It's good to be green
Renowned Bay Area chef 'celebrates vegetables' at Greens Restaurant.
Spend a morning on the farm with Annie Somerville and—with all of her excitement and enthusiasm—you may find it difficult to believe she's been working with food for more than 30 years now.
"These are great!" exclaims Annie as she bites into a freshly harvested beet.
Despite her almost fanatical love for farm food, Annie isn't a farmer; she's a chef and an acclaimed cookbook author. You see, Annie was "green" before the term was even coined. That's because she started Greens Restaurant in San Francisco back in 1980 and at the time, it was one of the first vegetarian restaurants in the entire country. Despite its popularity now, Annie said the idea was a pretty risky move back then.
"Vegetarian restaurants were mostly small, out-of-the way cafés, serving what people thought was pretty bland food," she said. "They thought we just served salad greens and tofu."
But thanks to Annie's work with farmers and getting high-quality, new and unique fruits and vegetables on the menu, Greens Restaurant changed people's perceptions of produce.
"I am always searching for fruits and vegetables that people wouldn't normally know what to do with if they saw them at the grocery store," Annie said. "It's a way to open up their palate to new things."
And although the word "vegetarian" isn't on the menu, people don't seem to notice what's missing here. That's because Annie's concept for getting people to try her dishes was—and remains—simple: We eat with our eyes first so if you put spectacular-looking food on the plate, customers will try it. The motto at Greens is "celebrate vegetables" and for that, Annie relies on farms across the state, including Blossom Bluff Farms in the Central Valley, Bellwether Farms in Sonoma County and—the farm she's been connected with the longest—Green Gulch Farm in Marin County.
Thanks to its extreme microclimate near the coast, Green Gulch Farm is able to supply Annie with fruits and vegetables almost year-round and is a main factor in creating a culinary legacy that is rare in this part of the world. The California Restaurant Association estimates that 90 percent of restaurants fail within the first three years of opening in the Bay Area. But not Greens—30 years old now, and it's still packing them in at lunchtime. Their secret to success here? Simply put, the chef's passion for produce.
"For me, when a customer sits down and has a meal at Greens and they can feel the beauty and freshness and understand where this incredible produce comes from," Annie said with a huge grin on her face, "then I know we've been very successful."
For more information about Annie Somerville and Greens Restaurant, visit www.greensrestaurant.com.