Break Bread Not Hearts Cooks up Community in Westchester

Photo by Toshi Tasaki

For local chef Giovanni Green, the founder of Break Bread Not Hearts, food is about creating community and connecting others.

In December 2012, Giovanni Martin Green hosted what was, by all accounts, an epic party — so epic that it ended up birthing one of White Plains’ most beloved culinary initiatives.

That December marked Green’s 25th birthday. “People were also saying the world was going to end,” Green recalls with a chuckle, referencing the then-obsession with the Mayan calendar. “So I figured, if things are going down, I might as well go out with a bang.”

Green invited over a passel of friends and cooked for them all day while a live band provided entertainment.

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“At the end of the evening, people who had never met before seemed like they’d become best friends, with food being the common denominator,” Green says. He dubbed the party “Break Bread Not Hearts” — and not long after, that also became the name of his beloved catering business.

“Seeing all that energy made me really want to push forward in a way that promotes love and connectivity,” Green explains.

Green — who was born and raised in White Plains — first began cooking out of necessity.

“I was a broke college student,” he recalls. But he wasn’t starting from scratch. Green comes from a family that cooks — a lot. “I grew up in the kitchen, around food, at barbecues and family get-togethers.” Green’s family hails from the Caribbean, which influenced what was on the table each night.

Soon, necessity turned into something more. Green grew acutely aware of what others around him were cooking. “Someone’s grandma would make her signature dish, and I’d see how it was prepared — respecting the food not just for the edible aspect but also the cultural aspect that connects us all.”

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Plus, he adds, “I traveled a lot, and I was always bringing back dishes from places I’d been.”

Green eventually transitioned out of his own kitchen and into professional ones, working in restaurants for a few years. “I was doing everything back of the house — all the stations, everything in the kitchen.” He found the high-speed, high-intensity environment thrilling but not something he was interested in long-term. “It was a space that didn’t have the passion I needed for preparing food,” Green says.

Giovanni Green
Giovanni Green. Photo by Toshi Tasaki.

So, inspired by that fateful birthday party, Green decided to strike out on his own. “I took a chance to start my own business to feed people and cook love into the food,” he explains. Break Bread Not Hearts the business was formally launched in December 2012.

Today, Break Bread has an impressive array of services: not just catering but also a food-literacy component and a presence at several Westchester farmers’ markets. Green takes a decentralized approach, forgoing a brick-and-mortar location to instead operate throughout communities — at local markets, in schools, at private events. It all revolves around his organization’s slogan: “Cooking up Community.”

“I want [kids] to know that just like you can cook for the first time, you can jump into any space in life and attack it head-on, opening yourself up to all possibilities.”
— Giovanni Green
Break Bread Not Hearts

At the start, Green simply hosted a cooking course in New Rochelle. “I had a friend who was running a gardening program, and I was doing cooking classes that tied into the program,” he explains. The chef taught residents how to prepare food they could grow themselves.

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Around that same time, Green began sharing his dishes at the farmers’ market in White Plains. Expansion soon followed. You may have come across him at the Pleasantville Farmers Market, nestled next to the village’s train station, or at the Piermont farmers’ market, in sprawling Flywheel Park.

Chef Giovanni Green cooking his signature Black Power Stir-Fry, comprising basmati rice, beans, local vegetables, jerk chicken, and apricot sesame sauce.
Chef Giovanni Green cooking his signature Black Power Stir-Fry, comprising basmati rice, beans, local vegetables, jerk chicken, and apricot sesame sauce. Photo by Jaclyn Warren Photography, courtesy of Giovanni Green.

In 2016, Green unveiled his food literacy curriculum, working with the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau at the city’s summer camp and in the city’s elementary, middle, and high schools. The curriculum is centered on “health, hope, and humanity,” Green explains.

“Health, first and foremost, because food is medicine,” he says. “Hope… how do we keep our food systems alive? And humanity… realizing food isn’t just something you pick off a shelf in a supermarket. There are so many hands that have to plant the seeds, work the earth, and harvest what comes up.” As part of the program, Green encourages students to visit farmers’ markets. “You’re able to see the people and connect with those lives that are really nourishing us.”

Green says the literacy program can be transformative. “Kids will have never tried a head of cabbage; sometimes it’s a high school student’s first time cracking an egg.” He usually starts simple, by cooking a breakfast of pancakes and eggs. “I’ll show them you don’t need the Aunt Jemima box. You just need flour, baking soda, and salt to whip up a batch.”

“And then I’ll throw in a twist,” he adds. “You can throw in apples; you can throw in blueberries, add chocolate. When we’re cooking eggs, you can throw in onions, peppers, and kale.”

Seeing a teenager crack an egg for the first time, and then feel independence from such a simple action, is a springboard for larger lessons, Green says. “The food literacy program is beyond just knowing how to prepare a recipe. I want [kids] to know that just like you can cook for the first time, you can jump into any space in life and attack it head-on, opening yourself up to all possibilities.”

Chef Giovanni Green cooking and connecting at the White Plains Farmer’s Market.
Chef Giovanni Green cooking and connecting at the White Plains Farmer’s Market. Photo by Jaclyn Warren Photography, courtesy of Giovanni Green.

Green has a motto he likes to share with his students: “Everything you’ve ever done, you’ve never done.” In other words, there’s a first time for everything.

A major part of Break Bread is the catering component, with Green bringing his dishes to residents across Westchester for all types of occasions, whether it’s someone’s 90th birthday party or a wedding for several hundred people.

“The things I like to create are essentially the things I like to eat.”
— Giovanni Green
Break Bread Not Hearts

Green describes himself as a “natural foodie.” And just like the best musicians write music for themselves, Green cooks dishes he’s drawn to. “The things I like to create are essentially the things I like to eat,” he says.

The menu has a litany of mouthwatering options, like Umami Mac and Smile, a macaroni and cheese offering with caramelized mushrooms, carrots, and leeks. And Rasta’d Shrimp Potato Salad, featuring wild-caught shrimp, purple potatoes, caramelized carrots, green onions, sundried tomatoes, and a smoked lemon vinaigrette.

Green chooses to post many recipes on his website; you can learn to make his apple pancakes, classic meatballs, and potato salad. In a world where chefs are deeply secretive about their process, Green makes his open source. “It’s about access,” he says. “There’s no reason recipes shouldn’t be open to people.”

Of course, there are a few exceptions, like Green’s signature apricot sesame sauce. “That’s proprietary,” he notes.

When asked whether he has a favorite item, Green says he has a philosophy: “Life is too good, so eat your dessert first.” And so he recommends the Chocolate Dank Cookie, “the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll have in your life.” Dessert offerings also include the Ginger Zing cookie, the Banana Bread Blondie, and Blueberry Banana Basil Brownies.

Green also recommends his stir fry, a dish with basmati rice, beans, ginger, garlic, slow-roasted chicken thighs, and more. “When I started preparing it in 2014 at farmers’ markets, I’d be eating that meal four or five times a week — and 10 years later I still haven’t got tired of it,” he attests.

The chef, who was honored last year as a 914INC Wunderkind, is quick to share credit for Break Bread’s success. “I’ve had a strong team around me over the years; I’ve done none of this by myself,” he says, noting his fiancée Natalie is his right hand. “Even our four-year-old son is in the kitchen cooking.”

So what’s next for Break Bread Not Hearts? “You never know what’s on the horizon,” Green says. “I never thought in 2012 I’d be where I am now, with everything the business has done. Eleven years after that party, it’s still alive, a living being. I’ve connected with people in all walks of life, all over the globe, through my food.”

Related: Where to Grab Grub to Go for a Picnic or Hike in Westchester

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