When Stephen Satterfield first landed in San Francisco, he had just taken over the manager position at San Francisco’s acclaimed Nopa restaurant. It was the summer of 2010.

Satterfield, a sommelier by training, had just left neighboring Oregon to move south. 

San Francisco is an epicenter of culinary ingenuity. Its celebrated restaurants and prized chefs drive the ecosystem of food and dining, shifting the industry into new and unchartered territories. Its rich local resources push farmer-forward focuses in restaurants across the country. It’s no wonder, then, that Satterfield, a budding mover and shaker in the food industry, would find solace and purpose in the city’s rich community of creators. 

Health Changemakers: Stephen Satterfield

Satterfield discusses the real food movement and his life’s mission in the basement kitchen of San Francisco’s The Village venue.

“As a consumer—a hedonistic consumer—I had worked in fine dining restaurants that were meticulous about sourcing,” he said. “I quickly absorbed the politics. They came very naturally to me because it was a way of life that I innately viewed as an idyllic one.” For Satterfield, the restaurant’s food philosophy and style came naturally, and the bustle of a lively kitchen was equally attractive. But it was the “real food movement,” which was really gaining momentum in the area, that he found so enticing.

For Satterfield and people focused on increasing awareness about “real food,” the movement means getting back to basics. The basics include eating more plants, eating less meat, and reducing sugar intake. 

In recent decades, certain categories of foods have taken turns at the firing range of American nutritional ire. In the 80s and 90s, it was fat and salt. Research made clear that the type of fat we were eating was detrimental to our health. Bad fats caused heart attacks; good fats reduced that risk. So we started filling our plates—and our grocery stores—with healthier options like plant oils, nuts, avocadoes, and fish.

Today, the focus of the nutritional world is on sugar—and its unnecessary prominence in the food supply. Manufacturers often rely on sugar as an instant flavor booster. Sugar also happens to be cheap, so filling foods with these detrimental sweeteners supports their bottom line. What it doesn’t do, unfortunately, is make Americans healthier.

“I have empathy [for someone trying to break up with sugar]. It is an addictive drug,” he says. “I would say start out by cutting out the processed foods, sodas, and soft drinks. Once you move past those primary culprits, I am convinced the increased energy will be enough motivation to want to continue.”

Satterfield’s philosophy is one of balance: You can have sugar, but you have to be smarter in your approach. You need to understand where sugar hides, what it does to your body, and how you can cut it out of your diet. That’s what real food is for Satterfield—food you understand, food you source, and food you can trust. 

“I still eat sugar regularly, but not lots of it. I like to begin my day with a pastry to go along with my coffee or tea. Sometimes, but not often, I will have dessert,” he says.

“Crucially, I never drink soda, fruit juice, or punch. I never eat candy or processed food. That’s where the data shows we are taking in too much sugar and those are the areas I avoid.”

It’s that connection to “real food” and the desire to share it with others that drove Satterfield to connect with local growers, farmers, and purveyors in San Francisco. Satterfield needed to ensure the finest quality ingredients for the restaurant. Maybe, however, his most local connection was one Satterfield never quite saw coming.

A Local Connection

One of his neighbors in his new community was Ida B. Wells High School, an alternative school for at-risk youth. When Satterfield moved to the area, he met Alice Cravens, a former teashop owner who had once worked at the famed Chez Panisse. Cravens was heading up the school’s Heat of the Kitchen program. This skills class aimed to teach these kids valuable culinary skills that could help them transition into a career in the city’s thriving—and growing—food industry after graduation.

Satterfield wanted a way to get involved and help share his passion for good food with this community of students. He volunteered to manage the school’s almost-forgotten garden. “I got involved in the garden by helping to revitalize a longstanding, but at the time, dormant school garden that was just up the road from Nopa,” Satterfield said.

Satterfield, with the help of some of his Nopa colleagues, rebuilt and planted, tilled and watered their way into a fledgling garden for the culinary class. Each year, the harvest grew stronger, as did Satterfield’s connection to his fundamental calling: sustaining the local food community.

“It is the Nopa mission statement. It means serving those who serve you,” he says. “Be intentional and humane in your interactions and partnerships with your community. For me, that typically translated to working with our local food purveyors and network.” 

Roots Run Deep

Making this connection with Cravens and the high school culinary team may have been a fortuitous moment for Satterfield. Or perhaps it was the fulfillment of a destiny that had been arching its way through Satterfield’s life.

In Atlanta, Georgia, where he was raised, the Satterfield family’s Sunday dinners were filled with fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, mac and cheese, and an array of sweets and treats. The dinner table was the traditional gathering spot for his family. It was overrun with food and fellowship; a theme you can see stitched into Satterfield’s life philosophy. Food is made more spectacular with camaraderie and community. 

Then suddenly, when Stephen himself was just four years old, the family lost their matriarch. Stephen’s grandmother, at age of 59, had succumbed to diabetes. The unexpected death was a shock—and a turning point—for the whole family. Many members of the close-knit clan took a step back from their sugary, fried, and salty food ways. In their place, they began exploring how food could make them not only happy, but healthy, too.

The loss of one so dear brought about significant life changes, improvements to their eating habits, and healthier life choices. For Satterfield himself, it helped define a focus on food. It would become his mission.

Seeking Out Purpose

Perhaps it was a philosophy built over time. Or maybe it developed in the very immediate aftermath of his grandmother’s passing. No matter where it began, Satterfield’s experiences changed his approach to food. He began seeking out local food and communities more fervently. He wanted to connect with people and places he had yet to discover.

That search led Satterfield to go cross-country for his college years. He started school at the University of Oregon. He later quit and switched to the Western Culinary Institute’s School of Hospitality and Restaurant Management in Portland, Oregon. He headed for San Francisco—and Nopa, Cravens, and Ida B. Wells High School—after working in and around Portland-area restaurants.

In 2013, seeking an even greater connection with the local food industry in the Bay Area, Satterfield launched Nopalize, a digital publication that highlights the food culture, changes, and traditions of the local community. In 2015, he left Nopalize and was named an IACP Food Writing Fellow for Civil Eats.

Today, Satterfield continues sharing his deep commitment to better access, healthier choices, and more successful outcomes through various platforms, organizations, and institutions. 

For the young sommelier and food advocate from the South, his family’s first venture into healthier foods began with the tragic loss of a loved one. It has grown, at least for Satterfield himself, into his life’s work, calling, and mission.

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