Simone Berti

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Simone Berti was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Through Chefs Especiais (Special Chefs), Simone is creating a method to prepare people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities to gain and improve critical skills needed for a productive life. Chefs Especiais is a culinary institute that aims to develop students’ interest in cooking while elevating their self-esteem and self-sufficiency. By combining elements of culinary arts, inclusion, motor skills, and celebrity instructors, Simone has created a safe space for students to share their accomplishments and focus on their abilities, rather than their challenges.

Simone sees Chefs Especiais addressing an issue of citizenship rather than health. Simone recognizes that traditional efforts to prepare teachers, schools, and companies to receive people with intellectual disabilities are failing. Simone’s work also involves students’ families. Parents form a community where they can meet, exchange ideas, express concerns or questions, and celebrate the achievements of their children. Parents learn to focus on their children’s abilities and how to foster skill-building that leads to greater self-sufficiency. Chefs Especiais also involves others who are not intellectually disabled as classroom volunteers.

Simone’s students are natural multipliers as they learn a new skill, share the new skill with others, and even help teach some of the classes. Some of her students have already entered the job market in the culinary field. Further, Simone is expanding her courses to include people with physical disabilities, including the deaf, blind, and people in wheelchairs. Because her methodology is simple and accessible, Simone will share it with others to enable additional groups to start other skill-based classes for the intellectually and physically impaired. The work of Chefs Especiais has already been widely recognized in Sao Paulo and has been replicated in Portugal.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You