Sometimes you stumble upon your passion by accident. Such was the case for David Kocab, Head Chef at The Black Pig in Ohio City, who up until he started working in kitchens didn’t really have any idea what he wanted to do. “I just kind of haphazardly found myself in kitchens, and I liked it, it was really comfortable for me. I ended up just being naturally good at it when I hadn't really found anything like that in my life before.”
Once David made the decision that he wanted to pursue a career as a chef, culinary school seemed like the logical next step. About a month later he moved to Portland to do just that. “It was great cause I finally found schooling that I liked. I felt like that annoying 5th grade kid that's like "oh, I love school, I'm here to learn today", but I felt like that! Finally! It was really nice! I lived out there for three years. It was really cool because you see how integrated food and agriculture is into society, into the communities and everything. And up until I left Cleveland, there was no emphasis on supporting local agriculture. Maybe Karen [Small] was the only person doing it before I left.”
Eventually, Cleveland was calling out to David, and he was listening. He moved back in 2013 after a brief stint in LA, and started working with Karen Small at The Flying Fig, then The Greenhouse Tavern and a string of other places until he eventually landed his first job as Head Chef at Trentina. His time there really allowed him to hone in on his farm to table passion. “It’s a small restaurant with 35 seats and a tasting menu, so I was able to focus on quality over quantity. It was great, I got to work with whoever I wanted to work with locally. And it introduced me to so many more people locally that have an appreciation for that kind of thing.”
Over the years, educating people through food has become super important to David and he’s made it the cornerstone of his mission since he started as Head Chef at The Black Pig a little over a year ago. Those of us who are involved in food systems work recognize the need to create engaging conversations with consumers to help them understand the intricacies the food system and how it affects them. That is particularly true when it comes to food waste, which could possibly be the least understood part of the food system and is also an integral part of David’s mission.
“Locally food waste is not talked about enough. I think it's talked about nationally but I think it's talked about in a way that is not receptive for people to care. Cause it's always shaming us, and people do not respond well to that. It’s great to have a partner like Rust Belt Riders because they're bringing up a topic of conversation and changing a social norm essentially. They influence it to the point where we're all thinking about food waste now, whether it's actively thinking about it or subconsciously thinking about it. It's got to start somewhere.”
While the farm to table movement has made a lot of progress over the last several years, we still have a long way to go. Creating an atmosphere that is built on responsible sourcing and solid sustainability practices is no easy feat, and it requires real dedication. “As a chef you know that you could put lobster mac or a caprese salad on the menu in February and it'll sell out. But even though this is a business, it's not all about that. I like the path that I've chosen, the people I've chosen to put myself around. We don't play that way because we don't have to. We're a small independent restaurant, we have certain ethos and beliefs and we can push those out there because we know enough people will support us. After seeing how food can affect a society and a community, as I did in Portland, I feel like there's a lot of societal correlations that can be applied here. For me, I'm always trying to make Cleveland better. And right now, a huge way to make Cleveland better is to strengthen the community.”