Champions of Change 2021

Champions of Change 2021

Kurt Evans, Viviana Varese, Deepanker Khosla

USA, Italy, Thailand

The local food heroes creating positive change in the industry

Champions of Change, presented in partnership with S.Pellegrino, recognises and celebrates three unsung heroes of the hospitality sector who have used the extraordinary events of the last 18 months as a springboard to drive meaningful action.

Part of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 awards programme, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, Champions of Change forms a key pillar in our evolving ‘50 Best for Recovery’ initiative. A substantial donation will be made to each of the winners’ causes from the 50 Best Recovery Fund, allowing the recipients to continue building their initiatives and supporting long-term progress in the restaurant and food sphere.

Meet the Champions of Change 2021.

Kurt Evans, Philadelphia, USA

Evans has been using food as a medium to mitigate recidivism and fight mass incarceration since he first started the End Mass Incarceration dinner series – or EMI – in 2018. Bringing together those impacted by the phenomenon with community members and policy makers, the EMI dinners have raised money for bail funds, expungement clinics and charities such as Books Through Bars, while fostering conversation around this critical topic. In July 2020, Evans helped create Everybody Eats Philly, a collaborative team of Black chefs leading the fight against food insecurity in his hometown, alongside fellow chef Stephanie Nicole Willis.

When the pandemic first hit the US, Evans was working as culinary director at New York-based non-profit Drive Change. The programme, which helped train formerly incarcerated youth in the culinary arts, abruptly ended and the chef and activist moved back to Philadelphia, where he co-founded Down North Pizza with Muhammad Abdul-Hadi. The ‘mission-led for-profit restaurant’ in the city’s Strawberry Mansion neighbourhood exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals while providing culinary career opportunities with a fair wage.

Viviana Varese, Milan, Italy

The chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Viva in Milan faced considerable obstacles entering the world of haute cuisine as a young cook. Despite being discriminated against in the restaurant sector for being a woman, a lesbian and from the south of Italy, Varese persevered, taught herself how to cook and found success with her restaurant Alice in Milan, opened in 2007. Since then, she transformed Alice into a fresh concept, Viva, and opened a new venue in Sicily in 2021, W Villadorata Country Restaurant, while campaigning for a more inclusive hospitality world.

At her restaurants, Varese puts a strong focus on staff inclusivity regardless of gender, race, age or sexuality, fostering an environment where everyone is encouraged to be their unique selves. Collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she has helped train and integrate several displaced individuals. Varese also seeks to work with suppliers who share the same values – her plates and pottery are made by a company that employs and supports people with disabilities. In autumn 2021, the chef intends to open a new gelateria in Milan staffed by women who have been victims of domestic violence.

Deepanker Khosla, Bangkok, Thailand

Hailing from Allahabad in India, Khosla turned his restaurant Haoma into a soup kitchen for out-of-work Bangkok residents when the pandemic reached Thailand. He raised funds for his campaign, which he named #NoOneHungry, through crowdfunding and kept his staff employed by cooking, prepping and distributing meals across the city’s most impoverished areas, serving over 100,000 free meals to date. Khosla’s family found shelter in India after fleeing the conflicts of the partition of South Asia in the late 1940s, and the chef-restaurateur has long felt an affinity with migrants, deciding to staff his kitchen largely with displaced people from Nepal and Myanmar.

Passionate about sustainability and convinced that food should protect rather than damage the natural environment, Khosla created Haoma to be a highly sustainable operation. The restaurant uses the produce grown in the farm on its grounds and even features a mini fish farm, as well a system to recycle rainwater. Having already achieved a three-star certification by sustainability organisation Food Made Good, Haoma is on its way to become zero-waste by 2022.