There’s something almost celebratory about Green Chef delivery day. It’s the initial thrill of finding the Green Chef box on your doorstep, opening it up, and being greeted by a Farmer’s Market haul of bright produce, leafy greens, savory sauces, and glistening cuts of responsibly-sourced meats. Every ingredient reaches you at its peak of freshness, and it’s Seth Greenbaum’s mission to make that happen.
Seth is our resident botanist and packing genius. He noticed something while pursuing degrees in neuroscience and molecular biology, “Animal systems get played out a lot in the medical field and research,” he points out. “But plants and fungi together get overlooked as to how significant they are for our systems, not just our food systems, but our whole ecological system. I switched from studying brains and animals to studying plants and fungi. It interested me more.”
Today, Seth uses his extensive plant knowledge to ensure every single item in every Green Chef box is meticulously placed exactly where it should be to ensure the best possible journey to your door. Below, Seth shares the challenges of boxing living things, why coffee bags are better than denim, and the thrill of learning new things every day.
Tell me about your role at Green Chef.
If you think about it, fresh produce—even if it’s cut off from wherever it was grown and packaged—is very much still alive. So if you take a bunch of cilantro, for example, it’s breathing. It needs food, water, and air just like anything else that’s alive. And when you use fresh produce, you really want it to be fresh. It’’s still somewhat alive when you’re cooking it. So we want to ensure that the plants can still have room to breathe, that the water balance is okay, that they can survive the pack-out and being put in a box.
Our variety produces dozens of combinations weekly. I prep those recipes and assess the ingredients that are in each kit. Then I do a mock pack-out of the kit and take pictures in order to create diagrams for our packers. I look at all these produce items from the perspective of a botanist and make sure that our boxes are packed-out in order to ensure the highest quality of all the different types of ingredients.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Our fresh produce that is organic is very high in quality, but also a little more sensitive. They don’t use any hormones or chemical fertilizers that would make it heartier, so usually the food’s smaller and more fragile. And there’s a thin temperature range you have to keep it in, because the cells are still very much alive. They can burst or shrink and cause wilting depending on the temperature. We consider all of this when we pack our boxes.
We try to limit packaging, so we use the ingredients themselves to create islands and little bubbles for our more sensitive produce.
Speaking of packaging, can you tell me why Green Chef recently chose natural jute as an insulator?
It reinforces our sustainable model by using all-natural materials. We switched from recycled insulation to a natural material that’s not heavily processed. And jute’s recycled from old coffee bags, so it’s material that wouldn’t necessarily get recycled otherwise. It’s also a really good insulator. It takes up less room than denim while still having the same insulating power, leaving more room for more ingredients in the box.
On learning every day.
I’ve been studying plants for so long, yet I’m still introduced to new kinds of vegetables. Or I’ll encounter vegetables I’m familiar with, but would never have thought to combine them like that in these recipes. I’m really fascinated by the way our chefs take ingredients and produce what would be normally cooked very conventionally and use them to construct something new and different. They’re coming at it from a culinary perspective, and I’m looking at it from a botanical perspective. It’s very innovative.
And it’s interesting that I’m working in food but really engaging in living specimens and using my knowledge and research skills to gain knowledge about these new systems we’re creating in these boxes. It’s really fascinating for me and really enjoyable, but also helpful for our product and our company. I get to geek out about plants all day, basically, and it’s wonderful.