Chef Keith Greene did it all, and did it big. Widely known for his flavorful dishes, his unrelenting work ethic and his stint on the Fox reality television show “Hell’s Kitchen,” Mr. Greene—or “K-Grease,” as he was known—was more than just a big personality. To many in the Southampton community, he was family.
Mr. Greene, 35, died last Wednesday morning, August 15, while swimming at Wyandanch Lane Beach. While Southampton Village Police have not publicly offered a cause of death, it is believed he had gone out for a swim before driving to work that morning. Mr. Greene, who lived in Hampton Bays, was the executive chef at Schmidt’s Market in Southampton Village and Schmidt’s Seafood Market in North Sea.
When the news of his death broke, members of the community pulled together immediately to shelter and support his family. A memorial fund was set up to help his wife, Kristin Greene, and their young children, Avery and Aiden, and Schmidt’s Market donated all of its earnings from Friday’s Lobster Night to the fund—approximately $7,500.
“He was like family and a friend first, and an employee second,” Schmidt’s Market owner Dennis Schmidt said on Friday.
Mr. Schmidt said that he thought it was a little strange that Mr. Greene had been out swimming that morning, since the weather had been stormy, but he said that Mr. Greene liked the water and was an avid swimmer. Additionally, Mr. Schmidt said that Mr. Greene had a bad back, and he thought maybe the buoyancy of the water helped relieve some of the pain.
According to his wife, Kristin, Mr. Greene had taken his bodyboard and flippers with him that morning, but she does not know what could have happened.
When he didn’t show up for work or call in as he usually did, Mr. Schmidt said he knew something was wrong.
According to Village Police, a local man and his daughter came across Mr. Greene’s body just after 11 a.m. that day and called the lifeguards at nearby Bath and Tennis Club for help. Southampton Village Volunteer Ambulance and the Southampton Fire Department also responded.
Village Police Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison said police found his vehicle at Old Town Beach, and that it had appeared that Mr. Greene had simply gone out to take a swim. Mr. Greene was pronounced dead at 11:53 a.m. at Southampton Hospital, police said.
Scores of friends, family and acquaintances turned out to the O’Connell Funeral Home in Southampton Village to pay their respects to a man who was larger than life. Both nights of his wake, Saturday and Sunday, lines formed out the doors for hours, according to friends and family members. On Monday, hundreds turned out to say a final goodbye at the Basilica Church of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on Hill Street. In Mr. Greene’s fashion, his pallbearers wore K-Grease baseball hats, merchandise he sold through his website, KGrease.com, cocked to the side or backward. Recognizing his unmistakable style as the pallbearers walked down the church’s center aisle, a few smiles waxed and waned at the sight, amid the tears.
He made his debut on “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2006, after remarking in an interview, “I’ll cook my shoe, and Gordon Ramsay will eat it and love it.” “K-Grease” finished third in the competition, and his outsized personality and unique fashion sense became a hit and a trademark of sorts.
But Mr. Greene wasn’t always K-Grease, who wowed celebrity chefs with his cooking talent. He started small and locally.
Born in Southampton on March 30, 1977, he grew up on the second floor of his family’s restaurant, BK’s Southampton Restaurant and Saloon. It was there where he learned the restaurant business and discovered that he loved the fast pace of the kitchen and inventing new dishes.
When he wasn’t busy at work, he spent a lot of his time with his cousins, who lived nearby.
“There is not a childhood memory where Keith is not in it,” his cousin Vanessa Nielsen said this week. She said he would often perform belly flops at the pool. “Keith was always the one who did it the best.”
Mr. Greene, who was good friends with his younger brother Kevin, loved to play hockey behind BK’s and ride bikes into town.
Ms. Nielsen said Mr. Greene graduated from Southampton High School in 1995.
After his family sold BK’s, he moved through the restaurant industry in Southampton and worked at several local businesses, including Barrister’s Restaurant and the now defunct Canyon Road. His time at Barrister’s gave him the opportunity to hone his skills and become the chef he envisioned himself to be one day.