Of Course Melissa Doney is Ready: She’s Been to ‘Hell’ and Back!
SARATOGA SPRINGS – You would expect a Food Prep Instructor to be prepped for anything regarding food. Armed with skills and a competitive spirit, Melissa Doney is more than ready to show off these skills at the 17th Saratoga Wine + Food Festival this weekend.
Her enthusiasm for all things cuisine will be on centerpiece display at both Friday, September 8 evening’s “All Fired Up!” Expo: as well as squaring off as the BlueStar celebrity chef in the finals of the Saturday afternoon SPAC “Home Rangers” Amateur Chef Competition during the Grand Tasting Festivities, against an amateur who has had to survive preliminary rounds to face Melissa. As the Executive Chef and Kitchen Manager from regional treasure Brown’s Brewing Company, she certainly has the talent and skill to make a fine statement. But, remember that preparation factor: She’s already done a recon on both the event and her opponent.
“Yes, I’ve attended the Wine and Food Festival before,” Melissa said when we spoke by phone recently, “it’s a great event and a lot of fun.” So, she knows the lay of the land. But it goes deeper: “Oh, i’ve checked out my competition too!” She noted. “He got this far by doing some great things with sirloin and scallops, as well as a beet dish. So, yes, he’s got skills.” Which he will need. An amateur going against a pro is always dicey. But battling this pro is going to be tougher still. For it’s the skill set and the preparation and the battle-tested experience that make Melissa formidable in this case.
In 2010, while serving as Executive Sous Chef and Head of Banquet Dining at the Fort William Henry Conference Center in Lake George, Melissa caused some local buzz by being chosen from about 50,000 applicants to become only one of 16 competitors on Season 8 of FOX Network’s Culinary Cutthroat Monster “Hell’s Kitchen.”
At Saturday’s “Home Rangers” final, Melissa will be showcasing her talents for celebrity judges, including BlueStar All Star Chef, Jay Hajj. Hajj is the chef and owner of Mike’s City Diner in Boston and his food has been featured numerous times on Food Network programs such as Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Guy’s Big Bite and Guy’s Grocery Games. Joining him at the judging table will be Ariana Philips, Editor of Food Network magazine. Chef Suvir Saran, an accomplished chef, cookbook author, educator as well as a farmer who specializes in bringing Indian cooking to the American kitchen will be the final judge. He has appeared frequently on national broadcasts including Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and on the Food Network’s Iron Chef. The competition will be emceed by Steve Barnes, Times Union senior writer and Table Hopping blogger.
She declined to tip her hand as to what she will be her dish at “Home Rangers” – “I’m debating a few options, but it will all depend on the secret ingredient,” which will be revealed shortly before the start, Iron Chef-style. At the “Fired Up” expo, however, Melissa noted that she will be making her own take on a ‘Street Taco’ – which will utilize a base of ‘Mexican Mirepoix,’ if you will, of roasted corn, tomato and cucumber.
Of course, every “Hell’s Kitchen” alum has a few insights about the mercurial host, Gordon Ramsey. “He certainly can be a challenge,” she said laughing. “But what a wealth of experience he brings. And, the thing is, he wants you to succeed and will show you everything he knows if he sees you are interested. I learned so much there – most of all, how to be a leader in the kitchen, that serves me well. He’s talented – he’s passionate. But it’s because he cares.”
Don’t be surprised if you see Melissa’s smilin’ face on other TV Food competitions. “I’d love to do Chopped. That would be a real challenge. But the one I’m angling for is “Guy’s Grocery Games.” I think with my experience (she also has logged a stint as Head Chef for Shop Rite’s Grocery Stores in the Capital Region), I’d do well there.” Certainly, she’d probably have little trouble finding small elusive items like capers or anchovy paste in the aisles of Flavortown.
In Ramsey-esque tradition, on her day off, she teaches at her alma mater, Schenectady County Community College’s esteemed Culinary Arts program. “I’ve done a lot of different courses. This fall, I’ll be teaching Garde Manger (This, in French, means ‘keeper of the food’ – emphasizing proper ventilation, storage and refrigeration techniques) and in the spring: Food Prep.” She said.
One thing I did not have to ask Melissa Doney is whether she will be excited to meet Boston Red Sox legend David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who will be doing various meet and greets throughout next weekend’s festival. That’s because I did a little recon on her myself.
Her Facebook page lists four, and only four, favorite sports teams:
The Patriots, and yes,
The Red Sox.
So, suffice to say, “Big Papi” is looking like he will be well-fed.
And, though she now works for Brown’s – given this sports pedigree, don’t be shocked if you see Melissa sipping a ‘Gansett or a Sam and munching on some Cape Cod Chips during her breaks. Like her talented self – they’re wicked good!
Now in it’s 17th year, the Saratoga Wine + Food Festival and Concours D’Elegance raises funds for SPAC’s Children’s Education Program. Whether you are a wine enthusiast, a food connoisseur, or an auto aficionado – they have something delicious cooking for you next weekend (Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, September 8 and 9). Visit spac.org for all the yummy details, and to purchase tickets to one or more events
September 4, 2017