allow foodies to share and access culinary education while earning tokens that can be donated or converted to either support others on the platform, or to continue their studies. As Rincón receives the 2022 Icon Award with Volvo, 50 Best salutes his efforts to transform fine dining into an indomitable force for good: meet the winner in the video and with the Q&A below.

What prompted you to become a social “gastropreneur”?

Since my childhood, gastronomy was not for me something fanciful, but a way of apprehending life. By eating or drinking, you can create something good – good for your health, good for culture, good for communities, good for the planet. When I arrived in Chile, I saw that from the outside it can look almost like a European country within Latin America, but if you scratch below the surface, there are a lot of inequalities.

What was the turning point in creating your social gastronomy business?

In 2014, Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari invited me to Gustu’s first student graduation ceremony. I saw an example of a wonderful fine dining restaurant with spectacular ethics, and on top of that they also trained people. I saw that there were organizations around the world that were creating gastronomic business models with a social starting point that were also profitable. This trip changed my life.

Then, in 2018, David Hertz of Gastromotiva invited me to Miami to join the international launch of the Social Gastronomy Movement. So I said okay, that’s it. I’m a businessman, I’m an entrepreneur and I come from a childhood where Slow Food was very present. I saw that in a country as difficult as Bolivia, in a city as difficult as La Paz, there can be something exemplary for the world. And I was invited to be part of the creation of an international social gastronomy committee. So I just had to go ahead and do it.


The Icon Award winner believes the world can be changed through food

How can restaurants help create a better world?

Anyone who owns a restaurant or any place that provides food has a responsibility, above all else, to understand that it is their mission to feed, and that the mission to feed is 100% a social mission.

There’s the environmental part – a restaurant can be an ally or an enemy of climate change. There’s the health part, because food is something you ingest, so it has an immediate health effect. And there is the social part, which is not only your customers – who come to find something to satisfy their hunger, but also to live a moment of happiness – but also the community around your restaurant, your neighbors, your city, your city or country, and the potential to create cultural wealth in collaboration with them.

A restaurant has the same responsibility as a doctor’s office. Like doctors and the Hippocratic oath, restaurants must swear to respect health, culture and the environment. If we all did this, gastronomy would have a positive impact, instead of a negative impact.

Concretely, where could a restaurant start?

All the restaurants in the world cook for their staff. If each restaurant, instead of cooking for 20, cooked for 25, which in economics is a marginal cost, it would have a surplus of five meals which it could donate to an NGO or local entity supporting people who do not don’t have enough to eat. If we did that, hunger would surely decrease a bit in urban areas.

What challenges does the gastronomic world face today?

The first challenge is how to generate spaces for cooperation, connection and association to be able to contribute to social equity, food security, the fight against obesity, food sovereignty, etc. Food insecurity is a huge problem today. These cooperation networks can help gastronomy to be a decisive actor and to act in the fight against food insecurity. In Chile, which is a rich country in Latin America, about 14% of the population is food insecure. In Brazil, the number is closer to 20%, which equates to 40 million people. Another challenge concerns the understanding and protection of the territories and the food cultural heritage of each place.

But the biggest challenge is to be brave, to take risks and to take the lead in generating these platforms that say: “here’s a problem, let’s all sit down together – restaurants, local entities, NGOs – and ask: how to solve he?”
Rincón with the team at Ñam, Chile’s largest food festival, based in

Why do you say that in social gastronomy there is no place for the ego?

Economist and philosopher Otto Scharmer says that the time of “ego” is over and now the time of “eco” has begun. Ever since humanity has forged the ego, especially in the last 200 years with elitism and individualism, it has caused crises that may be irreversible. So the only way to transform this has to do with the ecosystem, or “thinking from the eco”.

When I say that at Ñam or Comida Para Todos or Fundación Gastronomía Social, the ego has no place, it’s real, because we act like that. Every social initiative we do, we do it with at least two other organizations. We believe that the only way to reverse the situation is to think in an ecosystem, not in victimization or individualism, but by investing in active listening, in empathy, in putting oneself in the place of the other. before making a decision, to ask questions, having the ability and the humility to prototype, experiment and let go.

What message do you want to convey to the community?

Come together. Start cooperating. The planet is already telling us that we will either unite and cooperate or it will all go to hell. We must unite to fight against food insecurity and hunger, generate better training spaces, fight for social and professional equity, enhance the food cultural heritage of our territories and fight against obesity.

The next edition of The 50 best restaurants in Latin Americasponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, will be announced on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. To be the first to know about the latest news and announcements, follow us on instagramfind us on Facebookvisit us on Twitter and subscribe to our Youtube channel.