The day we spoke to her, Melissa “Missy” Petersen was wearing many hats in her role as Sous Chef – which is actually the norm for her.
In addition to her regular responsibilities – ranging from cooking, plating and quality control to communication and more – Missy was helping manage the kitchen during Executive Chef Håkan Lundberg’s vacation. (Even chefs need a break sometimes.)
This is where Missy thrives: in a place where her skills bring vital structure to the kitchen and her efforts are apparent in each plate, bowl and bite. “We have a lot of great tools to work with,” she said of the Club’s capacity to support inspiration and intuition. “I really enjoy coming up with new things.”
As Sous Chef, Missy’s role is defined equally by the skillset she brings and the needs of the Executive Chef and the kitchen at large. In her own words, “The chef has a grand scheme – it’s my job to execute that.” Her lifelong passion for food definitely helps.
“I always liked to cook,” she said. “I experimented with it a lot as a kid, and I always enjoyed good food. I feel like that sounds like a pretty typical chef upbringing… and then I decided one day that that’s the direction I wanted to go.”
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu with the best of her class, she worked at Redstone American Grill, which she described as her first restaurant experience. “Coming from Redstone taught me a lot.” (She also helped launch a Redstone location in New Jersey, which she says gave her a bevy of insight into managing kitchen teams.)
Despite a lasting interest in cuisine and years of experience, she asserts that “chefs don’t know everything. We have to be open to learning from our staff and rely on them for what we don’t know.”
As an impromptu example, during our interview, Missy addressed questions from kitchen staff without missing a beat, meting out chickens for various dishes throughout the week. The interaction lasted all of 60 seconds, after which a clear plan of action was already in motion with all contingencies mapped.
Missy said her personality allows her to address situations like those, which require a certain degree of improvisation, with a level head. “There’s a lot that goes on at the Club, culinary-wise. I try to handle surprises as calmly as possible.”
Missy’s efforts (and those of the kitchen at large) are apparent in the Minneapolis Club dining experience, which Missy said is about more than food. “The Club’s dining experience is unique – it’s the service, it’s the food, it’s the ambiance. Dining is about the whole experience, and our members are proud to become a part of it when they come in for a meal.”
On the more recognizably culinary side of her role – that is, preparing and plating food – Missy prioritizes one thing above most other concerns: love of the craft.
“You have to put love and time into your food,” she said. “Passion and caring can be inherent, and knowledge is built over time” – and the “love” she’s talking about is what happens when the two meet. Members see both in action during Kitchen Table dinners, where groups can dine in the kitchen and back rooms to get a direct view of the passion and knowledge that create what’s on their plate. (For more information on Kitchen Tables, contact Catering or ask your server during your next meal at the Minneapolis Club.)
For Missy’s cuisine career, passion led to understanding, and understanding led to leadership. “We work as a family, working closely and watching each other’s back,” she said.