Scott_Mechura_headshotBy Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

I once wrote about what is in the average chef’s refrigerator. If you recall, it usually isn’t much. Yes, its contents can be kooky, exotic or rare, but it’s usually somewhat barren.

Contrary to a chef’s icebox of limited treasures, the typical household’s refrigerator is filled with all manner of things: every condiment known to man, crispers full of produce, an entire shelf of Tupperware devoted exclusively to leftovers, and a freezer that needs to have one hand ready to catch an item that falls out because it’s so full.

And yet, what do we do? We open the fridge, stare inside as if hypnotized, and say or think to ourselves, “There is nothing to eat.” Water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

I was the master of this as a child and teenager. “There’s plenty to eat. You just have to put forth a little effort,” my mother would say. “A hot meal on a plate isn’t going to just jump out at you if that’s what your waiting for.” Well yes, I know, but what pre-food TV adolescent or teenager wants to actually cook a meal? I certainly didn’t.

A few weeks ago, I was about to start my morning workout at the gym and in walked Bob Thompson, a friend I’ve shared many life and food conversations with—mostly at the gym. He said it would be helpful if I included a recipe in this column from time to time. We then shifted gears slightly and began discussing the challenge of how he, a very good home cook, sometimes considers his refrigerator and sees nothing to prepare, while knowing full well there are plenty of options.

We had a great laugh on the subject, and through the entirety of my following workout, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could help Bob and others like him.

While I’m not offering up any recipes (this time), I will lay out different and creative ways of looking in your refrigerator, and at the way you eat, to think about a meal. In other words, think outside the (ice)box.

Rather than identifying specific items, like a baked sweet potato, some leftover carrots, salad greens, a cooked chicken breast, or leftover cooked pasta as individual items, look at them in terms of doing something different with them than you did the first time.

For example, why do you need to eat that pasta hot or those salad greens cold?

Start with a little lightly heated, healthy oil of your choice in a pan—olive, coconut, sunflower and grape seed oils are some of my favorites. Gently wilt some salad greens. They make a great vegetable, especially if they are heartier like kale or Swiss chard.

With a little cold pasta tossed with that diced chicken breast or leftover steak from the restaurant with whatever other vegetables, and one of the many salad dressings in the door, you can have a great lunch after your morning workout.

Break up that leftover cooked fish, combine it with a little yogurt, curry and garlic, and serve it over some rice. Chop up that tomato that is just begging to be used along with the just wilting cilantro and you’re in business.

Don’t be afraid of changing the temperature of your leftovers from how you originally cooked it, using vegetables and starches interchangeably, and mixing in a condiment or two from the door for some depth of flavor, some acid or just more flavor.

The next time you open that door, don’t see discouragement, see opportunity.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.