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Chef Spotlight: Annie Somerville

Chef Spotlight: Annie Somerville
Chef Somerville choosing grapes at a local market.

Chef Annie Somerville has been a chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, California, for 28 years and is one of the true pioneers of vegetarian cooking. Somerville came to the Bay Area at age 21. She was interested in practicing Zen Buddhism and meditation and soon became a member of the San Francisco Zen Center. As part of its teachings, the Zen Center placed a strong emphasis on food and cooking, and eventually, the organization opened Greens Restaurant in 1979. Somerville came to Greens in 1981 and became its executive chef in 1985.

Somerville is committed to using farm-fresh produce and cooking with the seasons. She shops weekly at the local farmers market and works closely with organic gardeners in nearby Muir Beach as well as local growers to plan her menus.

Restaurant or company: Greens Restaurant

How long have you been a chef?

28 years

Where did you train to become a chef?

The San Francisco Zen Center and three years at Greens before becoming the executive chef.

What type of cuisine do you focus on?

Vegetarian

What are your favorite ingredients to work with?

My favorite ingredients to work with are all fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and in season. I go to the farmers market weekly so almost anything … fresh and seasonal I find there.

What are the most important elements in cooking great vegetarian cuisine?

The most important elements are beautiful, fresh ingredients, vibrant flavors, simplicity, and beautiful presentations. If you get all these parts down, you will cook great vegetarian cuisine.

What is the key to getting meat-eaters to enjoy vegetarian food?

If you cook delicious, satisfying food, meat-eaters will love it whether it has meat or not. It’s all about the quality of the food prepared.

In your opinion, what vegetarian dish or type of food is most frequently poorly prepared and why?

It’s important that all vegetables have great texture. Overcooked vegetables equal poor texture and thus unappealing results.

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only eat one kind of ethnic food, what would it be?

Definitely Thai food!

Can you give us one great cooking tip for aspiring vegetarian chefs?

Make sure to keep it simple and don’t forget to focus on vibrant flavors.

What are some ingredients that you recommend vegetarians and vegans have in their kitchens to cook with?

The basics: Excellent oils and vinegars, fresh nuts, citrus, seasonal fruits and vegetables, coconut milk, ginger, chilies, capers, lots of onions and garlic, corn tortillas, dried beans, quinoa, short grain brown rice, couscous, freshly milled polenta

The following are some of Somerville’s delicious vegan recipes:

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  • Sabrina Liu says:

    I think the recipes sound so great. It’s great to see how someone can make a great business and way of life out of their beliefs!

  • Roxy says:

    I’m with you Mylie! That recipe sounds delicious. I’m also looking forward to making the muffins.

  • Mylie says:

    Just wanted to say that I am so excited for the Kabocha recipe. I do the majority of my shopping at Asian markets and love trying the veggies I get there in new ways. Thanks for the recipes, Chef!

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