As the executive chef and co-owner of The Smile – a chic NoHo cafe – and Smile To Go, Melia Marden, is renowned for her down-to-earth approach to healthy fare, inspired by the cuisine of the Mediterranean. Born and raised in NYC’s West Village, Marden’s brief stint in the magazine industry led to an enrollment in the French Culinary Institute, from where her prominent culinary career took off. Today, Marden lives in the East Village with her husband Frankie and son, and here, she touches on her go-to essentials for spring entertaining. Take a look!
What drew you to a profession in the culinary industry?
I wanted to do something physical that had a tangible outcome.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re creating a menu or recipe?
I am usually inspired to create new dishes by discovering a new ingredient or getting excited about something I haven’t used a lot in the past. Recently, I started experimenting with fresh turmeric. I think it’s important to keep trying new dishes, new restaurants, and new recipes, otherwise I get stuck in a rut of using the same flavor combinations.
What is your favorite aspect of owning a restaurant?
The most rewarding thing is when customers genuinely enjoy their meal – the food and the atmosphere. For me to best part of professional cooking is the fact that there is constant immediate feedback.
Do you have a trick to making exotic or unfamiliar ingredients seem more approachable?
I think the key to using something “exotic” is making sure it balances well with the other flavors and ingredients. If you’re using an unfamiliar ingredient, a good trick is to use it in place of something more common that has a similar flavor profile and texture – i.e. using fresh turmeric instead of ginger.
What are your go-to recipes or ingredients for hosting in the spring?
Pasta with fresh ricotta and spring greens – peas, peas shoots, and whatever looks good.
Name three items one can always find in your fridge.
Kalamata olives, harissa, fresh parsley.