In the great city of San Francisco, home to the most obsessive foodies in the United States, I’ve created salad junkies who are just as passionate as the original coffee junkies. I’ll stop by any of my Mixt Greens restaurants in the middle of the afternoon and there’s always a line out the door. It makes me feel good to see all those people eating those wonderful greens. One day a man walked up to me and said, “I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve even gotten men to eat salad all the time!” Now, granted, they’re not eating prewashed greens thrown into a bowl and loaded up with some overly sugared dressing . . . These are my kinds of salads: organic, hyper-fresh, deeply layered with flavors and textures, and totally, completely addictive.
Cooking with fine products and the conscious use of seasonal ingredients have been part of my cooking vocabulary for a long time, starting on the East Coast. After a stint at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, I attended the Culinary Institute of America. While there, I studied Alice Waters’s farm-to-table movement, which supported local, organic, and sustainable eating. I could hear California calling. New York is a food mecca, but it is more French influenced, while the farm-to-table chefs in California have more of a fusion-influenced cuisine that was exciting to me. And when I eventually came to San Francisco, I could see that the food economy was really driven by local artisans. Farmers deliver directly to restaurants here. The interaction is huge, and the community is highly aware of local, sustainable eating. It’s Alice Waters’s legacy in full force. So, after working in various restaurants, I was convinced this was the place I wanted to start my own restaurants. To be embraced by this highly evolved—and picky—super-foodie community would be a great feeling, and the San Francisco equivalent of “If you can make it here . . . .” A gig at Gary Danko ended up being the key step in becoming friendly with the city.
After all, part of the reason I created Mixt Greens was to give to this community—to deliver premium, good food in a fast-casual environment. To create fun, accessible fine dining that’s not intimidating. And, in the process, to teach people how to eat in a sustainable way. BIRTH OF MIXT GREENS
When I was sixteen, I started working at the local Chatham Sandwich Shop in my New Jersey hometown. At that point I never expected that I would make a career out of it. At twenty, I started working in fine dining and I got hooked. But the one thing that always drove me nuts was the lifestyle: coming home at 2 a.m., sleeping ‘till noon, then starting all over again the next day—plus having to work weekends and holidays. This all got me thinking about how I could improve my routine while working in this industry that I care so deeply about.
Then it came to me: open a high-end, quick-service restaurant using all that I learned in top-notch gourmet restaurants over the years. I got excited rethinking the whole approach to fast-casual food—creating a chef driven company serving the highest quality local and organic ingredients, all with the highest level attention to customer service. It sounded like a fantastic idea; I knew I wanted to share my passion for food with the masses. I had been playing around with a few potential concepts when one day my best friend Joanne suggested salads. Man, did that get the wheels turning. While driving back from snowboarding in Lake Tahoe with my sister and my brother-in-law, I turned to them and said, “What do you guys think about a salad concept?” With that, the collaboration began.
With the expertise of my sister, who has a degree in biodiversity, conservation, and management, and the business savvy of my brother-in-law, a partnership was born. On first glance, it seemed crazy; family members are the last people I ever expected to found a restaurant with. But man, what a great call—we’re a dynamic trio and every day is full of adventure. We’re happy to say that Mixt Greens is not just great food with a side of environmental responsibility—it’s the whole experience. LIVING RESPONSIBLY
Along the way, I’ve adopted habits that lower my personal environmental impact. Here’s a rundown of some commonsense, sustainability basics for your kitchen:
• Buy local products and produce.
• Eat and cook seasonal foods.
• Use wooden tools in the kitchen, but never use wooden salad bowls. They look good and are environmentally friendly but the oils and vinegars leach into the wood and make it taste bad, whereas there are no remnants in stainless steel bowls. Think of it like this: wine that’s aged in porous wooden barrels has an earthy taste of the wood; wine that’s aged in stainless steel barrels has a cleaner mineral or fruity finish.
• Use dishrags, not paper towels, and cloth napkins instead of paper.
• Eliminate the use of disposable utensils and plates.
• Recycle, and instead of lining the recycling bin with a bag you buy in a grocery store, use a paper bag your grocery store packs your items in—then you’ve recycled that, too.
• Use green cleaning products, including a green hand soap. This is really important, because chemicals on your hands can transfer to your food!
• Composting at home is very easy if you don’t have a commercial service. If you can garden as well, create compost to fertilize your garden. (For non-gardeners, there are a lot of easy things to grow, from a windowsill herb garden to a pot of tomatoes on your back step—now, that’s local.)
• Know what you’re going to get out of your refrigerator before you open it. Each time you open the fridge you’re using tremendous energy, including the cooling and even the lightbulb that turns on. Know where your item is and grab as many things as possible at once.
• When buying new appliances, look for the highest energy star rating.
• When selecting your foods, choose unprocessed, fresh ingredients, fresh vegetables, fresh everything. A tip: when in the supermarket, keep to the perimeter. Stay out of the middle. You want fresh meat, fish, produce, and dairy, not packaged items. Avoid the frozen food section. Buying processed food is outrageously expensive, and there are extra calories to boot. Make it fresh!
• When buying produce, check out the numbers on the labels to know how it was grown (more on that in the first chapter).
Excerpted from Mixt Salads by Andrew Swallow with Ann Volkwein. Copyright © 2010 by Andrew Swallow with Ann Volkwein. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.