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Game Changers

Daily Table is on a mission to stop food waste and feed the hungry

The nonprofit Dorchester store transforms donated food into healthy, affordable meals.

Boston Ma 5/20/2015 Katie Kritzalis (cq) who is doing Fellowship in Food systems stocking shelves at The Daily Table a non-profit grocery store that is soon to open in Dorchester. Staff/Photographer Jonathan Wiggs Topic: Reporter

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/file

Daily Table turns donations of excess food into prepared meals, most costing $2 to $4.

Ismail Samad is standing in a warehouse staring intently at 2,000 pounds of carrots. To him, each carrot is a tiny orange stick of dynamite, with an imaginary clock ticking down before it spoils.

As the executive chef of Daily Table, the nonprofit grocery in Dorchester that has been an experiment in bringing food rescue efforts to the marketplace, Samad is faced with these challenges every day. The store is the creation of Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, who worked at the company for 31 years.

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Daily Table receives shipments of excess food donations from groceries, suppliers, and food rescue organizations throughout Greater Boston, sometimes without much warning. Then, Samad and his team must find ways to make healthy food on the fly, using creative methods to prep, prepare, preserve, and serve inexpensive food for its low-income neighborhood store, all while ensuring as little as possible goes to waste (it’s like the Food Network’s hit show Chopped, only the one with the fewest leftovers wins). Adding to the challenge: All of their prepared meals must meet their strict nutritional guidelines. Remarkably, most meals cost from $2 to $4, allowing shoppers using food stamps to get the most for their money.

Facing that mountain of carrots, Samad convenes quickly with an assistant chef, and together they create a trio of recipes: They’ll be mashed, mixed into carrot ginger soup, and shredded into slaw.

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He then goes on to triage all of the food crowding the shelves throughout the facility: Red snapper and radicchio are fresh and will be used in prepared meals, made from scratch on site by a team of chefs who mostly live within 2 miles of the store. Loaves of sourdough approaching their stale date will be made into bread crumbs and croutons. Overripe apples and strawberries are pureed into smoothies, while veggies past their prime go into stock for soups. The team relies on freezers to keep stockpiles that can be used days or weeks out.

“Everything about Daily Table is not normal,” Samad jokes. But he might be uniquely suited to handle the endeavor. He’s a co-owner and former head chef of The Gleanery, a restaurant in Putney, Vermont, that uses the same food-rescue principles in its meals. But he’s been in Boston full time since a year before the store’s opening last June, and Daily Table has seen a steady growth in its sales and members, selling 400 prepared meals a day. The market is hoping to expand to a second storefront by year’s end.

“We want to run an operation that’s self-sustainable,” he says. “We’re a community market that gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy healthy food. We just need more of it donated all the time.”

Janelle Nanos is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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