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Kauaʻi’s Culinary Canvas: Bringing Island Flavors to Life with Chef Melissa King

From moonlight kitchen nights to Top Chef All-Stars, Melissa King’s culinary journey is full of delightful surprises. Join us as she shares her story and shapes our Chefs by Nature retreat at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.

Published on: April 08, 2024
Melissa King

From following her mom around the kitchen to hosting her Tasting Wild docuseries, Chef Melissa King has always felt a deep-rooted passion for the culinary arts. As a Top Chef Judge and All-Stars Winner (with the most challenge wins in the history of the show), it’s clear that this passion has beautifully translated to natural, undeniable talent.

She is a true embodiment of the title “Chef by Nature,” as she shares her intrinsic culinary talent with the world and honors the planet every step of the way. Chef Melissa will be the first to acknowledge that she draws great inspiration and appreciation from her surroundings, always honoring native ingredients and the people who nurture, harvest, and distribute them.

Her love and respect for planet-first cooking makes her a natural host for our Chefs by Nature retreat at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, an immersive culinary journey on Kauaʻi’s abundant, breathtaking shores. Through this enriching experience, you can absorb invaluable techniques and insights directly from Chef Melissa through interactive cooking demos, wine pairing sessions, and a three-course dinner that benefits local culinary students. Most of all, you can taste the freshest island flavors come to life through her unparalleled culinary creativity.

We spoke with Chef Melissa to explore stories throughout her journey as a chef, some of her favorite sustainable cooking techniques, her excitement for the Chefs by Nature experience, and her passion for letting nature lead the way.


Can you tell us about your culinary background and what inspired you to become a chef?

I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was about six years old. I always had an interest in food, and it all started with helping my mom at home with homestyle Cantonese dishes after work and simple tasks like washing vegetables or steaming rice. I was obsessed with Julia Child and Martin Yan and wanted to grow up to be like them. But coming from a traditional household, a creative career wasn’t allowed as an option just yet. So I started moonlighting in kitchens during high school and through my undergrad, then went off to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I trained in three Michelin kitchens around San Francisco in fine dining over ten years. I became a butcher and private chef, then went on my first season of Top Chef. I pursued my own path which led me to consulting, partnerships, philanthropy, Top Chef All Stars, my show Tasting Wild, and many more exciting things!

How do seasonality and sustainability shape your approach to cooking? In what ways have your travels and heritage influenced your commitment to these principles?

I’m a Cali girl at heart! As a San Francisco trained chef, I value seasonality and sustainability in many forms, from honoring to select ingredients from local farmers whenever possible to the foundation of my techniques to utilizing trim and minimizing waste in the things I create. It’s a full circle effect—from supporting the people that grow our local foods to optimizing back in the kitchen for my guests.
I have traveled to many parts of the world, and my favorite thing is finding inspiration in the local region—from the local honey to the freshest seafood off the coastlines of that specific body of water. I take pride in looking around me and utilizing what’s right there instead of flying in an imported product that may not be as fresh.

The Chefs by Nature retreat is an immersive experience that goes beyond the kitchen. Can you give us a sneak peek into what participants can expect from your upcoming cooking class at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay?

The cooking demo will be a fun way for us to get to know each other, while learning how to make some of my favorite Asian snacks. I’m an open book, so I highly encourage questions about my techniques, life, Top Chef experience, fire away! 

How do you plan to incorporate Hawaiian flavors and locally sourced ingredients into the dishes you’ll be preparing with guests and class attendees? 

There are so many amazing ingredients in Hawaiʻi that I don’t get to play with as much on the mainland: the best pineapple, passionfruit, and local fish like Kampachi. I plan to discover the flavors of Hawaiʻi along with you all through my creations!

The “In the Field” charity dinner is a highlight of the retreat, promising a three-course meal that's not just about indulgence but also giving back to local culinary students. Is there a certain person or moment that left a lasting impact on you during your culinary school days?

Culinary school was an amazing time for me to find my community. It was a time of my life where I met other people that were just like me and wanted to obsess over the perfect techniques to make a perfect consommé or omelet. It's a time where I met some of my best friends, who today, are some of the biggest leaders in our culinary industry with their own restaurants and exciting careers. Culinary school is also a humbling time where you think you’re learning everything but come out realizing it’s only the beginning of your journey. 

As we celebrate Earth Month, could you share one simple change home cooks can make in their kitchens to support a more sustainable lifestyle?

Save the trims from your vegetables, like mushroom stems, onion roots, and carrot ends, and use them to make a tasty broth. Or compost them!


Get closer to the immense natural wonder of Kauaʻi through our Chefs by Nature retreat with Melissa King, indulging in vibrant island flavors, supporting the local community, and taking expert advice home with you.

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