Primo's Melissa Kelly first repeat winner of prestigious award

Rockland restaurateur named 2013 James Beard 'Best Chef: Northeast'

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Monday, May 6, 2013 - 7:45pm
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Melissa Kelly of Primo restaurant gives her acceptance speech after receiving the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef award at a gala in New York City, Monday. (Image: screen shot, jamesbeard.org)
Melissa Kelly of Primo restaurant speaks after receiving the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef award (Northeast region) at a gala in New York City May 6. (Image: jamesbeard.org)

NEW YORK CITY — Melissa Kelly, executive chef and co-founder of Primo restaurant in Rockland, was named Best Chef for the Northeast region by the James Beard Foundation at a black tie gala at Lincoln Center in New York, Monday night.

Kelly was chosen from among five regional finalists, including three chefs from the Boston area and one from Long Island, N.Y. She won the award previously in 1999 for her work at Old Chatham at Sheepherding Co. Inn in Old Chatham, N.Y., and is the only chef to win the award twice.

In its 14 years, Primo has made a name for itself in part through the restaurant's true "farm to table" approach. Animals and produce are raised on the property or purchased from other local sustainable farms. The restaurant's website describes its philosophy this way:

"Nothing is wasted – everything has its place. It is a continuous cycle that occurs throughout the restaurant with the kitchen, the animals and the gardens. The kitchen uses and savors every little piece. Seasonal to the moment, it is actually the farm and the garden that make the incredible ever-changing menu."

Kelly's award was announced May 6 by celebrity chef Mario Battali.

Following is a transcript of her acceptance speech:

"I don't have a joke. And this is very unexpected. I'm honored to be in this category with these wonderful chefs and here with all of you. I have to thank Price [Kelly's husband and pastry chef, Price Kushner], my partner, who has supported me and followed me with all my crazy dreams and passion for 14 years at Primo. My family, who's been so supportive and Price's family as well. But the people I want to thank the most are my farmers, who bring me beautiful things to work with every day, and the foragers, the cheese makers make my job really easy. And all the people that support us at Primo, just trying to do a little thing up in Maine. So, thank you."

Primo, which serves "Mediterranean and Italian inspired dishes with local twists," is located at 2 S. Main St. in Rockland's south end. The restaurant opens later this month and is currently taking reservations for the 2013-14 season.

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Ethan Andrews can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com