Chef Profile: Melissa Miller

This chef’s wanderlust has taken her through great kitchens and the great outdoors

Melissa Miller has worked in enough kitchens to solve just about any problem, even a bear munching on wedding cake before the bride and groom. 

“Since it was a beautiful day, I had the door open,” says Miller, recalling the scenario at her restaurant at the time, the Four Seasons, in Soldotna, Alaska. “I looked around the  corner and suddenly there was a bear in the dining room. He was just helping himself to the wedding cake. We banged pots and pans and he took off. After a bit of frosting adjustment, no one was the wiser.”

Miller’s career has proven she knows how to get things done. She started as a waitress and bar manager and then went to culinary school. Long before it was cool, Miller was preparing bread and pasta in house and contracting with local growers to provide seasonal produce and game.

When the allure of Alaska wore thin for this native New Yorker, she headed south to California to work with some of the biggest names in the business: Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of the Border Grill; the legendary Barbara Tropp of China Moon Café; and Mark Franz/Jeremiah Tower at Stars. From there, bigger seemed better, and Miller left fine dining for noncommercial foodservice, running the dining program at Stanford University. Today, she manages three restaurants at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif., as an executive chef with Bon Appétit Management. And somehow, between her many adventures, she’s found time to become a licensed private pilot. 

Who knows where she’ll end up next? 

STUFF YOU OUGHT TO KNOW ABOUT ME

Culinary Institute of America graduate; catered events for up to 10,000 people for the MacArthur Park Restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif.; developed menus for more cuisines than she can count on one hand; doesn’t like combatant TV cooking shows but thinks PBS culinary programming is educational.

The World According to Miller 

Favorite road trip food: Porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti in San Francisco

Ingredient you’d kill for: Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika)

A burger is not complete without: The perfect bun

Cookbook you’re reading right now: “Mediterranean Fresh” by Joyce Goldstein

You’d throw a shoe at the TV when this is on: Pretty much all of the Food Network

Your culinary sense would be questioned if people knew you loved: Our house-made ranch dressing 

What would you rather do—clean the grease trap or fire an employee?: The grease trap. 

Would you ever eat supermarket sushi? I’d rather not…

Which actor would play you in your biopic? Susan Sarandon

Dumbest thing a cook has ever done: Accidentally ignited a punctured can of spray oil

Best hangover cure: More of the same, plus poached eggs in spicy crushed tomatoes and a crusty baguette.