Chef Melissa King was in New York last week to host a three-night pop-up at the Seaport Food Lab with fellow Top Chef alums Mei Lin and Silvia Barban, where they presented dishes inspired by childhood food nostalgia. “I got in the kitchen at home around the age of 6 and I would help my mom,” King says. “I became her little sous-chef, washing rice, cleaning bok choy, and getting things set up for dinner. I never really looked back after that.” In between services, she found time to hit a few New York favorites, including Nami Nori and a great little place on Bleecker Street she would really prefer you not know about because it’s getting a little too popular.
Tuesday, November 7
I started my day at the hotel with a cappuccino, scrambled eggs doused in ketchup and Tabasco with a side of avocado, and sourdough toast. That’s a pretty classic hotel breakfast for me, and I’m happy.
If I were at home, my typical breakfast would be something like an almond-butter toast with a little bit of honey, banana, and sea salt. I’m from San Francisco, where we have the best sourdough, so I always have a loaf. I have an espresso machine, and I usually make a cappuccino. It took me all of the pandemic to learn how to do latte art. I go for hearts. That’s the easiest thing. Sometimes they turn into random blobs and look like dinosaurs.
In the middle of the day, I had Welch’s Fruit Snacks because I’m a 5-year-old. Those are my airplane snacks. I always go for Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Cheez-Its, or both. I keep the Welch’s in my bag whenever I’m around my twin nieces, though I’m snacking on them probably more than they are.
I worked through the day at the hotel. In the evening, I was invited to a Michelin Guide event that started at six. But before that, I stopped by Sugarfish, which was right next to my hotel. I had a pretty early dinner. I swung by there around 4:30, sat at the bar, and ordered the Trust Me Lite. I never get a chance to eat at Sugarfish unless I’m traveling. It’s a quick and easy place to stop, and I love the rice. It’s just perfectly seasoned, and I love that it comes out warm.
I was in and out within an hour, maybe 45 minutes, and then I walked over to the Michelin event. They had a whole spread of charcuterie right when you walked in. I went straight to the ice sculpture, which was shaped like a giant Michelin Man. Like, literally six feet tall on top of the table. The Michelin Man was holding a bowl of caviar, a huge tin. It must have been at least a kilo. I took a couple of caviar bumps. Next to that, they had Ibérico ham that they were shaving off the leg and serving in little cones.
Once you got into the main room, it was all little bites, so there were different chefs passing out food. It was almost like a mini food festival where you could walk around and grab a couple of bites from each person. Someone came by with these waffle-cut potato chips served with a black-truffle dip.
I got to meet Eric Ripert officially; that got me excited. Daniel Boulud was there. I hadn’t seen him since culinary school. A couple of my Top Chef friends were there.
Wednesday, November 8
I woke up and threw in a quick Nespresso pod in my hotel room before heading out the door. I got to the Tin Building, where I was going to host a pop-up dinner called “Melissa and Friends” on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I pulled in friends to cook with me: Mei Lin, who has a restaurant in L.A., and Silvia Barban, who’s also a Top Chef friend. She has a restaurant in Brooklyn called LaRina.
I had time to at least get an egg sandwich. They have this place called Double Yolk, where I picked up one that had cheddar, bacon, and fried egg on an English muffin. I took a few bites of that before heading into the kitchen for prep. We planned this mash-up of Chinese and Italian flavors over three courses, maybe four — a couple of smaller bites trickled in. We really wanted to create dishes that were inspired by our childhoods and tell a bit of our culture and the story of who we are.
I was tasting various components for the dishes, like XO sauce or a bite of Caesar dressing Mei Lin made. Last minute, we took the prosciutto oil from my XO sauce and we were like, “Let’s emulsify this into the Caesar dressing. It’s gonna be so good.” I took a little bite of Silvia’s butternut-squash filling that has amaretti cookies.
I got back to the hotel, had a glass of wine downstairs, and ate a banana that was sitting in my room that I had grabbed at the airport the night before. I didn’t have dinner until 8:30. I ended up at a restaurant in the West Village called MiGarba, which was really good. I had this really amazing butternut-squash ravioli. Everyone’s done butternut-squash ravioli. I’ve had it a thousand times — a million times — and this one was so … I don’t know what they did. The brown butter was delicious. Something about it was very well executed. We also had a skirt steak with a side of roasted carrots, and I had another glass of red wine. It was my second time there. A part of me is a little scared to tell people about it, to be honest, because the first time I was here, it was not too crowded and I remember feeling really impressed by the fresh pastas I had. When I went back on this trip, it was pretty packed. I was like, Okay, people are starting to find out about MiGarba. Which is great for them, but a part of me wants to hold it as a little secret for myself.
Thursday, November 9
I got a cappuccino with oat milk in the morning from Drip Drop Café and then went to Balthazar for a canelé. At least this week, I was pretty busy being in the kitchen, prepping, working the event. I didn’t really eat more substantially until later in the evening. When I’m here and it’s a little mellow, I like to throw in a sit-down lunch somewhere. I’ll get a seafood tower at Balthazar or somewhere. In the afternoon, I was able to go to Joe’s Pizza and get a slice of pepperoni with chile flakes. I love it there. I feel like I end up at Joe’s at some point whenever I’m in New York.
I had grapefruit juice from the Tin Building just before the first Seaport Food Lab dinners kicked off. I created scallops with prosciutto XO and radicchio, a dish of mine that won an episode of Top Chef when I did my all-star season. I chose to make the scallops and XO sauce because it’s a very traditional Hong Kong condiment. My family’s from Hong Kong, and we grew up eating this fried-scallop chile sauce on our noodles and different things.
When we’d talked through it earlier, Silvia wanted to present a pasta course, a butternut-squash cappelletti with Parmesan fonduta. We were discussing, like, “How do we spin it and make it Chinese?” So we came up with scallion oil and Sichuan-pepper walnut to sprinkle on top. For her, she would make cappelletti with her grandmother growing up. Mei Lin made Wagyu beef cheeks in a Cantonese curry with braised daikon and carrots with fried basil on top. We came up with the polenta on the side, and that was a collaborative effort. With the Wagyu beef cheeks, we were like, “We can serve it on congee or noodles, maybe,” but we already had a pasta course. Silvia suggested polenta, so we tried to find ways to spin the polenta and make that more interesting. We added a ginger-scallion sauce on top with some fresh herbs and fresh chives, parsley, and fried rosemary. We put some fried spicy shallots on top.
Friday, November 10
I started the day at the hotel: eggs Benedict with ham, spinach, hollandaise, and a side of avocado with an oat-milk latte. And later, a handful of Welch’s Fruit Snacks.
For lunch, I had a green juice made with Granny Smith apples, kale, cucumber, and lemon. And a bite of a chocolate croissant from the Tin Building.
It was the second night of the Food Lab dinners. I love cooking for people. I love seeing people light up when they eat my food. There were so many people who were excited — some who were Top Chef fans and some who didn’t know who we were and were excited to be there.
By the end of the night, we were off duty and, of course, starving. We wanted to support our Top Chef friend George Pagonis who had just opened Paros, which is in Tribeca right next to Frenchette. We went straight to his restaurant after service. It was me, Mei Lin, Silvia, and our friend David who runs Best Damn Cookies at Essex Market and was with us as our sous-chef for the evening. We had this incredible Greek feast. We didn’t even tell George what we wanted. We said, “Send us whatever you want, and we’ll eat it. We want to try all of your greatest hits.”
He sent out nearly everything on the menu: crudi, flatbreads with all these different types of hummus spreads, and octopus. By the time the appetizers came out, there was fried zucchini and grilled shrimp. And then all of a sudden, he bombs us with this pink snapper that was flown in from Greece and grilled lamb chops. He finished us off with Greek dessert — a little bit of everything off the menu, along with shots of mastika. We were there all night. We closed the restaurant down with him. To me, that’s how you end a night of service, with your chef friends.
Saturday, November 11
I woke up in the morning and started eating random Cheez-Its that were sitting on my desk in the hotel room. I walked to get some coffee, got an oat-milk cortado somewhere in the West Village, and then ended up at Nami Nori with Mei Lin. I got a classic set with ikura, a bamboo salad with chile oil, and miso clam soup.
We were meeting up with Silvia and our other Top Chef friend, Gerald from season 14, who was helping us for the evening. While we were prepping for service, someone brought in a black-truffle pizza that had a poached egg on top. We each took a slice of that, and it was so good. And then we were snacking on some apples. The apples here are incredible. It was one of the juiciest apples I’ve had.
After we got off work, we happened to have a reservation at Double Chicken Please, so we were able to make it into the back side of the bar. I’ve been there only on the front side of the restaurant, where they do the batch cocktails, but I’ve never had the chance to be on the back side, where they do more of the craft cocktails.
We ordered two fried-chicken sandwiches: One had hot honey and a Thai-basil sauce; the other had a salted-duck-yolk crust and dried shrimp. We had a Gem salad, chicken-liver toast, and popcorn chicken. Everybody ordered a different cocktail so we could all pass them around to try. I ordered the French Toast cocktail and tasted the Red Eye Gravy and the Dirty Margarita, which were really good. You read the menu and it’s all savory, and when you taste the cocktails, you taste those notes. There’s mushroom and corn and all the interesting ingredients they put into this beautiful cocktail. Then at the end of the night, they sent us mezcal-plum-shiso shots.