Full Circle Interview with Chef Annie Somerville of Greens Restaurant
What is your major motivation for serving organic, local, sustainable produce?
Chef Annie: It’s the best possible way I to eat! It supports small growers and producers, their employees, their families and communities. And it’s sustainable – good for the planet.
With two books – Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From the Celebrated Greens Restaurant and Everyday Greens – and a thriving restaurant, what is the biggest message you want to get out to people about eating habits?
Chef Annie: To quote Michael Pollen: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Eating organic, sustainably grown fruits and vegetables, whole beans, grains, nuts, seeds and a moderate amount of dairy/soy products is a fantastic way to eat. Shop at your local farmers’ market or support small farmers through a CSA. For me, shopping at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market is a special treat and I get to do it twice a week.
Many non-vegetarians eat at your vegetarian restaurant; how do you satisfy the meat-and-potatoes clientele?
Chef Annie: By serving delicious, beautifully prepared dishes. Our food speaks for itstelf. I tell the cooks “Our guests eat with their eyes first, so make sure every plate is beautiful.”
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Chef Annie: I do not have a favorite ingredient. I like just about everything. Chard, kale and leafy greens are some of my favorites. Poblano chilies, all peppers and chilies in season are more favorites.
Do you find it challenging to creatively cook with the seasons, especially in the wintertime?
Chef Annie: Late winter into early spring is a challenge. It’s a revelation when local asparagus arrives mid to late February. As the days grow longer, the peas, artichokes, flowering greens and strawberries arrive at the farmers’ market. That’s when spring has arrived in Northern California.
Has farm fresh food always been a big part of your life?
Chef Annie: Yes, we’ve been cooking this way at Greens since we opened in 1979.
Being in one of the most food-centric cities in the world, do you find it challenging to have produce be the showcase of your plates?
Chef Annie: Not at all. It’s an inspiration to work with farm fresh fruits and vegetables. And to know the people who grow them.
Greens has its own farm and strong relationships with sustainable local farms; what difference does it make to your customers to have food directly from the farm onto their tables?
Chef Annie: It makes all the difference. Our guests expect our food to be very fresh, very seasonal.
You also feature local artisan goods in your cooking, such as Cowgirl Creamery. What do you look for in local companies before using their products?
Chef Annie: We look for delicious local olive oils, cheeses, etc, produced by good people.
Do you see demand for sustainable agriculture and organic farming growing?
Chef Annie: I do. There’s a very strong food culture; people who are committed to eating this way, who make the choice every day to pay the real price for local, sustainable and organic food. It’s a powerful way to change the very poor eating habits of our very wealthy nation.
Full Circle is giving away great prizes from Greens Restaurant as part of our Facebook Dinner’s On Us Sweepstakes. If you live in the Bay Area, go to our Facebook Page and enter. The first 1,000 people to enter will receive two free boxes of Full Circle Organic produce.