Chef David Cruz turned his passion into a mission. Born in California and raised in Poughkeepsie, he uses his online presence and delicious food truck fare to spread awareness of what is possible with local ingredients.
“It actually started as a journey, a gardening journey for me. That’s how the Reconnect Foods page got started,” Cruz recalls. “You don’t really need to outsource or buy conventionally, especially if another farm has it here. I wanted to educate people that certain things could grow right in your backyard.”
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After losing his job as executive chef when the Nic L Inn (now Erin O’Neil’s Irish Pub) closed during the pandemic, he launched Reconnect Foods on social media. Cruz, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2019, was eager to share his knowledge of nutritious alternatives. Of course, that includes highlighting Hudson Valley farms and purveyors.
“Because I already had these connections with farmers, and I had the training from school, I wanted to build something on my own with with a menu created based off what was available in the Hudson Valley,” Cruz says.
He started small cooking small meals from home for friends and family. Then, he and his dad found a vehicle. So, around Cinco de Mayo 2021, Reconnect Foods rolled into business.
Cruz strives to “reconnect local food systems” through his mobile eatery. Certainly, the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory plays a huge role. It serves as an incubator for so many burgeoning businesses. Cruz uses its commercial kitchen to prep ingredients for the road. In addition, he hosts classes and pop-ups out of the historic building.
So far, Reconnect Foods has appeared at breweries, cideries, and other bucolic destinations. Find the pink truck at Rose Hill Farms in Red Hook, Obercreek Brewing Co. in Wappingers Falls, Bad Seed Cider in Highland, King’s Court Brewing in Poughkeepsie, and more.
Further, Cruz often curates menus for Reason and Ruckus in Poughkeepsie. Here, he serves dishes like Oaxacan-style pizza (called tlayuda) topped with carnitas, creamy guac, seasonal pico, and more. Fluffy bao buns and veggie-filled tacos are a few Reconnect Foods specialties.
Don’t sleep on Cruz’s ramen skills, either. His take features gluten-free glass noodles in a miso broth with local mushrooms, poached eggs, sweet potatoes, and other typical ramen accoutrements. In addition, a winter version included a choice of beef barbacoa, chicken chorizo, or veggies on top—all local, of course.
Similarly, Cruz holds special farm dinners around the Valley. In the past, visitors of Taliaferro Farms in New Paltz savored four creative courses of farm-to-table cuisine.
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“So, it all starts with breaking down the season. That’s my favorite thing—getting the mystery box of what do we have available right now? Then, it’s about the concept,” Cruz explains. “Everything is Mexican fusion with me. It’s what I grew up eating and that’s what my palate calls for.”
Cruz credits his mother’s cooking as a source of inspiration. At an early age, he got his first taste of the food industry. In fact, his mom used to serve Tex-Mex fusion right on Main Street in Poughkeepsie.
Because there aren’t a ton of fresh Mexican ingredients nearby, Cruz blends Southern flavors with hyperlocal specialties.
For instance, he loves using whatever Hudson Valley squash he can get his hands on. At Bad Seed Cider’s Fall Back Festival in 2021, Reconnect Foods served winter squash tacos with cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, and maple syrup. Similarly, his menus often have local squash and root vegetable soups. He tops salads of local greens with a Hudson Valley cider vinaigrette.
When it comes to the main, he particularly enjoys working with protein. Putting together the main course is like finding the final piece of a puzzle, in his words.
“The mushrooms that I get in the Hudson Valley are amazing. I always have a mushroom substitute for someone who doesn’t eat meat,” Cruz says. “But, I also have relationships with many poultry farms and different livestock farms.”
Often, growers like Greig Farm, Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Rose Hill, Obercreek, Row by Row, and Adams Fairacre Farms fuel his menus. Certainly, savoring hyperlocal produce on a scenic farm elevates the entire affair.
On the other hand, Cruz’s menus are also available for catering. One great option for a group is the trays of tacos, ranging from braised beets or mushrooms to chicken or pork. Tamales, rice bowls, salads, and pozole are a few highlights.
Even though Cruz is the face of Reconnect Foods—literally, his likeness appears on the truck—it is a small family of sorts that fuels the operation. According to Cruz, his social media skills are not on the level of his culinary prowess. So, Lauren Joray is responsible for curating the brand’s bright, colorful content.
Of course, local produce is always the star of the show. Many of her photos on Instagram show off Hudson Valley ingredients in their best light.
Then, there’s his kitchen partner Samuel Perez. Perez, who also grew up in Poughkeepsie, joined Reconnect Foods early in its journey.
“He reminds me of me. From the drive that he has, how curious he is, how attentive he is, how social he is,” Cruz says. “I really am glad that I have someone, because during the first three months I was doing it all.”
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Above all, Cruz wants to improve his community. Whether that’s promoting farms, partnering with small businesses, or hiring locals, it’s all about giving back.
“Our mission really is bringing more awareness to local foods by being a chef who has integrity, and having food with integrity at all times. The food system is skewed, and there’s something wrong with it,” Cruz states. “This is kind of my way of giving back. I’d like for it to keep growing and expanding as a mentality.”