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Meet Harold Villarosa – Chef Founder of The Insurgo Project - Social Gastronomy Hub in New York City

Committed to raising awareness to a new inclusive narrative in the restaurant industry while teaching and empowering youth, creating opportunities for the unprivileged and building the foundation for a healthier future.

Photo: courtesy by Harold Villarosa

Chef Harold Villarosa, who is Filipino born and South Bronx raised, began his kitchen industry experience at McDonald's. Now, he includes globally renowned restaurants including Noma, Aquavit, Bâtard, Per Se and many more as part of his resume. This experience has been an inspiration to many in his community.

During all these years in the food industry, Chef Villarosa has always been involved in education and entrepreneurship. The Insurgo Project, his community collective focuses on farm-to-table movements in low-income neighborhoods in New York City and around the World. The project creates an interdisciplinary curriculum for each group of young people, customized to each school’s leadership program. The mission is to help inner-city youth rise above difficult environments by giving students a recipe for success. Harold has already reached 2500 students locally and internationally as well as giving former prisoners the opportunity to access jobs in restaurants and create their own path to success.

As Covid-19 started, and Villarosa’s restaurant comedy club concept, The Stand, closed its doors, he seized the opportunity to transition to the food media. At Bon appétit magazine, this social impact leader increases the dialogue surrounding racism, diversity, and inclusion in the restaurant industry.

Welcome Harold to Chefs for Impact!

By Harold Villarosa as told to Chefs for Impact

How’s your experience working with Bon Appétit magazine?

“This media platform is currently leading the way by talking about this inclusive new narrative in the culinary industry. We’re exploring the new rules of diversity, inclusivity, and equity in the restaurant business. As part of the social gastronomy movement, we talk about creating the new Escoffier system, a system where there is still a person controlling the kitchen, but there won't be the same strict hierarchy. We’re discussing a new co-op system where brigades can buy into a business and be a business owner.”

Why do you think the Escoffier system is obsolete?

“The idea of creating these huge banquet halls where the food comes out at the same time is no longer viable. A brigade doesn’t have to be multi-level structured and I think the restaurant industry must create opportunities for its employees. I’m thinking about a system where if someone joins the brigade, he or she needs to sign a contract with a minimum 2 years commitment after which they have the option to receive 2% of the equity from the restaurant. That would give them the opportunity to understand the profit and loss of a business. I want to teach how to run a restaurant because at the end of the day it's about teamwork. The restaurant will be more efficient if its people are committed.”

Do you think this crisis represents an opportunity for real change?

“Yes, especially in mental health. This crisis makes us realize the importance of personal happiness and being happy with who you are. The restaurant industry created a lot of biases towards people where a lot of Chefs became suicidal. It is a time to federate a community, and it is a time to take care of each other and realize that the food itself doesn’t have to be mise en place with 20 items dishes. It's definitely a time to rethink the military structure that the Escoffier system created. Things will change organically; it might not be in my lifetime but my goal is that the next generation doesn’t have to go through the same pain. This new Escoffier will be another guide. People don’t have to follow it but it’s going to offer a different spectrum of what to follow.”

What drives you?

“Naturally, I’ve always been about serving other people. I’m also a strong believer in karma and legacy. I want the restaurant industry to become a place where you could release and express yourself through creativity.”

Where do you see yourself next?

"I’d like to open a restaurant where I could express my values. I push for this kind of programming and narrative in the restaurant space. Some people have been receptive because they understand the social impact. I’m ready for the next restaurant project to come, post covid. Can’t wait to push the narrative a little more in a real-life setting!”



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