THE HEART OF THE MATTER
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Transcripts: 533-3 and 533-4

Week: 533.3 Guest: Annie Somerville, Exec. Chef- The Greens (Vegetarian Restaurant), San Francisco, CA Topic: Vegetarians... then and now- Part One Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: An outgrowth of the sixties has affected life in the 90's...no, not grunge music, though you may have a point. It's vegetarianism... we're with Annie Somerville, Executive Chef at one of the country's premier vegetarian restaurant, The Greens, in San Francisco. Let's talk about, from your experience, let's talk about what vegetarianism used to look like, you know, it was a cause, maybe an outcropping of sixties stuff, but what was it like trying to cook vegetarian in earlier years?

SOMERVILLE: We were trying to make delicious vegetarian food, with great colors, taste and textures, which basically involved using a lot more dairy products than we're currently using. And I think when Greens opened in 1979, what we were doing was very, very unusual then...to make vegetarian food that was not only really palatable to the general public, but was a real eye opener to the general public. And as times have changed, and as Americans have become more and more concerned about health and thinking about what they're actually eating, as more and more great produce is out there, and people are more aware of eating pesticide free vegetables, fruits and herbs, people's diets have really changed. So, I'd say people are more attuned to vegetarian cooking as it is now, than certainly than they were when we first opened.

NEMA: You mentioned that you don't use dairy products as much anymore...

SOMERVILLE: We continue to use dairy because we love it....I mean, we think that great cheeses are really good. And a little touch of butter, some creme fresh...those things are delicious. But we just use them with a more discriminating hand than we used to...you know, we're probably using a third to a quarter of what used to use in the way of dairy when we're making dishes.

NEMA: That sort of leads me into what I've heard referred to as kind of a hybrid type of diet, called "almost vegetarian", in quotes, and it seems that the pendulum has swung this way and that...and is resting sort of in the middle...right where the common sense usually lies...

SOMERVILLE: Well, I think that there's just a lot going on...as always, with what people eat. There are probably just as many vegetarians as there were, you know, vegetarian/vegetarians, as there were in the 70's, and I think that a lot of those people have, are what they call vegans, they're people who don't eat any dairy products at all, and they don't eat eggs either....so there are plenty of people who are eating that kind of diet. There are plenty of people who are what we call "lacto-ovo" vegetarians, who are vegetarians, they don't eat any animal flesh, fowl or fish....but they do eat dairy products. And then we have the people in the category you call "almost vegetarians", which is....they're seeing that they want to have a lot more in the way of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, beans, grains...those kind of healthy things in their diet. And they also like to eat a little bit of chicken or fish, or perhaps a little red meat. So, I think a lot of people, at least we're certainly seeing that in the Bay area, and I think we're seeing it across the country, that...more and more people are turning to that. Just...its a very sensible way to eat...its the way that Mediterranean's, and Asian cultures, Indian cultures...all those other cultures of the world that rely on vegetables, beans and grains...and a little bit of animal protein. I think we're moving more in that direction...we're seeing that happen.

NEMA: Our thanks to Annie Somerville of the Greens restaurant in San Francisco. Seems the vegetarian movement two decades ago has helped move us all into some healthier eating habits. Guess I'll just go pull out my tye dyed t-shirt...don't laugh, they're back in again. I'm Steve Girard.

Week: 533.4

Guest: Annie Somerville, Exec. Chef, The Greens Vegetarian Restaurant

Topic: Tips on cooking vegetarian-Part Two

Host/ Producer: Steve Girard

NEMA: What the cooking keys of a good vegetarian meal? Annie Somerville is with us today...she's executive chef of one of the nation's best vegetarian restaurants, The Greens in San Francisco. She's written a book called Fields of Greens, from Bantam books...Why don't you tell me about it...how, when did you realize you had something good and maybe, different to offer and so, got your book together?

SOMERVILLE: Okay, well, there's a history here...The Greens Cookbook, was the first book written that represented The Greens restaurant...it was written by Deborah Madison and Ed Brown...and Deborah was our first chef at Green's. And I think that the Greens Cookbook represents probably primarily the first stages of our cooking here. And many, many of our classic dishes, which we still see on the menu today. Fields of Greens is more the cooking of the next stage, and the recipes in Fields of Greens are...although they are not non-fat, lower in fat than most of the recipes in the Greens book. And we tried to make them pretty easy, and certainly recipes that are well suited to the home cook, and also which can make people feel that, you know, even if you live in, you live on the east coast and its the middle of the winter, you could make some of these dishes. So the goal was to make recipes that gave people a lot of options, and feeling that there weren't so many steps to the recipes that they'd be very difficult to follow... as, vegetarian cooking, there's complexities there, and it takes a little bit of time, and there are a lot of steps to follow.

NEMA: What are the complexities...the different paths to follow to produce a good, vegetarian meal regularly?

SOMERVILLE: I'm going to say this, and I think this is true of all cooking, find, determine what the flavors are that you like...for instance, if its Summer, do you like tomatoes?, do you like basil?, do you like sweet peppers? Find an olive oil that you like to use, if you don't know yourself, ask a friend who likes to cook. Don't think that you suddenly have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the olive oils ad balsamic vinegars in the world, and all the different varieties of certain kinds of peppers. What do you like to cook with? What are things that are easy for you to do. And the other thing is find a book or two that you think has recipes that you could follow, and start there. Its like you're building a foundation. You figure out what you like to cook, some simple dishes that you could put together with ease. And then, from there, you can vary those dishes.

NEMA: What are the staples of the meals you like to prepare?

SOMERVILLE: Pasta, polenta, I love potatoes, and I have eaten in this vegetarian way for so long that I don't miss that meat...that center of the plate. I think that the staples would be...have a couple kinds of rice, if you like whole grains, have brown rice, if you learn how to cook risotto, arboreal rice, which is an imported Italian rice, its a great one to have on hand. Have some different pastas, dried pasta, fresh pasta....polenta is something that's really delicious that you can make in any number of ways, and of course that's really a traditional Italian dish. And then I'd have one or two olive oils. I'd have a few kinds of vinegars, I think its worth it to invest in some flavorful vinegars....a bottle of vinegar can last a long time. And I think fresh herbs make a big difference, it really helps you to prepare delicious, and fairly simple dishes.

NEMA: Annie Somerville, Executive Chef at San Francisco's The Greens vegetarian restaurant...her book, Fields of Greens is out from Bantam Books. I'm Steve Girard.