On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” chef, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Tender Greens Erik Oberholtzer talks about bringing innovative and healthy ingredients to every eater. “I want to bridge the gap between fine dining with slow food and the very accessible fast-food world that we all know—but [causes us to be] sick and overweight.”
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At Tender Greens, Oberholtzer leads 30 fast-casual locations in creating high-end foods—like steak and seared tuna—at affordable prices. “Through price, speed of service, and relatability of menu, we take what is sometimes in food business considered a bit elitist and we’re making it more accessible,” says Oberholtzer.
And through Tender Greens’s Sustainable Life Project, Oberholtzer offers young adults who have grown out of foster care the chance to complete six-month culinary internships. With these mentorships, the youth learn how to cook in a professional kitchen with field trips, classes, and workshops. “We thought through mentorship and the team and family environment of the restaurant and access to good food, that we could change the path of these kids’ lives,” says Oberholtzer.
As the co-founder of Tender Greens and as a Food Forever Champion, Oberholtzer strives to introduce his clientele to new and unfamiliar ingredients, exploring the range of biodiversity the planet has to offer. “Once we had their attention, we gave them something that they aren’t familiar with, and this allowed our chefs to be creative, our farmers to be innovative, and our audience to go on this journey with us,” says Oberholtzer. For the Food Forever Champion, exploring biodiverse ingredients requires exploring types of crops—and unfamiliar variations within crops. “It’s going deep into a single ingredient like the tomato and exploring all of the variations and going wide across the world’s plant and animal diversity and tasting and playing with ingredients,” says Oberholtzer.
Oberholtzer believes that all chefs have the power to impact their clientele, communities, and planet. “Chefs have the mic: we’re in the center of everything that matters because food touches everything, whether its climate change, whether its community, whether it’s our personal histories, or health and wellness, food has a massive role to play,” says Oberholtzer. “It can be negative or it could be positive—choose what side of history you want to be on.”