Photo by James R. Salomon /Designer Randi Williams/Stylist Susan Salomon
As the James Beard Award–winning executive chef of Primo restaurants in Rockland (the original, we’re proud to point out), Orlando, and Tucson, Melissa Kelly cooks in three climates. While the essential elements of a kitchen do not recognize state borders, she says, creating the ultimate Maine cook space does involve some special considerations.
Does geographic location account for differences in your three kitchens?
I don’t have homes in Florida and Arizona so I don’t have home kitchens there, but I do have professional kitchens in all three places. Here in Maine, we don’t have air conditioning; both other locations do — it’s a necessity, especially in Tucson. Orlando and Tucson also are both open kitchens. My restaurant in Maine is a closed kitchen, which means it’s not in view of the guests.
What is the ideal Maine home kitchen?
There are a few things that would make it great. One is either having a fireplace or, even better, a cooking fireplace that is waist high, where you could cook something on a rotisserie or slide a grill over the coals.
The other thing I would have is an AGA stove. They’re beautiful, big, heavy, enameled stoves that have many different compartments, like a warming compartment and a roasting compartment, and a top with burners that stay at different temperatures. Because they stay on all the time, they keep the kitchen — and the whole house if you have an open floor plan — warm. They’re very practical for this climate. In summer, most people turn them off, but they’re barbecuing or grilling then anyway.
What else do you like in a kitchen design?
I like lots of light — a skylight overhead or a window over the sink or counter where you work.
A center island with lots of counter space is great. When I cook at home, everyone ends up in the kitchen, even if I put hors d’oeuvres in the den or living room. It’s fun to have a base designed for people to sit and enjoy each other or get people involved in the prep work while I am cooking.
Which do you prefer: cabinets or open shelving?
I love open shelving. You can display the things you use — your beautiful bowls and crocks and teapots.
Does it put pressure on you to be neat?
A little, but it’s practical. I’d rather have that stuff out where I’m going to use it rather than buried in a cabinet where I don’t even remember I have it.
What tools are essential to any home kitchen?
I love my cast iron skillet. If you have one well-seasoned cast iron skillet, you can do everything, from baking cornbread or pies or cobblers to frying eggs, making beans, and sautéing.
Another essential tool would be wooden spoons. When I first opened my restaurant in Orlando, the Marriott was opposed to wooden spoons for health code reasons, so I would bring my own. Metal against metal is not a good way to cook. When I’m stirring a pot, I want a wooden spoon because I can really feel the surface.
Let’s see, what else? Great knives are important, a really good peeler, and a good spatula. I use a fish spatula, which has holes in it and is thin and delicate so you can get it underneath a piece of fish. I use it for everything.