March 19, 2013

Best Chef finalist a 'Primo' example of farm to table

The chef/owner of Primo is the only James Beard Award nominee from Maine this year.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Melissa Kelly of Primo restaurant in Rockland, left, and Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar in New York prepare a course at an event held at Arrows restaurant in Ogunquit in this 2005 photo.

Press Herald file photo

"I think they get a different perspective when they have to wash every green that comes muddy from the backyard versus having it come in a box," Kelly said.

"Using every single piece of everything and making the most of it is important, right down to the composting. In the kitchen, we have colored buckets everywhere for chicken food, pig food, compost."

Her next goal is to make the restaurant even more sustainable and efficient. Primo sits on a hill overlooking Penobscot Bay, and Kelly dreams of running the place with wind power someday.

Kelly has two other restaurants, in J.W. Marriott hotels, that also use the Primo name. One is in Orlando, Fla.; the other in Tucson, Ariz.

Both restaurants have their own gardens and follow Kelly's philosophy as much as possible, and the staffs work with local farmers to get the fresh produce they need.

Kelly visits the other restaurants in the winter, when Primo in Rockland is closed for the season.

When Primo is open, she is there from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., six days a week, even though she owns a house just five miles down the road. "I like to say that I live there and I sleep someplace else," she said.

The James Beard Award ceremony will be held the week before Primo opens for the season. So, as thrilled as Kelly is with her nomination, she's not sure she'll be able to make it to the Lincoln Center.

"It might be that, just as we get down there, I'll be receiving a side of beef and a whole pig and a couple of lambs, and I'll be busy up to my neck butchering," she said.

"Usually, that week is making stocks and starting a kitchen from scratch after being closed for four months," she said. "I'm going to try (to get to the ceremony), but I can't say right now whether I will or not."

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


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