By Mark Sterling-Ogle – May 21, 2015
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Melissa King relocated to San Francisco to train at three Michelin-awarded establishments: Campton Place, Luce and The Ritz-Carlton Dining Room.
According to her website, chefmelissaking.com, King is always seeking a food adventure and she certainly found one when she landed on the 12th season of Bravo TV’s acclaimed “Top Chef” series last year.
Off the air King is a proud member of the LGBT community, who recently took time out of her current diverse assortment of culinary ventures to talk with Echo.
Echo: I understand that you were inspired by cooking shows at a very young age; how influential were your parents in supporting your career choice?
King: Initially I don’t think they realized that is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but they did support it as a hobby. Growing up, I learned Chinese cuisine from my Mom – home-style Chinese cooking, helping her in the kitchen – she was very supportive in the sense of letting me take part in helping at home.
Echo: How did your mother feel about seeing her egg custard with shitake, clams and lobster on TV?
King: [Laughs] Great! It was interesting because she made that dish more so like the Chinese version, which is just egg custard and clams. She’s never taken it to the next level and done it with dashi, lobster and seaweed. It had much more of a Japanese approach to it so it was all very new to her and so I think she was really excited to have [it] completed the way I wanted it to be.
Echo: Competing on “Top Chef” seems to be like a pressure cooker in itself. How did you deal with the intense challenges?
King: I tried to stay positive. I think a lot of the times the pressure of the challenges get to you – especially the feedback, positive or negative, coming from the judges … But I think if you learn to take the criticism and turn it around [you can] really turn it into something positive. So for me, I basically took their feedback, did what I could with it and approached the next challenge stronger and really tried to learn from what they were telling me.
Echo: As an out LGBT person, have you found it difficult to advance in the culinary arts?
King: Personally, no … I find it empowering … Especially being out, I think the creative industries tend to be much more open to our sexual orientation, and just being who you are. In a lot of the kitchens you see people with tattoos and crazy colored hair, ear piercings, things you don’t see in the corporate world. It is very much accepted and I have been very blessed to be in such an open community.
Echo: What is your favorite type of cuisine?
King: I love eating Italian. I can’t get enough of fresh pasta, mozzarellas [and] really simple clean flavors done with high quality ingredients. You’ll see that in my style of cooking, but it is sort of bridged with French techniques. I tend to use a little bit of Japanese ingredients as well and I’ll throw in a few surprises for that Asian influence. What I make at home, I love just keeping it really simple. I do a lot of roast chicken, I make soups – it’s kind of chilly in San Francisco. I like braises and stews, I am a big fan of anything that is a one-pot thing that makes my life easier. [Laughs]
Echo: I understand that you dabble with home brewing as a hobby; tell me about some of your outcomes.
King: Here and there I try brewing. It takes a lot of time and commitment and waiting around. I did come up with pretty fun amber ale. I put in orange peel as well as fenugreek. Fenugreek has a lot of maple characteristics. I found that the beer, the second you smelled it, when you put it up to your nose, it smelled like maple syrup. It was pretty tasty, that was probably my most proud brew.
Echo: Chef hours – long, late, weekends and holidays – can be taxing on any relationship. How do you and your girlfriend make it work?
King: I think it is all about balance. We always try to make sure we go on date nights. We really dedicate that time to each other, no matter how busy we are. I think it’s really important to pull away from work at times and really remember life is not just about work. It’s about the people that are around you and the people you love. We try to surprise each other.
Echo: What can you tell our readers about your future plans?
King: Future plans currently include continuing Co+Lab, which is a pop-up dinner series of mine that really showcases and highlights local artisans. We work together to create a really memorable dining experience that is going to be bimonthly or so … I am trying to open a restaurant and that is something that is definitely been on the radar. I’ve been approached by several people, it’s in the works. There is a lot of, like dating, back and forth.
Echo: It’s more like marriage when you finally do it.
King: Yeah, exactly. You’ve got to make sure you have the right partners, the right investors and the right location. There is a lot of that going on which is exciting. Also traveling, I have been traveling a lot as well, cooking in different cities.
While King doesn’t have any plans to hit Arizona any time soon, she invites fans to follow her on Twitter, @ChefMelissaKing; Facebook, facebook.com/chefmelissaking; Instagram, @Mel_the_Butcher, or visit chefmelissaking.com.