A James Beard Award Winner for “Best Chef in the Northeast”
Hardworking Melissa Kelly was raised on Long Island in a family of fine Italian cooks, especially her grandfather, gourmand and butcher Primo Mangani. After working at several restaurants, including Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse and The Old Chatham Sheepherding Company (where she won the James Beard award in 1999), she opened Primo in Rockland with partner and pastry chef Price Kushner. She says she was drawn to Maine by “its old world charm and the drastic change of seasons that brings a changing bounty to the table.”
Primo: Fresh, Seasonal, Maine Ingredients
Her restaurant is a 125-year old Victorian home “that we stripped back to its bare bones,” revealing “beautiful horsehair plaster, wide pine board floors and lovely wooden molding.” It sits amid four acres of farm where staff raises most of their produce and flowers, even butchers their own hogs.
“The menu is constantly evolving to take advantage of whatever’s fresh,” with everything made from scratch daily, Kelly says. Her mantra is “fresh, seasonal, local.” Among her favorite dishes are her grandfather’s saltimbocca—spinach, mashed potatoes and prosciutto layered with pork cutlets and served with a mushroom Madeira sauce. She also loves to make pastas and other Mediterranean “classics, adapted to Maine ingredients straight from the garden.” She suggests that visitors try her signature Maine halibut with Meyer lemon, fava beans and sorrel risotto.