Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo - Biography

Rockland, ME

September 2015

Melissa Kelly grew up on Long Island and spent countless hours in her Italian grandmother’s kitchen. After studying business at the State University of New York and University of Maine, Kelly’s kitchen inclinations and curiosity led her to the Culinary Institute of America, where she graduated with honors. Kelly continued her training at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Eventually Kelly returned to New York to work for iconic Chef Larry Forgione at An American Place. Becoming a trusted colleague of Forgione, she earned the executive chef position at Beekman 1766 Tavern and later was placed in charge of opening An American Place Waterside in Miami. She also was called upon to assist in the opening of An American Place Japan.

But it was when Kelly made the move out West to work at Chez Panisse that she truly came into her own. Working with Alice Waters, she realized that simplicity, seasonality, and freshness were what mattered to her most. Kelly took this mentality and applied it to her career and travels from Denver to Barbados and the south of France.

Back in New York, Kelly earned her first James Beard Award in 1999, running the kitchen at Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn in the Hudson Valley. In 2000, Kelly opened Primo on a 4½-acre farm in Rockland, Maine. More than decade later, the accolades and the guests are still coming in droves. In 2013, Kelly was the first two-time recipient of James Beard’s “Best Chef, Northeast” award.