Food Shift Turns Rescued Produce into a Dinner Party

Earlier this month, staff from Alameda County public agency StopWaste attended a fundraiser put on by local nonprofit Food Shift. Both organizations are dedicated to preventing food waste and finding delicious ways of using available foods. Edible East Bay is delighted to share this story from StopWaste along with recipes for two of the dishes served at the event.

Food Shift apprentices Henrika, Regina, Lorinda, and Destini
worked hard to make the dinner possible.

Food Shift Serves Up Meals with a Purpose

Earlier this month, over 100 people from around the Bay Area came together in Alameda for a doubly good cause: A dinner party that saved some 300 pounds of perfectly good produce from going to waste, while raising $4,500 in relief funds for North Bay communities impacted by the recent fires. On the menu: Santa Fe green chili, Boston baked beans, cucumber salad, and American- and German-style potato salads, plus cocktails, beer, and wine donated by local suppliers.

The event was organized by Food Shift, a nonprofit working to turn unwanted produce into nutritious, delicious meals and provide job training along the way. Food Shift founder Dana Frasz sums up the mission: “40{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} of all food is wasted, and too many people are hungry—we need more sustainable, creative, and equitable solutions to these problems.”

Julia Prince of Oakland was one of many happy guests at the fundraiser,
hosted by C’Era Una Volta Restaurant.

In the Food Shift Kitchen at the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), staff, apprentices, and volunteers process about 2,000 pounds of foods each week that would otherwise go to waste. In 2018, they aim to recover and process twice that much. Food Shift provides weekly meals for organizations feeding the hungry like Oakland’s Cityteam and also cooks for local business clients and events like the recent fundraiser.

The bulk of Food Shift’s ingredients come from Imperfect Produce, an Emeryville-based company that sells “ugly” fruits and vegetables that taste fine but don’t meet the cosmetic standards of most grocery stores. Misshapen produce adds up to more than 20{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} of the total harvest in the United States and typically goes to waste.

“Think onions that are just the size of golf balls, or peppers that are so curvaceous that moisture and dirt can build up in those pockets, making them prone to go bad faster—that’s the stuff we get,” explains Food Shift Kitchen chef Terrell Brunet.

Food Shift also picks up leftovers from Bay Area produce markets. “At the end of the day there is always extra produce—whether from a wrong order or just excess that wasn’t sold. Especially in the summer, the clock is ticking on how long these will stay fresh, so sellers are grateful if we take it and they don’t have to pay for disposal,” says Brunet.

Back at the kitchen, the chef has to think on his feet to come up with recipes for the unpredictable ingredients that come in. One of the dishes Brunet created for the benefit dinner was a Santa Fe–style green chili using lots of the fresh organic green peppers and potatoes he had on hand. Instead of the traditional pork, he added roasted zucchini and eggplant.

In addition to fresh vegetables, some dishes included ingredients Brunet and his team had prepared and frozen earlier in the season when those items were abundant. “Here at Food Shift and at home in your own kitchen, the freezer is your friend,” he says. “Tomatoes that might be a bit too ripe for a salad can be made into a simple but flavorful sauce to freeze and save you time later on. If you have lots of peppers you can’t use right away, roast, purée, and freeze them too.”

To get through all the sorting, washing, chopping, and cooking, Food Shift depends on help from their kitchen apprentices—usually APC residents who spend six months learning the trade while getting paid to help them break out of poverty and unemployment. Food Shift is working to expand their model of food rescue and job training, currently limited by their ability to move produce. “In the Bay Area, there is certainly no lack of produce that could be rescued,” says Burnet. “We are barely scratching the surface.”  

To learn more about Food Shift, or to volunteer or donate, visit For more tips and easy-to-follow recipes that reduce food waste and make the most of food you already have, visit, a project by Alameda County public agency StopWaste.

Learn about the history of Food Shift and the development of their kitchen at the Alameda Point Collaborative in past issues of Edible East Bay: here and here

Vegetarian Santa Fe Green Chili

Make this chili with any type of green peppers you like or can find, but keep in mind that some varieties are more picante than others.

Serves 4

18–20 peppers (use bell, poblano, or Anaheim peppers, or a combination)
1 pound summer squash (like zucchini) or eggplant, or a combination
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
4–6 fingerling potatoes
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Turn your broiler on to high. Working in batches, place washed whole peppers on a cookie sheet and broil on each side for 5 minutes, or until charred. Place the charred peppers in a brown paper bag and close tightly. Allow to cool. Once cool, remove peel, stem, and seeds. Place the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor, pulse several times, and set aside.

Wash and cut the squash and/or eggplant into 1-inch cubes and roast under the broiler, turning them frequently until slightly browned on all sides.  

Heat the oil in a large pot, add chopped onions and garlic, and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and stir in the flour, cumin, and black pepper, and cook, stirring for 2 minutes or until the mixture just begins to color. Remove the pot from the heat and gradually pour in the broth, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps.

Wash the fingerling potatoes, cut them into bite-size chunks, add them to the pot and simmer until cooked. Now add the roasted vegetables, puréed peppers, oregano, and salt, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Stir occasionally. Serve with warm flour tortillas. 

American Potato Salad

68 servings

3 pounds small red potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
½ cup chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped red onion

Place the washed potatoes and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Set aside. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters or in half, depending on their size. Place the cut potatoes in a large bowl and pour enough dressing over them to moisten. Add the celery and red onion, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Serve cold or at room temperature.       

Photos: Kory Thibeault