by Rita Charleston
Award-winning local chef, author and food journalist Aliza Green says that by the time she was 10 years old, she had already begun to master the art of cooking and pleasing the palates of friends and family. As a child, she says she traveled extensively with her family, and was exposed to different foods from around the world. Those childhood experiences led to a lifetime of culinary pursuits.
“Now I get to indulge in all my loves — traveling, reading and cooking,” says Green, who describes herself as a chef/author. “I wear many hats, but my favorite hat of all is that of a communicator, so writing gives me the ability to share what I know. But being a chef is a more direct connection to people through the food I create. Having everything come out just right and watching people enjoy what I’ve created is very, very satisfying.”
Green is currently exercising her skills as the chief manger of Baba Olga’s Café, which opened in 2013 inside the Material Culture store at 4700 Wissahickon Ave. in East Falls.
The store offers an eclectic collection of art, antiques, crafts, furnishings and architectural elements from around the world — a perfect backdrop for Green’s colorful, flavorful and often exotic food offerings. Her menu features homemade soups, salads and entrées, from American classics to the more unusual. She uses fresh ingredients from local farmers and suppliers when available, and emphasizes sustainability.
Through the years, Green, 62, a resident of Elkins Park, has spent time working with chefs around the globe, learning first-hand local cuisines, methods and tastes to master her craft. “For example, I have strong expertise in Italian cuisine, having worked, studied and traveled to Italy many times,” she says.
She’s also visited many other places to do her research. For example, in working on her book, “Field Guide to Seafood,” she went to Venezuela to learn about local seafood. For “The Fishmonger’s Apprentice,” she went to Alaska during salmon fishing season. And for “Starting with Ingredients: Baking,” she studied with outstanding bakers in Italy, Greece and Turkey.
“My first book, co-authored in 1997 with Georges Perrier and featuring recipes from Le Bec-Fin, really opened the door for my subsequent writings,” she says. “Among other books published through the years I wrote a series of four ‘Field Guide’ books, and as I look back I think my favorite was one titled ‘The Field Guide to Herbs and Spices.’”
Acknowledged as one of the pioneer chefs who helped make Philadelphia a national dining destination, Green was also one of the first female chefs to make a name for herself in the region. She credits that to hard work, persistence and resourcefulness.
“The food business is an extremely demanding business, and I think that’s especially true for women. So I believe they need to be prepared to take advantage of any and every opportunity that comes their way. I know I did, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’m here today.”
For more information on Baba Olga’s Café, call 215-849-1007 or go to www.materialculture.com/baba-olga-cafe.
Rita Charleston, a regular contributor to the Local, has been a freelance writer for 30 years.
Ed. Note: I have one of Aliza Green’s books, “Starting with Ingredients,” a virtual food encyclopedia. It has almost limitless information and recipes about every kind of food imaginable, arranged alphabetically, in its 1050 pages! If you picked it up over your head 10 times a day, you could cancel your membership to L.A. Fitness. Above article was reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.