Dining in a prison, a new gastronomic experience in Milan

With so many restaurants in the Milan area, one wonders why it is so appealing to go for lunch or dinner in a place like this? Towards the outskirts of the city is “In Galera”, Italian for “In the prison”; a restaurant located in the inner part of the Bollate prison. 

It was in October 2015 when it opened its doors to the public, and since then it has had a great impact; not only for the original proposal but also for the prices and quality products; extracted from the prison garden. 

They have taken great care in the selection of raw materials and in the professionalism of their work, reaching 1 Michelin star in a short period of time. The prison has a population of 1,200 inmates, 91% of whom are male; 4 of these inmates work as waiters and 5 prepare the dishes. 

All under the orders of the chef and the head of the dining room, who are professionals from outside the prison. The restaurant has been a success, attracting many customers, to the point where reservations must be made by telephone. 

 “It is evident the wisdom on the table, initiated in 2004 by Mrs. Silvia Polleri, also president of the ABC Social Cooperative, who works with the inmates of Bollate since that date in their training, who have improved a lot. Today this prison in Milan has been recognized as an example of good correctional practice

What is the objective of this social project for prison inmates?

The idea of this project is that the inmates, once they are released from prison, will have a trade and will be able to reintegrate back into today’s society through professional training and education. This will facilitate their access to the world of work and eliminate all the stigmas that prison life leaves behind. The inmates are also interested in demonstrating that they have changed and that they are different people.

This is the first time that a prison has opened its doors to the public. A restaurant where both lunches and dinners are served, served by the inmates; 4 waiters and about 5 in the kitchen, although it seems that a total of 12 are already working. The experienced chef, from the Alma de Gualtiero cooking school, is in charge of training the novices. 

In addition, positive results have been obtained. For example, 4 of the former inmates, after their release from prison, were able to obtain employment in line with the experience they had gained while incarcerated. Incidentally, cultural encounters and wine presentations have been added to the dinners.

What requirements must prisoners have in order to be eligible for this project?

The candidates, in order to work in the In Galera restaurant, basically must not have any type of dependency; that is, neither drugs, nor alcohol, and much less any type of psychotropic drugs. They work with salaries between 600 and 1200 euros, depending on the function of each one.

The inmates work with a lot of enthusiasm, order and discipline being the motto of the restaurant. Some have found it a way to be useful; others feel it is a way to redeem their mistakes; and others feel they can start a new life this way. In any case, it has been a project that has helped them to see a different aspect to their lives.

Who is managing this Milan prison project?

This opportunity offered to the inmates of this prison, both for rehabilitation and work, has been managed with the support of the ABC Cooperative and PwC Italy; the latter is a firm that provides various services and advice to institutions, companies and governments worldwide. 

This project has both public and private investment, being Mrs. Silvia Polleri the president of the ABC Cooperative, in charge of managing everything related to the restaurant. Always with the idea of providing the inmates with curricular tools for their future insertion in society.

What is the objective of this project for the public of the society?

Currently, inmates are marked by society for life when they leave prison; it doesn’t matter if they have been incarcerated for 6 months or many years; therefore, all doors are closed to them. Therefore, the success of the restaurant helps to break those prejudices about this population, since customers are left with a very different impression than what they thought.

They are satisfied with both the quality of the dishes and the friendliness of the service offered. In fact, the restaurant has become one of the most popular in Milan, ranking among the 6000. Moreover, for the first time, the prison does not ask for service but rather offers it. An unusual atmosphere, with quality food and a beautiful experience. 

How do we gain access to the restaurant’s dining room?

The only condition is that a reservation is made by phone, either for lunch or dinner; that is, since its opening, its 52 covers are always reserved. Then, once we arrive at the place, we enter a room, which is the same room where family members wait when they visit the inmates.

Then, in that room, Scuola Paolo Frisi’s training staff waits for the customers and then leads them to the restaurant’s premises. Customers must not show or leave any documents or belongings at the entrance, such as cell phones.

However, inmates who work in the restaurant are not allowed to have their family members attend as customers, nor are they allowed to use their cell phones. In addition, they go through the corresponding control before entering the premises. Likewise, there are no intentions of escape, since they understand perfectly well the benefit of this measure, according to the penitentiary ordinance, in its article 21. 

How is the decoration of the place?

The restaurant is located far away, a few meters from the access to the prison, in a parking lot with police-type parked vans. Then, at the door, there is a small sign with the name of the restaurant “In Galera”. The place is decorated in a minimalist style, a cozy and warm place

The walls are painted in neutral and combinable colors, with warm lighting, wooden floors and matching tables and chairs. In addition, the walls are decorated with pictures related to some famous prisons, such as The Green Mile and The Alcatraz Escape. Likewise, the placemats have the same motifs. 

Also, the waiters dress neatly, with very white shirts and black pants and vests, who serve customers very kindly. The place does not look like it is in a prison, but there is no attempt to disguise it, which can be seen in its decoration.

Steamed cod with red bell pepper cream and cream of potato with milk and black bread are some of the restaurant’s specialties. Likewise, the presentation of the dishes looks very nice. President Polleri now hopes that this project will be extended to other prisons, following their example.

Posted in Europe, Italy, Milan.