Melissa Perello
12 Fourth St.
San Francisco
(415) 348-1555

Biography »

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Melissa Perello: I grew up spending my summers in Texas with my grandparents, baking and watching cooking programs on PBS. I come from a family of artists and have been drawn to the creative element of cooking.

AB: Did you attend culinary school?
MP: I went to the Culinary Institute of America. I think you receive as much out of culinary school as you put into it. The resources at the CIA are amazing, but you have to take advantage of them. I also think you should get experience in a kitchen before you go to school.

AB:Who are your mentors? What chefs do you most admire?
MP: Michael Mina, who helped me gain technique, and Ron Siegel, who taught me about the simplicity of food. I would say that I most admire Thomas Keller for his tenacity and work ethic, and Alice Waters for her vision.

AB:Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
MP:Fennel pollen. I like the versatility of it – the floral side rather than the strong anise flavor.

 AB:Is there a culinary technique that you either created or use in an unusual way?
MP: I’ve become quite fond of the Pacojet lately. We make a very flavorful fine purée or reduction as a base flavor, for instance, English pea purée or lobster reduction. Then we add a bit of gelatin and cream, chill in a Paco container, and “Pacotize” as needed. It gives you a really nice textured mousse that can then be used as a garnish on another dish, or as a small dish in itself with a few other components as a garnish.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MP: Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years? What do you expect from those you work with and from me? This helps me determine how they will fit into my team.

AB: What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
MP: Start getting your feet wet by gaining experience in the kitchen. Approach a chef that you respect and work for free to get exposure before going to school.

AB: Where would you like to travel for culinary research purposes?
MP: London to visit the Fat Duck. I would just love to see the novelty of it!

AB: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?
MP: For everyday grub, I like Rosamunde Sausage Grill on Haight and Fillmore. For Mexican food I like Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant on Geary and 23rd. They have the best selection of 100% agave tequila.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry right now?
MP: I see cooking being ingredient-driven and stylish. I wonder, though, if cooking is going to be rustic or wild-and-crazy fare that is entertaining.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
MP: In 5 to 10 years I want to open an inn on the coast in California.

Melissa Perello
FIFTH FLOOR | San Francisco

Melissa Perello knew at a young age that she wanted to be a chef. One day after school, Perello’s mother came home to find her 12-year-old daughter de-boning a leg of lamb. After high school, she moved to New York, where she studied at the Culinary Institute of America. An externship at Aqua under Chef Michael Mina in San Francisco led to a full time position there after graduation, and Perello cites Mina as an influential mentor. Moving on to the kitchen of Aqua’s sister restaurant, Charles Nob Hill, Perello was fortunate to find another mentor in Chef Ron Siegel. “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. Now at the Fifth Floor, Perello has received tremendous critical acclaim for her California-inspired French cuisine. She describes her style of cooking as “ingredient-inspired and ingredient-driven,” which results in pure, clean flavors, grounded by flawless classic technique.


Pan Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Duck Confit, Fingerling Potato Hash
Chef Melissa Perello of Fifth Floor – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by

Yield: 4 Servings


  • 2 - 3 duck legs
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 handfuls fresh herbs, broken into small pieces
  • Melted duck fat
  • 1 ½ pounds small fingerling potatoes
    Plum Gastrique:
  • 5 Mariposa plums
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 Tablespoons wild flower honey
    Duck Breasts:
  • 4 duck breasts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    Plum Garnish:
  • 3 Mariposa plums
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


For Hash:
Rinse duck legs and place in small baking dish. Combine salt, sugar, and herbs, and cover the duck legs with mixture, coating completely. Let sit for one day.

Preheat oven to 300º F. Remove legs from salt and sugar mixture and rinse legs under cold water. Place legs in small baking dish and submerge in fat. Cover with foil and place in oven. Cook for 4 – 6 hours, until bone slides out easily. Remove legs from fat; cool to room temperature. Remove bones, skin and cartilage. Break meat into small pieces. Reserve.

Rinse potatoes thoroughly and place in pot of cold, salted water. Bring potatoes to a simmer and cook until tender. Drain potatoes and allow to cool on baking tray. When cool, place potatoes in a mixing bowl and break into chunky pieces. Add duck meat and season. Work potatoes and duck meat together by hand and form round cakes 3-inches in diameter and ½-inch thick. Set cakes in refrigerator to cool.

Heat large non-stick skillet and add reserved confit oil. Once pan is smoking hot, add hash cakes and turn to low setting. Allow cakes to cook to dark crispy brown before flipping. Once cakes are golden on first side, gently flip to alternate side and repeat.

For Plum Gastrique:
Seed and dice plums. Combine with vinegar and honey in small non-aluminum pot. Cook slowly over low heat until plums become thick and syrupy. Allow plums to drain completely over fine mesh sieve, reserving only liquid that drains.

For Duck Breasts:
Trim duck breasts of excess fat and score skin, but do not pierce flesh. Season duck with salt and press peppercorns into skin of breast. Place the breasts skin- side-down in warm skillet over medium heat with a splash of vegetable oil. Once breasts begin to take on color, turn the heat down to low, and pour off excess fat. Continue to cook breasts for approximately 10-15 minutes on skin side until fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy. Flip breast briefly for 30-45 seconds and transport breasts from pan to small rack to rest for 5 minutes in a warm area.

For Plum Garnish:
Seed and dice plums into ¼-inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with olive oil and scallion.

To Assemble and Serve:
Slice breast and arrange over crispy duck and potato hash cake. Place a few spoons of plum mixture over top and drizzle plum gastrique reduction on top.


Wine Pairing:
Syrah, Peay Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, California, 2003

   Published: October 2005