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photo : Thomas Ondrey, The Plain Dealer

story : John Caniglia, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Dante Boccuzzi whirled around the kitchen in his trendy, upscale Tremont restaurant. He spoke in staccato bursts as he prepared food for 200 people, a group that lives a world away from his restaurant.

Boccuzzi coated 80 pounds of pork tenderloin with a fresh garlic sauce that mixed rosemary and fennel seed. He fussed over the red potatoes and smoothed 15 pounds of fresh-cut broccoli rabe donated by Ohio City Farm. After all, he wanted to make an impression.

“I want to make sure that it is something unique, tasty and memorable,” he said.

Boccuzzi, chef and co-owner of Dante, was baking for the homeless.

He does it once a month, preparing dishes that customers love for people who struggle to make it through the day.

“I can’t put into words how good this is. It’s delicious,” said Jeremiah Black after he finished his meal Saturday at the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry homeless shelter at 2100 Lakeside Ave in Cleveland.

Boccuzzi did his cooking for the shelter a day earlier. He donned a white, Dante apron and went to work about 3:30 p.m. He moved quickly, yet carefully. As his kitchen staff hummed, Boccuzzi focused on every part of the meal. He made sure the pork was basted and various ingredients mixed.

Mauricio Rocha, a partner in the restaurant, delivered the food Saturday morning.

The meal was Boccuzzi’s third for the shelter. The idea began when Rocha spoke to his wife, Jessica, about donating food. She works at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry.

He approached Boccuzzi.

Why not, Boccuzzi said.

“It’s not a huge help when you think of it in the big picture, but it’s a great start,” Rocha said.

To the shelter and other homeless networks, the meals are needed more than ever. The plunging economy and Cleveland’s foreclosure crisis have shifted a greater, more intense burden on agencies helping the homeless.

“Any dollar I don’t have to spend on food is a dollar I can spend someplace else,” said Michael Moguel, director of operations at the shelter. “When you get the benefit of really good food, that helps even more.”

While several restaurants across the region have donated to the shelter, Dante is pushing to do it on a consistent basis.

Boccuzzi called it a small gesture. It didn’t appear that way Saturday.

The men at the shelter hung around the cafeteria waiting to eat. By 11:45 a.m., they began to head for the kitchen.

Milton R. Smith was one of the first in line. He was glad he was.

“Even false teeth will go through this meat, and I have no qualms about telling you that,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of places in my lifetime, but this is really good.”

Thomas Faust agreed: “He did an excellent job. It was tender and juicy. No one could ever have a complaint.”

Boccuzzi said his restaurant often is approached often about gift certificates or other donations. But preparing meals is different.

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Story Compliments Of The Plain Dealer