She’s the King

San Francisco–based Top Chef finalist and Michelin-rated chef Melissa King talks passion.


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On starting young

My first culinary creation that I can recall was white Wonder Bread, a slice of Kraft Singles cheese, and Prego tomato sauce from the jar, put together then microwaved. It wasn’t pretty, I know. But hey, it was the ’80s, and I was a hungry 6-year-old! Eventually, my taste has evolved to include steamed whole fish, ginseng chicken soup, and wok-fried eggs with soy sauce.

Cooking was an interest since I can remember. I wanted to jump into culinary straight out of high school, but was convinced by my parents to pursue a degree first (thanks, Mom and Dad!). While studying for my undergrad in cognitive science, I picked up my first job in a professional kitchen at the Getty Museum, just to test the waters. I knew right away from the hustle and buzz of the kitchen that restaurants were where I was headed next.

On her kitchen flair

My cooking style is hyper-seasonal, often including local items I’ve foraged, and I support the use of the whole animal. My food is delicate and technical. I value the importance of technique and balance in execution. I enjoy taking comforting flavor profiles and elevating them through technique and quality ingredients.

On her signature dish

Soup is seemingly simple, yet it takes technique and creativity to make a soup memorable. I like to take my soups to another level by intertwining playful garnishes to add texture and depth of flavor. Lately, I’ve also been into making fresh pasta. It’s my favorite thing to eat, and also one of my favorite things to make. I enjoy the simplicity of Italian ingredients, and the time and effort it takes to pinch filled pastas, like a little Italian grandmother would. You can always taste the love in a homemade pasta dish. Some of my favorite ingredients are yuzu, black garlic, agrumato lemon oil, fresh herbs, and high-quality vinegars.

A dish to woo the ladies

A nice homemade spaghetti dinner always seems to do the trick, but then again, I date girls who aren’t afraid to slurp and get a little saucy!

On being out in her profession 

In my experience, I found that if I work really hard, stay dedicated, and produce great food, I can stand proud. Although, one of the restaurants where I felt most empowered was working in an all-female kitchen at Delfina, in the Mission District. It was a group of strong chefs throwing it down in one of the busiest kitchen lines in the city. Twenty years ago, you’d never see this.

The toughest and most triumphant moments on Top Chef

The toughest part of being on Top Chef was being away from my loved ones. My most triumphant moment was winning a place in the Top Chef finale with my mother by my side. She’s my biggest supporter. I felt moments of defeat, and a need to push harder each day prior to the challenge with our family members. Then she appeared, and we were asked to cook together with no elimination. I was able to cook my food from my heart, without fears, while having the support of my mom. I’m definitely a mama’s boi.

Find out where I’ll be cooking next by following me on Instagram (@mel_the_butcher) and Twitter (@chefmelissaking). (chefmelissaking.com)

 

*This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Curve

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