Food & Drink

Fusion and farm-to-table meals on a shoestring budget, with otherwise wasted food

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) --- Chef Dave Rocheleau's kitchen keeps up with the latest culinary trends, and packs in a crowd of grateful diners five days a week.

But he's not creating his meals in your typical, high-priced restaurant.

Still, like many Johnson and Wales trained chefs, he's always on the move, trying to keep his pantry stocked before the dinner rush hits.

Many nights, the process of deciding what's on the menu resembles an episode of Chopped as Rocheleau works with a changing variety of ingredients to put in the pots, and on the plates.

"It comes from a lot of different sources," he said while cutting up day-old bread for stuffing. "So, every now and then, it's a farmer with a truckload of tomatoes [who says] take as many as you want."

Or there was the time he got his oven mitts on a freezer full of ham.

Another day he found himself with a surplus of sweet potatoes, peanut butter, tortillas and black beans.

"African quesadilla," he said, recalling the fusion dish he created with that lineup. "That was pretty hot. People loved it. A little peanuts. Some cilantro on top. It was really, really good."

He has been running the Crossroads Rhode Island kitchen for five years, and his work is an example of the growing, non-profit segment of the restaurant industry.

"Food donations just come in so randomly," he said. "So, sometimes every day is like a mystery basket."

That's led to quite a list of dishes, including Szechuan chicken, stuffed shells Florentine and Greek-style baked chicken, to name a few.

It is cuisine with a side dish of conservation, since the donated food he uses would more than likely be thrown away if not for his and other nonprofit organizations.

"As a nation, we waste 40 percent of our food," Rocheleau added.

The chef also wants to demystify some of the ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables. So, when his diners work their way into their own kitchens away from Crossroads, they might have a few extra ideas in their cupboards.

"I'm able to provide them with something healthy that they might not be able to provide themselves," Rocheleau said. "That's a good thing."

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with you story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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