50 Best today announces its Champions of Change 2023, heroes of hospitality who are creating a positive change for their communities through their work. Launched in 2021 to celebrate the industry’s unsung gamechangers, in 2023 the Champions of Change accolade is given to one individual and one duo who are driving meaningful action and creating blueprints for a better hospitality sector.
These awards, part of the forthcoming The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 programme, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, form a key pillar in the organisation’s ever-evolving ‘50 Best for Recovery’ initiative. The scheme was introduced in 2021 in response to the sector rebuilding and remodelling itself after a challenging 18 months, and continues to support the powerful work of individuals effecting positive change. 50 Best will make a financial donation to each of the winners’ causes, allowing the recipients to continue building their initiatives and supporting long-term progress in the restaurant and food sphere.
The first Champions of Change for 2023, Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen, founded and runs Amal in Marrakech, Morocco, a social enterprise that helps empower disadvantaged women through the medium of hospitality. Fitzgerald Belahcen, who has American heritage but was born and raised in Morocco, opened the first Amal Centre in 2013 to train Arab women facing hardship – often single mothers shunned by society – in the culinary arts and associated skills. It now operates a thriving restaurant and catering business staffed by a mix of trainers and students, with 30 people graduating every eight months; most progress into long-term careers in the hospitality sector, with some opening their own food-related businesses.
The Amal organisation’s latest project is the Sign Language Café in Marrakech, which is staffed by deaf women. The deaf community is also largely invisible to much of society and this café, located within a language school and serving some 4,000 students, acts as a prototype for deaf-run businesses. In Fitzgerald Belahcen’s words, being involved with Amal “helps women undergo a holistic transformation, not just professional but personal, so that they are comfortable taking up space in society”. She also stresses the importance of seeing these individuals not as victims but as experts in resilience.
Fitzgerald Belahcen adds: “I’m thrilled to win this award on behalf of all the women I have worked with and for whom gastronomy has been a life-changing path. I’ve long believed in the power of food to nourish and to heal, to bring us together and to change lives. The support and recognition that come with this award reinforces that belief and will help us create many more opportunities for deserving women.”
The second Champions of Change accolade of 2023 is awarded to the Los Angeles-based duo of Othón Nolasco and Damián Diaz, who created non-profit food security project, No Us Without You LA, during the pandemic. Having worked in the hospitality sector in California for many years, the pair has seen first-hand the plight of undocumented workers who make up the backbone of so many food and drinks businesses in the US. No Us Without You provides support in the form of food relief and advisory services to the families of immigrants working in the sector, who are not legally recognised as US citizens, and therefore cannot benefit from government assistance.
No Us Without You began by feeding 30 struggling workers and their dependents in early 2020, using the founders’ own money, and now supports 700 families per month across LA County, utilising an army of 85 volunteers. Nolasco (a born and bred Angeleno) and Diaz (who grew up between the Bay Area and Mexico), have also transformed an old dirt lot in the city into an organic garden growing fruit and vegetables for their food packages. The garden also acts as a fund-raising event space for the organisation.
Nolasco and Diaz say: “We are honoured that our food security program is being recognised. Undocumented back of house workers are the heart and soul of the restaurant and bar industry, but are often treated as dispensable. No Us Without You LA offers food relief packages as a way to show that they are not forgotten. They are seen, heard and respected. We are proud to feed those who have fed us for years.”
William Drew, Director of Content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, says: “After launching Champions of Change in 2021, we are thrilled to recognise the incredible work that Nora, Othón and Damián are doing for their communities. We have the utmost respect for the drive and passion they’ve shown for creating meaningful change and we’re honoured to be able to support their brilliant work.”
The Champions of Change awards are among a number of special accolades that have been announced as part of the lead-up to the event programme for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, which will be hosted in Valencia, Spain. The programme will culminate in the gala awards ceremony, which will be held at Les Arts opera house, part of the city’s modernist City of Arts and Sciences complex, on 20th June.
The awards ceremony for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 will also be streamed live on the 50 Best Facebook channel via the link here and YouTube channel via the link here. The announcement of the list and individual awards can be followed via the 50 Best social media channels, with the livestream beginning at 19:40 (UK time).