Chef Somerville talks about vegetarian cuisine and her popular San Francisco restaurant.
When chef Annie Somerville was growing up, vegetarian menus meant bland tofu and funky brewer’s yeast. But with the 1979 opening of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, meatless cuisine vaulted from forlorn to fabulous. As executive chef, Somerville has spent 30 years proving that vegetarians can really cook. (415) 771-6222, greensrestaurant.com .
Q What made Greens so different back then?
A People expected vegetarian cooking to lack the pleasurable qualities of a good meal. At Greens, they were amazed that a dish such as vegetable brochettes with marinated tofu could taste so good.
Q Are you still a vegetarian?
A A lot of the staff at Greens are what you’d call ﬂexitarians. I’ll eat ﬁsh or chicken if someone serves it to me. But I’m not one of those chefs who make late-night burger runs. I can’t remember the last time I had red meat.
Q What has changed since Greens opened?
A The availability of amazing fruit and vegetables. In the early days, we bought standard lettuce in winter because we couldn’t get organic.
Q And Greens itself?
A We used to use a lot more butter and cream and a lot less olive oil. But our focus has always been on beautiful fresh vegetables that go together to make distinctive dishes.
Q Where do you like to eat out?
A I love restaurants, but I don’t get to dine out much. More often, my husband and I grab some fruit, cheese, and bread and head to a beautiful spot like Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco.
Photography by Melissa Barnes 
This article was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.