Greens Restaurant opened on the San Francisco Bay in 1979, and since then has continued to innovate and inspire in the world of vegetarian cooking. Greens is a pioneer in celebrating vegetables and consistently features a truly seasonal, and ever-changing menu, based on what’s peaking in ripeness. Greens sources ingredients from both local farmers and their own organic farm, Green Gulch.
Greens’ newly appointed Executive Chef Katie Reicher’s transition to executive chef took place in June 2020 at the height of the pandemic, at a time when the restaurant had been closed for months. Her charge was to reopen, while at the same time reimagine the Greens menu for takeout service with only a bare minimum of dedicated staff.
Thanks to her prior experience running daily operations as the lead sous chef prior to the pandemic, the transition felt natural she says. Moreover, that “the incredible support of the wonderful people at Greens made [her] transition to Executive Chef less about growing pains and more about personal growth and the continued success of the restaurant.”
“Greens has such a long and rich history, so I was very mindful to maintain the integrity of the restaurant and only make only the most necessary pandemic-driven adjustments, some of which we’ve retained to this day,” she says. “I’m also changing the menu more frequently than before, so we can really hone in on serving the freshest and most seasonal ingredients. Other changes stemmed from existing philosophies at Greens, like working with new local purveyors and expanding the global reaches of the worldly menu.”
Now that the pandemic climate has calmed down enough to host events, Greens announced a special chef summer dinner series to foster unity and culinary exploration, while sharing a portion of the proceeds with Foodwise to promote fresh food education and food access programs.
Greens will host a talented trio of chefs who will collaborate on four-course meals with Executive Chef Reicher. The chefs are Chef Adiam Tsegaye of Mela Bistro; James Beard Award nominees and former contestant on the Food Network’s “Chopped” Chef Crystal Wahpepah; and James Beard Award nominee Chef Heena Patel of Besharam.
Chef Reicher wanted to bring in Bay Area chefs that are experts in their cultures’ cuisines, specifically, she reached out to chefs who create foods that represent cultures that Greens had not previously explored. “Our community is so diverse and so full of passionate chefs that create foods inspired by their childhoods and life experiences,” she says.
“As this was the first event at Greens since the pandemic, I really wanted to focus on reconnecting with the folks in our area, forming new connections with people we haven’t previously worked with, and celebrating the many cultures that make up our community .”
“Working with Crystal, Heena, and Adam has been magnificent,” says Chef Reicher. “Each chef is so passionate and down-to-earth; you can really see the love and inspiration through their food. Writing the menus for the dinners has been so fun and inspired. I have learned so much and being able to share this experience with our guests while giving back to our community has been nothing short of incredible.”
“I love sharing traditions, memories and flavors inspired by my upbringing in Gujarat so I was thrilled when Chef Katie Reicher invited me to bring a taste of Besharam to Greens as part of their guest chef series,” says Chef Heena Patel. “It’s exciting to be collaborating with a restaurant that has done such amazing work to forward the conversation surrounding plant-based cuisine. Just as Greens reshaped the perception of vegetarian cuisine, at Besharam, we hope to expand the perception of Indian food by showcasing the nuances and complexities of regional Gujarati cuisine.”
We chatted with Executive Chef Katie Reicher, as well as chefs Crystal Wahpepah, Chef Adiam Tsegaye, and Chef Heena Patel on Greens Restaurant, the guest chef summer series, menu inspiration and more. Here’s what this dynamic group of chefs had to say.
What is the inspiration behind the menu at Greens?
Executive Chef Katie Reicher: I often say that I was “born and raised” as a chef at Greens. I started in 2015, when I was 21 years old, as part of my culinary externship for the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY. Since then, I have been working with Greens, working my way up through the ranks and learning through all the seasons and changes over the years, including Annie’s retirement and the 2018 kitchen fire.
My experiences over the years at Greens have really shaped how I write my menus. In general, our food philosophy and menu formats are still the same: a world-approach to vegetarian cuisine using natural ingredients. The menu is very collaborative, and the sous chefs bring a lot to the table too. We all draw inspiration from different places, but one of my favorite questions to ask people is “what did your grandma cook?”
I really draw inspiration from comfort and traditions, and I use nostalgia to create vegetarian dishes that are beautiful and elegant, but still approachable. The resulting menu is a nice mix of what feels like traditional Greens, while still pushing the boundaries of what we’ve done in the past.
How did this dinner series come about? What’s the inspiration behind your cuisine?
Executive Chef Katie Reicher: The main inspiration behind my cuisine is nostalgia. I think that is probably the driving force behind many chefs’ cuisines. As a 3rd generation American, I grew up learning the food traditions that were passed down by my Ukrainian and Italian ancestors. As a kid growing up in the lower Hudson Valley, I also had a lot of exposure to a mix of traditions and ways of life, from the local farmers and artisans in my town to the many ways of life in New York City. I also spent a lot of time with my friends, experiencing their own families’ traditions, so I ended up forming a strong interest in food history and gastronomy.
My love language is sharing food, so I have always wanted to learn the story behind dishes, and then recreate them for the people I love. This was my inspiration for the dinner series, too. I wanted our guests to experience the food of our guest chefs through a Greens’ lens. Plus, giving back to my community has always been important to me. I am incredibly excited to be able to give back to Foodwise, the nonprofit that has been connecting us to our local farmers and artisans for years. Foodwise recently rebranded to reflect their deepened commitment to equity, food access, and education. I am proud to continue our long-standing partnership as the next executive chef of Greens.
Talk about your menu and the highlights — what’s your creative process like?
Chef Crystal Wahpepah: The menu is highlighted on Native American vegetarian style ingredients that are grown from this land. When Chef Katie and I first met at my restaurant, Wahpepah’s Kitchen, we were immediately in sync with each other with our passion for food and our creative style of knowing exactly what people like to eat. As a Native American chef, I love to highlight the Indigenous berries and ingredients. My creative process is very easy. When highlighting color and taste, it’s important to balance fresh ingredients. It makes all the difference in vegetarian style, which is very earthy.
What is the inspiration behind your menu?
Chef Adam Tsegaye: Creating this menu is like writing my memoir. I came from a vibrant area, and I live in a community that embraces and celebrates diversity, which has been an inspiration for my menu. Food is a passport to any destination. I hope my guests will have a good experience and learn about my cuisine.
How do you feel about partnering with such an iconic SF restaurant?
Chef Heena Patel: I love sharing traditions, memories and flavors inspired by my upbringing in Gujarat so I was thrilled when Chef Katie Reicher invited me to bring a taste of Besharam to Greens as part of their guest chef series. It’s exciting to be collaborating with a restaurant that has done such amazing work to forward the conversation surrounding plant-based cuisine. Just as Greens reshaped the perception of vegetarian cuisine, at Besharam, we hope to expand the perception of Indian food by showcasing the nuances and complexities of regional Gujarati cuisine.
What makes Western Indian cuisine unique and special?Gujarat has a strong culinary lineage grounded in vegetarian cuisine, and I love showcasing the richness of these traditions at Besharam. I serve food that is unapologetically and unabashedly regional, food that reminds me of my upbringing in India. I even source spices from a trusted purveyor in India to capture the blend of sweet, tangy and spicy flavors that taste like home.
Talk about the summer menu.
Chef Heena Patel: Our new summer menu was a fun reinterpretation of popular classic street foods, many of which are steamed so they offer a lighter presentation during these hotter months. Some of my favorites include bright yellow khandvi, which are each hand-rolled and served with roasted red pepper chutney, and patras, typically made from colocasia leaves. We’ve recontextualized the dish by using rojo santo leaves that add a nice peppery note to the sweet and tangy flavors.
My most vivid memories from my childhood are intertwined with food — watching my mom and aunties preparing it for family dinners and gatherings with neighbors, coming together for celebratory meals during my favorite holiday, Diwali, and experiencing the local street markets. When I moved to the Bay Area after getting married, food was a way to feel connected to India and my family, and at Besharam, I’m able to share these memories with the wider San Francisco community.