Name: Chris McConnell
Hometown: Manteca, California
Why he cooks: Starting in the business at the ripe age of 15, McConnell has worked all facets of the kitchen and front of house, from his early days as a bus boy up through getting a degree at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After three years of work in the Bay Area, McConnell brought his deep respect for the locavore movement to Santa Barbara in 2010, and is now thrilled to be part of Silvergreens’ collaborative kitchen environment. “We always try to source what’s in season,” said McConnell. “It’s better for all parties involved, the health of our customers, and the health of the community.”
Favorite purveyors: Working primarily with Harvest Santa Barbara as well as Oxnard’s Scarborough Farms, McConnell finds inspiration in the weekly farmers markets. Though set up like a fast food restaurant, Silvergreens — which was founded in Isla Vista in 1995 — makes everything fresh from scratch, whether it’s their gooey cookies or the oven-roasted turkeys. “The quality of your food is always worth investing in,” said McConnell. “Our motto is eat real food. Everything is homemade, and I am really proud of that.”
Signature Ingredient: McConnell believes the most successful menu items are the simplest. On their new Proteins, Greens & Grains menu, the Chili Roasted Cauliflower (sesame oil, chili sauce, soy sauce) and Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts (salt, pepper, bacon) have been satisfying customers’ desire for fresh food with subtle, delicate flavors. “I feel like the more we can simplify, the better things will be,” said McConnell. “I think people appreciate it too. It’s not fussed over. It’s just good, clean, quality food.”
Favorite Haunt: Lilly’s Taquería. “They keep it simple: two ingredients, plus a salsa,” said McConnell. “It’s perfect.”
Recent claim to fame: The restaurant also serves packed lunches to K-12 students from 14 schools as part of program created by operations director Ron Gleiberman. Customizable to the student, the program delivers more than 1,000 meals daily, and Silvergreens donates 10 percent of proceeds back to participating schools. “It is so important that kids learn to eat healthy, well-balanced meals,” said McConnell. “It’s not a bulk item. Students can order what they want and make their own food choices.”
What he’s up to now: Alongside a TV segment on Good Food America, Silvergreens’ Proteins, Greens & Grains dinner menu mixes and matches more than 150 different meal combinations, allowing guests to choose between six different proteins (with vegan and vegetarian options), five greens, five grains, and multiple sauces. “I love the smiles when people try our new menu — it’s the greatest reward for a chef,” said McConnell. “My relationship with guests is critical. I love interacting and getting to know my customers on a first-name basis.”
Featuring a “Chef’s Pairing” each week, the menu puts seasonal dishes together with wine and beer suggestions, and McConnell also utilizes an indoor herb garden to give flavor to sparkling-wine-based cocktails for a fresh summer twist. Certified by both Built Green Santa Barbara and Green Business Santa Barbara County, this clearly isn’t your average salad-and-sandwich shop.
Silvergreens is located in downtown Santa Barbara (791 Chapala St.,  962-8500) and Isla Vista (900 Embarcadero del Mar,  961-1700). See silvergreens.com.