While at Charles Nob Hill, 2005 San Francisco Rising Star Chef Melissa 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 three James Beard Rising Star Chef nominations in 2002, 2003 and 2004. 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.
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 from cookbooks and from 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 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.
Another defining experience was her time working alongside mentor Ron Siegel at Charles Nob Hill. “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 had “more opportunities than ever before” with the restaurant’s complete support and the help of a larger, highly trained staff. This freedom was expressed in her Chef’s Tasting Menu, which offered two separate preparations of an ingredient for each course.
Since its opening, Frances has received much critical acclaim, earning a James Beard “Best New Restaurant” nomination in 2010, and a Michelin star. It was also named an Esquire “Best New Restaurant” by John Mariani, and one of Bon Appétit’s “Ten Best New Restaurants in America” in 2010.