Sometimes, especially in New England, when you wake up and the damp chill has invaded your bedroom, and it looks like the sky is about to open up and dump on you it’s hard to remember that spring is a time of opportunity. But on Monday, to the chagrin of the cold pounding rain outside, a group of chefs met around the solid wood tables of Matt and Kate Jenning’s La Laiterie in Providence to discuss, in so many words, opportunity.

Rhode Island has some amazing things happening right now in its food scene and many of the major players from the Providence and Newport areas were in attendance. More than a handful of the chefs were quick to point out what an irregular if celebratory occasion it is to have these 17 chefs together in one room at the same time. Anyone who knows the schedule of chefs and business owners can agree.

Leigh and I went down for the first half of their day to discuss Chefs Collaborative role in helping to unify their network and strengthen their bonds both within the cooking community and with the people who provide them their ingredients; i.e. the farmers and fishermen of the Ocean State. Over the course of the two hours or so we spoke, some very interesting themes arose.

Everyone agrees that getting local produce in Rhode Island is getting easier and more diverse (special props here go to Farm Fresh Rhode Island). Seafood too is on the up and up, especially with the work of Trace and Trust (be sure to check out chef Derek Wagner’s words on T&T).  The major issue is the availability and affordability of local fresh meat. As many chefs lamented, it’s not that they don’t want it on their menus; it’s simply not an option…unless maybe you want a $50 dollar steak. This is an issue we continue to work on at Chefs Collaborative.

In addition, Matt Gennuso of Chez Pascal broached the subject of composting. Composting takes waste out of your dumpster which decreases costs. But it also takes the cooperation of farmers for places to compost the scraps, and of other restaurants to make a compost program feasible.

We didn’t reach any resolutions, and we weren’t necessarily trying to. That would be a hefty undertaking for an hour and a half. What we did do was get a dialogue started, one in which a group of likeminded chefs have started to codify their collective goals and find a way to protect and further each other’s interests. It is nearly impossible to get all these chefs in one room but part of Chefs Collaborative goals is to help find ways around such dilemmas and provide a venue so that these conversations can continue to develop, and so that regional identities can be preserved and strengthened. With the help of newly appointed local network leaders Derek Wagner of Nick’s on Broadway and Jake Rojas of Tallulah on Thames, Rhode Island is well on its way.