Editor's Note: Chefs are the backbone of so much of the work we do. Whether it’s culinary events that raise critical funds, our nutrition education programs that teach low-income families how to shop and eat on a budget, or even lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of hungry kids, chefs are some of our most dedicated volunteers and advocates.
As part of an ongoing interview series that features these chef advocates, we are proud to introduce you to some of Share Our Strength’s most passionate champions. The next in our series is Melissa Perello, Chef at Frances in San Francisco, California. For eight years, Chef Perello has participated in Share Our Strength events and strong advocate for ending childhood hunger in the Bay Area. At Frances, Chef Perello’s daily changing menu reflects modern California sensibilities and focuses on ingredients from local markets, farms and producers in a casual, neighborhood setting.
How did you become involved in Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation & No Kid Hungry events?
Actually, I am not sure how I first became involved, but I have been participating in benefits for Share Our Strength since 2004.
Why is ending childhood hunger important to you?
Everyone should have access to a healthy (and delicious) meal. The idea of a child going hungry is a really tough thing to think about. The Bay Area presents such an amazing bounty of awesome ingredients to create and to cook with, it is a gift that should be shared with everyone -most of all, those in need.
Do you have any advice to chefs looking to give back?
Find a cause or organization you're passionate about .There are so many ways to help and there are always people who appreciate your time.
How long have you been cooking? Why did you become a chef?
I always enjoyed cooking growing up. I was fortunate as a child -- my family encouraged my creativity and provided the platform that developed my passion for food and cooking. I was really privileged; I could ask for a shopping list and “play” in the kitchen cooking for my family. But to think that, for some families, the mere act of getting any food to the table is a struggle, it is disturbing.
How would you describe the culinary experience at Frances?
I aim to create a space and culinary experience that hopefully resonates with everyone in some way, without being pretentious or over-done. I try to keep things approachable, but super seasonal, fresh and delicious.
What is your most memorable experience in a kitchen?
Too many to filter down to one general experience… many involve tears but many involve laughter!
What ingredients will we always find in your kitchen? Do you have seasonal favorites?
Crème fraiche, meyer lemon & fennel are items that you will likely always see on my menu in some way shape or form. I am always excited for porcini mushrooms whenever they pop up. English Peas in the spring when they are sweet and delicate and super fresh. Persimmons in the Fall. Red kuri squash in the Winter. Abundant sweet peppers, white corn and squash in the summer.
Which chefs have been influential in your career?
Michael Mina, Ron Siegel, Richard Reddington
What is your favorite aspect of being a chef?
The people that surround me. I love my staff. They are like family, but I also feel fortunate to share dinner every evening with a room full of fun customers. It’s always so great to hear when people really enjoy themselves and appreciate a meal.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in recent memory?
A really simple one pot meal of chicken with potatoes, kale, and lemons – roasted in a little wood burning stove in a cabin on the beach …. Could have had something to do with the place and time, but I remember it being quite delicious!
Do you have a favorite quotation about food or wine? If so, what is it?
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” -James Beard