As a child growing up on the East coast, Richard Crocker and his mother delivered meals and groceries to their neighbor. Years later,& he is sharing meals again, only on a larger scale, leading a team to produce 10,000 meals a day!
Growing up in Boston, Richard Crocker always loved food and its unique ability to bring people together. Sharing food was encouraged at a very young age.
“I had my first experience with food insecurity as a child,” Richard explained over a recent video call. “My mother would visit an older woman once a week. There was always a bag of groceries and an extra batch of food from the week. I understood later what we were doing.”
Years later, he is sharing meals again, only on a larger scale… 10,000 meals a day! Equipped with a new state-of-the-art kitchen, a culinary team of about 55, and decades of restaurant experience, Richard is heading up the food operations at Meals on Wheels San Francisco as its new Executive Chef.
“I probably went into cooking because I was hungry,” Chef Richard remembered. “I stayed in cooking because I like the experience of sharing good food. I love that you can share something with someone else and it brings them happiness.”
His first restaurant job was during college at the Rathskeller in Upstate New York, flipping burgers and making Philly cheesesteaks. It was popular with a college crowd, both in the kitchen and out of it. “I lived off-campus and cooked with my housemates. One of my housemate’s parents hired me to cater a party, and I guess that was the start of my culinary career.”
A friend introduced Richard to a chef who owned a small European-style restaurant in Boston. Quickly, he went from cook to running the kitchen.
Eventually, he took the plunge and enrolled at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu.
Upon graduation, Chef Richard went to work at Boulevard in San Francisco with famed restaurateur – and former San Francisco Meals on Wheels Board member – Nancy Oakes. For almost three decades, Chef Richard delighted Boulevard’s guests.
Richard’s time at Boulevard gave him several opportunities to flex his culinary expertise. For 20 years, he recruited and managed over 100 chefs annually for Meals on Wheels San Francisco’s Star Chefs and Vintners Gala — a fundraiser that raises approximately $3 million for the organization. Everyone in the restaurant and wine industries attends this event — or cooks — and Richard has played an integral part in making this event famously popular in the Bay Area.
In March 2020, everything shut down, including in-person fundraisers and especially restaurants. “Meals on Wheels brought me on to do anything. They needed people and I was available,” Richard reflected. Back then, he was Meals on Wheels’ Food Safety and Compliance Manager.
The pandemic, finding a second temporary kitchen location, food storage issues, personal protection equipment issues — Meals on Wheels was going through so much. There was a 300% increase in clients and the organization was moving into a new kitchen. The old kitchen had been stressed before. Now, with COVID, the challenges multiplied.
“I was initially brought in to implement COVID protocols in the kitchen as well as set up emergency procedures outlining how we stored, packaged, and distributed food,” said Chef. As the requests for home-delivered meals grew – so did kitchen production. In fact, the old kitchen was producing 50% more meals, and Richard needed to ensure the staff was working safely, socially distant from one another while producing and packaging upwards of 10,000 meals daily. Not a small task!
In July of 2021, Richard transitioned into the role of Executive Chef. In this full-time role, he leads a team that advances the menu offerings regularly, adding new items, phasing out others, all the while remembering to appeal to the cultural diversity that defines the Bay Area.
This fall, the team is looking ahead and testing new menu items in their new test kitchen located in The Sangiacomo Flynn Building. Coming soon: Hungarian Goulash! The staff is working on some exciting vegan dishes as well, such as a Moroccan Tagine. Meals on Wheels Sous Chef Brett Niebergall is sharing his mom’s Black Bean Soup. Chef is bringing a bit of his Boston roots to the fall menu with the addition of New England Clam Chowder.
He still loves the experience of sharing food with friends. Just don’t expect him to bring something extravagant to your dinner party. “A bottle of wine,” is his quick answer. As he explains, when a chef is invited to someone’s house, people are almost universally apologetic about their non-professional cooking. “I feel privileged to be going somewhere to be taken care of at someone else’s house.”
OK, if you ask him nicely, he’ll bring fried chicken. He says “it’s a sure win.”
Did You Know?
- In 2020, Meals on Wheels San Francisco prepared and delivered 2.4 million meals to more than 5,000 older San Franciscans in need.
- Meals on Wheels entrees are made with both taste and high nutritional value in mind
- Chef Richard’s favorite Fried Chicken recipe