Keith S. Greene, 35, of Hampton Bays, was a chef...

Keith S. Greene, 35, of Hampton Bays, was a chef for many of the area's best known restaurants. Officials say he drowned at a local beach Wednesday morning. (Aug. 15, 2012)

A well-known Hampton Bays chef and former cooking reality show contestant drowned Tuesday morning, officials said.

Keith S. Greene, 35, the executive chef at Schmidt's Food Market in Southampton, was discovered about 11 a.m. by a couple walking along the shore near Wyandanch Lane Beach.

Jessica Kiesman, manager of Barrister's restaurant in Southampton, said she knew Greene from his days working there as a chef years ago and was stunned when told of his death. She said he'd always lived near the beach and knew the ocean well.

"He grew up here his whole life and was always in the water," Kiesman said. "I'm still in shock. He was a strong swimmer."

Dennis Schmidt, an owner of the market, said when Greene did not come to work Wednesday, he "knew something was wrong because he didn't show up, and he always showed up, or called."

Schmidt called Greene a "great guy" who partnered with the market in its catering division.

"He was passionate about food," Schmidt said. "He donated a lot of stuff, did a lot of benefits."

Greene grew up in the restaurant business. His mother owned BK's Southampton Restaurant and Saloon, which was in the family since 1912. He wrote on his own website,, that by the time he was 13, he was doing dishes and prepping food, and by 14, working on the line.

In 2006 Greene, known as "K-Grease" in the restaurant world, was a semifinalist on Season 2 of "Hell's Kitchen," a chef-competition-humiliation show on Fox.

Although he finished third in the competition, behind winner Heather West of Port Jefferson, executive chef at Ciao Baby in Commack and Massapequa Park, the two became good friends during their run on the program.

"He was extremely talented and so funny," West said Wednesday, remembering their banter on the show.

After the show, West worked in the kitchen of JLX, a Sag Harbor restaurant where Greene was executive chef.

"As chefs, we were a lot alike," West said. "Outside we're lots of fun, but inside the kitchen we're all business."

Greene was married with two young children -- a 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, Schmidt said.

With Erica Marcus

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