2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Mellisa Root of Madera

2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Mellisa Root of Madera
May 2013

As a child Mellisa Root studied music and visual arts, but her passion for the culinary arts eventually won her affection. Her mother, recognizing Root’s fascination with cuisine and her affinity for Julia Child, suggested Root study to become a pastry chef. Root’s new direction paid off—she went on to graduate from the California Culinary Academy and eventually received training from some of the world’s most noted pastry chefs, including Ewald Notter, Michael Joy, Wiener Heitz, and Jacquey Pfeiffer.

Root began her career as a chocolatier at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. She later moved to Houston, where she supervised the pastry shop of the River Oaks Country Club under the tutelage of Pastry World Champion Darrin Aoyama, who encouraged her competitive streak. After working as the pastry sous chef for Payard Patisserie in Las Vegas, Root took on the challenge of the 2008 World Culinary Olympics, representing the United States as the pastry chef and earning three gold medals. She also competed and earned medals at the 2007 International Culinary Federation competition in Chicago and in several American Culinary Federation national competitions before moving on as chocolatier of M Resort and Casino, Las Vegas for Jean Claude Cannistier M.O.F.

Momentarily putting aside competitions, Root worked as pastry chef de partie at Thomas Keller’s Per Se. When the opportunity arose to move back west, she took the position of pastry chef at the Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park, California. Drawing on her impressive background, Root produces exquisite pastry, bread, and chocolate programs for room service, banquets, and the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant Madera.

I Support: San Francisco Food Bank


Why: I support the Food Bank because they focus on giving back to the community of which I’m a part. I’ve had the opportunity to live in eight different states, and I’ve found volunteering or donating to the local food bank to be an extremely rewarding experience.

About: The mission of the Food Bank is to end hunger in San Francisco and Mirin County.

Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Mellisa Root

Katherine Sacks: What made you interested in becoming a pastry chef?
Mellisa Root: My mother. I was all bent on going into forensic science, and she said ‘Oh honey, I really think you will miss out, I think you should be a pastry chef.’ When I was 8 I started to cook and started to really enjoy it. I would take my bicycle, ride 6 miles to the library to read cookbooks. Julia Child was the most instrumental in my love for baking.

KS: How do you describe your style?
MR: I describe my style as whimsical when I do line up for the wait staff. I always say it’s a play on this or that. I try to have fun. I sacrifice so much to do this, I want to have fun doing it.  

KS: What are your responsibilities as hotel pastry chef?
MR: I plan and develop the pastry program for the banquet menu, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and breaks. It includes bread, viennoiserie, pastry, dessert, confections, and bonbons.  I have implemented a very happening Wedding Cake program during my tenure as well as a chocolate program.  I also plan and develop the dessert and bread program for Madera restaurant, In Room Dining, the Pool, the Lounge, the amenity program, and the Spa.

KS: Why do you like working in a hotel?
MR: I enjoy being a hotel pastry chef because I get to direct my energies onto multiple projects. I don't just focus on plated dessert; I get to create showpieces, chocolates, breads, pastries, wedding cakes. The list is endless, it keeps me really motivated and excited about what to work on next. The arena to be creative and to express my vision is huge in a hotel!

KS: How do you inspire staff?
MR: I try to inspire my staff by being forthright and hard working.  I try to lead by example, and I hope I am showing them the way to be strong, independent pastry chefs who are in touch with their point of view and not afraid to express it!

KS: What are the three keys to pastry success?
MR: A sense of urgency, creativeness, and organization for sure. If you aren't organized, you can't get it done.

KS: What is the most challenging thing you have done?
MR: The culinary Olympics. Four years I was on the regional team; usually you have four years to prepare, but the team kicked out a national pastry chef and replaced the spot with me. I was on a team with four other master chefs; I was the underdog and I carried one-third of the weight in pastry points. It was a lot of pressure to not ruin their dreams, to rise to the pressure, which I totally did. I got gold, we got gold as a team, I held my end of the bargain.

KS: Where will we find you in five years?
MR: I would love to have my own place in five years. I want to do a chocolate shop, my husband is a chef as well, and want three businesses together, a gastro pub, a chocolate shop, and a 2 star Michelin restaurant. That’s the game plan.

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