Magic in the Kitchen

Two Chefs Team Up to Fight Climate Change

A Spell Is Cast

Like handkerchiefs streaming out of a magician’s hat, wide tan lasagna noodles ribboned out of the stout pasta pot. Fletcher Starkey watched his mother layer the noodles over the medley of vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Fins of steam ghosted above the casserole dish. The effect was not unlike stage fog wafting around a magician. Even at six years old, Fletcher knew he was witnessing his destiny unfold. 

“That’s one of my earliest memories,” Fletcher ruminates. “But [mom] was always really busy so I’d say ‘Why don’t you just go do your chores and I’ll take over this.’ And after awhile I got put in charge of cooking meals for my family. You know, it’s just fun for me! There was never any point in my life where I wanted to do anything else.”

A Meeting of Magicians

Today, Fletcher and Roshani Patel run Roxy’s Taqueria, an Indian-Mexican fusion taco bar. Their shared passion for cooking brought Fletcher and Roshani together thirteen years ago. He had just transitioned from being an executive chef at the Google Headquarters in San Francisco to running his own catering businesses. She had graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and was working for a company selling boxed meals online.

After a few months, Roshi and Fletcher joined forces. They moved on from catering to opening their own restaurant in San Francisco. Fletcher notes, “The location wasn’t right. It was in a really shady part of town and it was really expensive so we moved out to Boulder [Colorado].”

There, they ran several successful restaurants there for the last 7 years. In fact, the original iteration of Roxy’s debuted in Boulder until the location was bulldozed to make way for a new luxury hotel. When the couple came across the old Francisco’s site up for grabs in Durango, they leapt at the chance to start over in a new home.

“We’re happier here,” Fletcher declares. He and Roshi felt a natural fit into Durango’s local-first, environmentally-conscious, nature-loving culture. Though they did feel one major disappointment. Fletcher says, “I thought there would be municipal composting here when we moved in but there wasn’t.”

He goes on to explain that Boulder’s huge, high-tech facility enabled all residents to compost everything: kitchen scraps, meats, dairy, twigs, flowers, grass clippings, and more. Fletcher and Roshi were relieved to find Table to Farm, which serviced residential as well as commercial clients.

Practical Magic

Multiple drivers motivate the couple to compost. First, personal factors are at play. Fletcher groans, “It hurts my soul to see good food going to the garbage. I think something like one-third of the food purchased in America winds up in the landfill and that’s just wrong.”

Secondly, Roxy’s co-owners see composting as community stewardship. “We want to reduce the total load going to the landfill. I’ve been reading about how the rotting produce creates all the methane,” Fletcher says. Once the methane is in the atmosphere, it acts like down feathers in a puffy coat, trapping the Sun’s radiant heat. Only the Earth has no pit zips to release the excess heat. As the climate overheats, ecosystems destabilize causing beautiful landscapes—like the ones Durango inhabits—to wither. Food webs and supply chains break down which causes ordinary people to lose their livelihoods. Fletcher and Roshi see composting as a safeguard that benefits their new friends and neighbors.

“And then on another level,” Fletcher points out, “I know that compost, once it’s processed and completed, is a valuable commodity.” Whether applied to local farms, yards, or gardens, quality compost is valuable soil amendment. It cuts down on water use, as less moisture is lost from the soil. Healthier soils grow healthier crops, too.

For Roxy’s Taqueria, composting is one more way they can better feed people delicious food.

Fletcher indicates the large green tote in Roxy’s kitchen continuously filled with carrot shavings, kale stems, and so many other colorful scraps. “We go through a lot of produce. We are establishing ourselves as the premier vegan restaurant in Durango,” he says.

The veggies create familiar south-of-the-border dishes with a thrilling twist of Indian flare. How about some green chili Sriracha on that burrito? Maybe a tamarind ginger chutney on those nachos?

“Easily our top-selling item is our naan tacos!” Fletcher declares. His inner chef cannot be curtailed as he describes the naan-making process. “We enrich the naan with yogurt. We cook it [at about 1,000 degrees] for about 15 seconds on each side, take it off, and then we brush it with garlic butter with cumin seed, coriander seed, and sesame seed. And then! We toast it on the flat grill for a second. So it has a little bit of crunch on the outside but it’s really soft on the inside because of the yogurt. So you get a piece of that and you can top it with whatever you want!”

Sorcery, Sustainably Sourced

Roxy’s inventive, playful, and highly customizable dishes evoke the unfettered zeal of a mad scientist concocting mischief, and at the same time, the delightful spontaneity of a magic show. Their cooking resides at the intersection where sorcerers, alchemists, chemists, and environmentalists all overlap. And any wizard worth his salt will tell you: magic comes with a cost. For restaurateurs, that cost can come in the form of waste products exiting the kitchen only to rot in a dumpster.

The charms to counter these curses are simple according to Roxy’s owners. They do not broker in single-use plastics. They source local ingredients. And, of course, they compost. They hope all restaurants in Durango will adopt composting sooner rather than later especially because the problem of food waste needs neither rocket science nor top hats.

As Fletcher puts it, “If you just apply a little ingenuity to using and reducing and repurposing food that’s perfectly good…then you can always do something with it.”

To learn more about (and taste!) Roxy’s sustainable, community-based cooking, stop by their location at 639 Main Avenue in Durango. On Friday and Saturday nights, Roxy’s Taqueria invites local DJ’s to come dish up late night dance tracks. EDM, house, techno, funk, soul, reggae—it’s all on the menu until 2am.