For the last twenty-eight of the thirty years of the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, chef Annie Somerville has championed and celebrated all that sustainable, vegetarian cuisine can represent: local, seasonal, fresh, nutritious, healthy, tasty – and, especially, direct from the farm.
Since opening in 1979 in the rehabilitated warehouse at the Fort Mason Center, the Greens Restaurant has prospered by featuring the finest, local, seasonal organic ingredients, lovingly prepared by chef Somerville and her talented culinary artists to entice your palate and satisfy your hunger to make the world a better place. By how the Greens Restaurant operates, focusing on vegetarian cuisine from local, sustainable, organic farms and businesses featuring artisan foods, they’ve also been leaders in helping mitigate human impacts climate change.
My family and I sat down with Chef Somerville after a delicious meal of grilled polenta with roasted wild mushrooms, shallots and herb cream, followed by farro spaghetti with winter squash and greens as well as mesquite grilled brochettes, mushrooms, yellow finn potatoes, peppers, red onions, yams, fennel and Hodo Soy tofu with charmoula and almond cherry quinoa. Why wait for a taste of heaven? That practically all the ingredients for our vegetarian meal came fewer than a hundred miles away, all the better.
“It’s been a groundswell,” admits the personable and relaxed Somerville, this despite a rapidly filling restaurant on a Friday night. No sign of a downturn in business here in spite of the faltering economy, something shared in common among other ecopreneurial enterprises. “Our patrons savor our delicious food because they appreciate just how fresh it is. Because of this, I focus on simple preparations, drawing from the abundance of produce found at the local farmers’ market as well as direct from the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in the Marin Headlands and Bolinas’ Star Route Farms.” Her approach to simple vegetarian cuisine is celebrated in her two cookbooks, most recently Everyday Greens, and her earlier cookbook, Fields of Greens.
Besides long-standing relationships with various regional farms, the Greens Restaurant sources their sourdough and other breads from Acme Bread and their delectable cheeses from Cow Girl Creamery – cheesemakers who pride themselves on an artisanal approach to making cheeses. Quality, not quantity, is the mantra at the Greens Restaurant, though you won’t depart the table hungry either.
“It’s a good time to be vegetarian,” admits Somerville who recognizes that methane gas is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. With the growing livestock industry globally and shift in more meat-based diets, this could be the next shoe to drop in the climate change discussion. “The majority of our guests are not strict vegetarians,” says Somerville. “But they’re aware by eating more locally, vegetarian and organic, they can make a difference in climate change by how they eat.”
The impacts of climate are all too real for people living with the widespread wildfires throughout California, and drought in the San Francisco Bay area. So eating local, sourcing food from organic or more sustainable agriculture operations, and, at least some of the time, eating lower on the food chain by consuming more vegetables, fruits, legumes, fungi and nuts are all practical ways to help address our climate change reality. “People are very aware about the importance of eating in your foodshed, locally where our food is grown,” adds Somerville. “It cuts down on emissions from transport and builds a more vibrant local economy. People are also aware of the chemicals added in conventional approaches to agriculture, both in produce and with livestock. It’s just not good for us, for the animals, for the farmers, or for our planet.” You don’t need to read too many headlines these days for signs of ecological stress or collapse resulting from the conventional approach to agriculture.
With chef Someville finally called back into the kitchen, we settled down to a indulgent flourless mocha torte with espresso caramel and gianduja-stracciatella gelato. Our son, of course, took the last bite — perhaps fitting, because how we eat today will determine the future he inherits tomorrow.
Photography: Courtesy of the Greens Restaurant (Chef Annie Somerville of the Greens Restaurant)