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Farm to Table in Rockland, Maine with Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo

Farm to Table in Rockland, Maine with Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo

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In this episode, we meet Chef Melissa Kelly, an award-winning chef and a conscientious farmer who has created a culinary community in the forest of Rockland, Maine. At PRIMO, Melissa embodies the philosophy that shapes how she cooks, and how she lives.

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Transcript

- [Voiceover] Both Bryce and I have a dream that we're trying to attain on making a very special place. In the beginning, we started out very small. In the kitchen, it was myself and two cooks. We've grown the restaurant, we've grown the garden, it takes a lot to grow this much food on a consistent basis. We feel like we're stewards to this land, we have to cover crop, we have to move our animals, we have to give back so we can continue to thrive and grow. - There's quite a few people that advertise themselves as farm-to-table. This is a farm that has a restaurant at the edge of it. - This is a very special place that she and Bryce have created, there is no other place but Primo, there's no one who works harder than her, there's no one who cares more than she does. You wanna know how to cook and how to do things right, you come to Primo. - I get very excited when I see something that's just dug out of the ground, the smell of the earth still on it. When you pick it that day and you see how screamingly beautiful it is, it's hard to screw that up. We rotate everything in these gardens constantly, just to keep the soil healthy, that's one of our primary goals, is to give back as much as we take. You don't do those things, then I feel like you get less nutritious food and it doesn't taste as good. I wanna put my hands on something like this. I wanna taste that, I want my guests to taste that, I want them to understand the difference also. - I would get here early and she was already here. You would think that she's sleeping upstairs, like next to the barn, 'cause the amount of hours that she put into this place was just unbelievable, and it was, for me, as a young cook, it actually instilled a serious work ethic. You're only gonna be able to make people work for you when you're working, you know, you have to lead by example, and Melissa does that. - [Voiceover] This is not a concept, this is a lifestyle. Every day we live it, we feel it, we breathe it. Otherwise, it does not work. I feel very fortunate to have the people that I have working here every day and these are like my children. - I help Primo warm hug food. I mean, it's delicious, it's beautiful, it's conceptual. At the end of the day, you feel like you've been given, like, the best warm hug because it's just love and you can taste it. - I grew up in an Italian-American family, and food is very important. This is a dish that's always on the menu at Primo, and the reason is because it was the dish that I always used to make for my grandfather, it was his favorite. This is the connection, I mean, this is for me, this is my family connection. The guests, some nights we'll have a table of eight and they'll have six of them, because they don't want to share it. My most favorite compliment I've ever gotten is, "You make me remember something my grandmother used to make. "I haven't had this since I was a little kid." I think it's the passion and the love that they taste, I really do, I think that they can taste when someone puts that energy into the food. - If we're gonna have animals, they're gonna be happy, healthy animals, and they're not gonna stay in one place. It's been a, a long journey of 16 years of growing a little here, a little there, taking on a little more, 'cause we only have four acres to raise 15 pigs, 200 laying hens, 900 meat birds, and produce three acres of vegetables, it takes a lot of planning. Morning, girls! Oh, yeah, when we move 'em like this, they are ecstatic. Those are all lettuces there, there's radishes, all the dandelion and bianca greens. This is what we harvested three days ago for dinner. The last harvest. It makes the absolutely best eggs possible. This is what it's about for me, is keeping animals happy. - I think it's important for me as a chef to do things the right way. I mean, this is how people did it for thousands of years, you know, this is a spicy prosciutto. This is braciole, so it's a beef shoulder tenderloin. Those two are spicy pancettas on top. That is so creamy and beautiful, and when we, we brine it and then it has so much flavor. This is because they ate so well here at Primo, these pigs have all that extra love on them. That's what food should be, you put it in your body, it should be something good and raised with care whether it's a vegetable or a chicken or an egg or a pig. I hope people can make the connection, we try and instill it in our staff so they can explain it to the guests and say, "This was harvested today." For me, I could never do it any other way. Like, I couldn't just be a chef in a restaurant that ordered food. I think you just have to be happy with what you're doing, feel good about it, I'm here. This is it. This is it. My brain doesn't work where I can sit home and write a whole menu and then find the products and make the food. My soul would not be happy. The main thing, the color of it, this fresh, this clean, the water so cold and gorgeous and it's gonna be delicious. I need to walk through the garden and look at things and smell things and feel them and touch them. What do I wanna taste with that? What flavors work with that? I think about the weather, so it's really in the moment. This is the octopus, it's been braised, and now we're gonna give it a sear on this plancha. It could be on the menu for several weeks or it could be just for one night. We do have the head of the woods tonight, as well as we have a pig head. It's a very special treat. Everything on here is from here. This is terroir at its finest. As a chef, I'm somewhat insatiable, like, I'm never totally satisfied and I think that's part of my motivation for what I do and to keep pushing forward. You wanna make sure that it's perfect and it's right. I think it shows through the food. Everyone wants to come to Pig Day. All the local people are asking to come, all the cooks wanna bring their families and their spouses because it is a really special day, it's a celebration of the total picture of what Primo is about. - You're gonna have, like, five recipes on each time. We're making three different kinds of copa. We're gonna do a pig ear terrine which is intense. We're making pate, and you're making spriche niona. - It's pretty special to see a chef gather this many people to do something that's very personally emotional. - We're very happy to share this day with you, and it's very special to us. Here at Primo, it's a full circle kitchen. We waste nothing. The balance of all this is so important here, but when you do it for food, you have to have a reference. And we have that here. And that's why you're all here, and I thank you for that. It's a different connection to eating and to food. I don't know, I think it scratches your soul, I think it makes you understand why we're here. - This is the dream. Melissa's created it for everyone. She lights the fire every day, she will continue to light the fire until her last day, and I guarantee her last day will be sending out food to customers. This is what she was born to do. She can't control it, it just pours out of her. - When we first got here, I thought, "This is never gonna work. "No one's ever gonna come, "and it's gonna cost too much money to do it." When I walk around here, I feel very proud of what we've done. We have a community, that we've built in 16 years since we've been here, of all these wonderful people who understand what we are trying to do: create a special place where people can feel the connection to the food. It's never-ending, like you can never do enough. There's always more to do, so the work's never done. I wish I had a better answer to that. But I don't.

Coming right up

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