With a beyond impressive ability to keep a calm demeanor in the kitchen and an unparalleled work ethic, Melissa Lopez – Bestia Chef de Cuisine – fills a hard to replace void in our beast of a kitchen team. We asked Chef Melissa to tell us a little more about how she started her career in cooking, and what keeps her love of food and cooking going. Here she shares her favorite seasons for produce, New York restaurant recommendations, and more.
How did you start cooking/when did you know it was what you wanted to pursue?
I always cooked with my oldest brother Miguel. After undergrad, I was in NYC visiting family and on a whim went on a tour of French Culinary Institute. It felt like a perfect fit. I started there later that fall and have been cooking professionally ever since. I’ve been beyond lucky to work with chefs that have a true passion for food. (Just like you too, Melissa.)
What is your favorite part about being in the kitchen?
I love that when you work in a kitchen everyone becomes like a family member. Everyone is creating and working together for one common goal. It seems cheesy to say that I’m drawn to the energy of it, but there is nothing like the build-up to a busy dinner service, especially at Bestia.
What is your favorite dish to make at home?
I love grilling chicken or steak and serving it with a simple salad.
What is your favorite dish at Bestia?
How can you pick just one?! The Gem Salad has amazing texture and is so bright. The Chicken Gizzards are hot and cold, and earthy, every bite just a little bit different. Oh, and that Ribeye!
What is a day in the life of Melissa like?
First thing is to check that all the orders arrived as planned. Then with the help of my two fellow Bestia sous-chefs, Mikey and Rusty (Did you notice that people? See how she uses every opportunity to give props to her colleagues? See why we love her?), we check all the mise en place that was prepped in the AM. Then it’s time to finish prepping items that we need for dinner service. Finally, we start to set up the hotline for service. As we’re setting up stations we are always checking the product to ensure that it’s perfect. Menu tasting happens at 4 pm so all the chefs sit and taste new menu items. Quick coffee run with the team, then dinner service! After service, I place orders for the next day and then do it all over again!
What was your best day off ever?
The best day off ever is always my first day off!
What is your favorite season for produce?
Spring and summer. Always summer, especially here in California.
What is your favorite restaurant in New York?
I love Estela. Small dishes that are perfectly layered. I once had a celery salad (YES! CELERY!) that I ordered twice. The second one after dessert! Pearl Oyster Bar for lunch is a gem. And I’m biased about this one, but you can’t go wrong at Barbuto on that perfect spring or fall day.
*Note: comments in parentheses and italics come from the Bestia team.