Chef Melissa Perello
At age 28, Melissa Perello has already made a big impact on San Francisco’s dining scene and continues to receive national attention. Perello’s vibrant, simple flavors—drawing on products from Northern California’s exceptional farmers—have captivated diners and critics alike. Now at Fifth Floor, Perello will continue her odyssey as one of the city’s most popular chefs.
While at Charles Nob Hill, Perello received tremendous critical acclaim for her California-inspired French cuisine. Her awards and accolades include a 3½ star review and the Rising Star Chef honor by the San Francisco Chronicle, recognition as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs and two James Beard Award nominations. Though she eschews labels, Perello describes her style of cooking as “ingredient-inspired and ingredient-driven,” which results in pure, clean flavors, grounded by flawless classic technique. Her weekly Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market is reflected in the constantly changing menu as are her longstanding relationships with growers like Iacopi Farms, whose brussel sprouts are featured alongside the Roasted Birkshire Pork, Lady Apple, Roasted Turnip and Bacon; and Marquitta Farms, which provides the Chantenay Carrots Glazed with Lavender Honey for her Garden Tasting Menu.
Born in Hackensack, New Jersey, Perello knew at a young age that she wanted to be a chef. Encouraged by her mother, whom she describes as “a great cook,” Perello tried as many recipes as she could, gleaned from cookbooks and the cooking shows of Julia Child and Nathalie Dupree. One day after school, Perello’s mother came home to find her 12-year- old daughter de-boning a leg of lamb. Perello took her first professional job in the kitchen of a local country club after her family moved to Houston, Texas. After high school, she moved to New York, where she studied at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. While in San Francisco on vacation, Perello dined at Aqua and after a fortuitous conversation with chef de cuisine Mark LoRusso, was invited back for an externship. Following her graduation from the CIA, LoRusso and executive chef Michael Mina offered Perello a full-time position. After working with Mina—whom she cites as a major influence—for two years, Perello transferred to Aqua’s sister restaurant Charles Nob Hill.
Perello cites her time working alongside mentor Ron Siegel at Charles Nob Hill as another defining experience. “Ron taught me how to create relationships with purveyors and make ingredients shine,” she says. After Siegel left his executive chef position in 2001, Perello was asked to fill his role, which led to a string of successes. Before leaving Charles Nob Hill, her cooking also propelled the restaurant into the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
As the executive chef of Fifth Floor, Perello says that she has “more opportunities than ever before” with the restaurant’s complete support and the help of a larger, highly trained staff. This freedom is expressed in her Chef’s Tasting Menu, which offers two separate preparations of an ingredient for each course. “There’s a lot more I can do here,” she says, “and I have more potential here.” Considering all that Perello has already accomplished, that’s saying a lot.