Risotto fans jam for Stockholm homeless

Risotto fans jam for Stockholm homeless
Musicians jam for love of risotto. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT; Solveig Rundquist
A new movement is hitting the streets of Stockholm, combating homelessness while filling hearts and bellies - with risotto.

The Risotto Movement consists of a man, a band, and tonnes of creamy Italian rice. And it wants to make the world a better place, one plate of risotto at a time. 

On a crisp autumn evening in Stockholm, some fifty people, primarily homeless and otherwise vulnerable, gather in a little church in Stockholm to eat, sing, and start a discourse about homelessness. 

"Risotto is like sharing," Cecilia Fellenius, a volunteer and organizer at the event, tells The Local. "This is an event a group of friends created because we want to share some love, share some food – share some risotto. Bring people together and have a nice evening."

The evening began with a concert by the Dynamic Risotto Musical, a soul-influenced band that writes and sings songs about risotto. Other speakers and performers included slam poetry rapper Dan "Dunderdan" Hansen, formerly homeless author and photographer John Arthur Ekebert, and young blues musician Joey Belmondo. While enjoying the performances guests dined on plates of exquisitely saffron-spiced risotto, prepared by the "Risotto Man" who started it all, Patrick Botlero. 

"The goal of the Risotto Movement is to make the world a better place to live, through our love for risotto," says Botlero. "We want to share our passion and spend a moment with those who have had it the hardest."

SEE ALSO: Pictures from the Risotto Movement event

Botlero, who was born in Bangladesh and grew up romping in his father’s restaurant in New York City, moved to Sweden six years ago. The Wall Street financier worked at Nordea and other Swedish banks for a while before deciding he had to work with his passion.

"My favourite restaurant in New York was this risotto restaurant, but I never really had to cook myself until I moved here. My sambo was useless in the kitchen," Botlero says with a laugh. "And I had been craving and craving risotto, but couldn't find any here. So when it was time to leave the finance business, I looked inside myself to see what my interest was… and I booked a flight to Italy to learn to make risotto."

Botlero became the apprentice of Italian celebrity chef Luciana Parolari, and today he runs the Risotto Academy in Stockholm, teaching others the refined art of making risotto. 

The Risotto Movement began when Botlero met musician Vladimir "Songgaar" Galdamez Garcia at an Italian-language course they had both enrolled in. 

"We sat side by side at this course and got to talking, and I found out that Vladimir was involved in music," Botlero explains. "And I told him I really think risotto is brilliant, and people need to taste this amazing food. And it just took off from there."

When Garcia heard Botlero’s idea of writing songs about risotto, his first reaction was that it was crazy.

"It was like the craziest idea I had ever heard in my life, you know?" Garcia recalls. "And that’s why I took it."

The next step, he syas, was to find some crazy people.

"We were like Ocean’s Eleven when we were recruiting the members of the team and the members of the band," Botlero explains. "Every time the band meets, I try to inspire them by cooking risotto. We meet at the studio and I cook a different dish each time. And they start jamming. It works."

The band, the Dynamic Risotto Musical, is now made up of Garcia along with Germaine Thomas, Markus "Henningway" Henning, and Sebastian Wurtz. And they only sing about risotto.

Listen to Garcia and Henning rehearse a song about risotto:

Boterlo says the idea to put on a charity event came from a fan, and the group loved it. The gang of risotto-lovers teamed up with Stockholms Stadsmissionen, a non-profit organization and homeless shelter, to put on the event. 

"What we’re doing, we make risotto cool. We have the risotto man, the risotto band.  People are excited about what we’re doing," Boterlo says. "And Stadsmissionen, they don’t have this coolness factor to them. So an event together is mutually beneficial."

John Arthur Ekebert, who was homeless in Stockholm for forty years, is a special guest at the event and  informs participants of a new political proposal to do away with apartment rental taxes, making it easier for disadvantaged people to find places to live. He says people need to be more positive towards such changes in order for anything to improve.

"How many people are there who really care about this? Plenty. They're innummerable. We would fill an arena. But when people and politicians make a suggestion for a change that is good, people need to be positive. Stop whining, stop saying, 'no, this might not work.' Say 'wow'. It's unbelievable that some people have to leave home, leave their country, just to get food." 

Ekebert has published a book of photography and recollections documenting his years on the streets of Stockholm, and his images have also been on exhibit at Stockholm City Hall. He says he hopes to see more events raising awareness of homelessness. The Risotto Movement already has another event in the works.

"We started just doing it for fun, and then we saw that people were really appreciating it. So we’re going to do more," Botlero tells The Local.

Fellenius agreed, saying that the members of the Risotto Movement have become a family.

"In the spring we want to have something bigger, probably an outdoor concert," Fellenius explains. "There will be more risotto events. It's simple, good, tasty, and brings a lot of love to peoples' lives. It has brought a lot of love to my life."

Solveig Rundquist

Follow Solveig on Twitter.

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