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Greensburg native runs unique catering service in California

Jacob Tierney
| Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, 10:42 p.m.
Darrell Gillcrese, a Greensburg native who went to the state of California to become a chef, poses for a portrait in the kitchen of the Sun Dawg Cafe in Greensburg on Tuesday, July 29, 2015.
Alexandria Polanosky | Trib Total Media
Darrell Gillcrese, a Greensburg native who went to the state of California to become a chef, poses for a portrait in the kitchen of the Sun Dawg Cafe in Greensburg on Tuesday, July 29, 2015.

Greensburg native Darrell Gillcrese may seek inspiration from around the world for the cuisine he creates for his Los Angeles catering company, but he hasn't forgotten his roots.

The chef is rarely seen without his trademark Pirates cap, and during a recent visit home, he teamed with Greensburg's Sun Dawg Cafe to give locals a taste of his creations.

“I grew up here, walking these streets,” he said.

Gillcrese started Mestico about three years ago. It's a catering company that blends classic black soul food with flavors from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Brazil.

He serves his food at festivals in the state of California and caters high-end events. He once served a meal to basketball star Kevin Garnett, he said.

“Mestico” is a Brazilian word used to describe someone of mixed heritage.

He's been in the kitchen ever since he was a kid, recalls his mom, Richelle Gillcrese-Bey.

“From the time he was 3 or 4 years old, he was always my designated test cook and my signature taster,” she said.

Gillcrese, 34, attended Greensburg Salem schools growing up, playing in the band and on the basketball team. He graduated from the district in 2000.

One year his mom had bronchitis on Thanksgiving and taught Gillcrese how to make the meal from her bed. He was 12 years old.

“I could not get out (of bed),” she said. “He had to make the whole meal for the entire family to come over.”

He got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at the former Red Star Brewery and Grille on Ehalt Street.

He always felt a joy in cooking and thought about starting his own restaurant for a long time, he said. It took him a while to make the leap. He considered it for almost a decade before founding Mestico.

In 2009, Gillcrese decided it was time for a change in scenery. He moved to California.

He worked in health care, but he wanted to do something more fulfilling, he said.

“It's a bit boring,” he said. “It didn't give the same passion and rush as catering a dish and giving it to people and they go, ‘Wow.' ”

Gillcrese has no formal training, other than his time working in restaurants. He said he was inspired to create unique flavors by combining the food he ate growing up with the meals enjoyed by his Latin-American friends and his Puerto Rican aunt.

He traveled to South America and the Caribbean to find new flavors.

“The two styles fit well together,” said Ray Flowers, owner of the Sun Dawg Cafe.

Flowers and Gillcrese first met at Red Star, when Gillcrese was a teenage dishwasher and Flowers was a sous chef. Flowers helped Gillcrese set up a Mestico event in Greensburg on Tuesday, serving Gillcrese's signature dishes to about 75 people at the Palace Theatre.

Gillcrese devised a menu of baked mussels with chorizo, barbecue pork rib tacos, yucca chips with mango salsa and more to show off his skills for the event.

He's been successful in his few years running a catering business, he said. He attributes his popularity to his willingness to try something different. Great Mexican food is easy to find in California, he said. His particular fusion of styles is not.

“Give people what they want and do something different,” he said.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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