I have been inspired to create food for as long as I can remember. At the age of 4, I replicated a sandwich I had at a restaurant; a bagel, veggie cream cheese, alfalfa sprouts, and avocado. My mother allowed me to get a treat from the grocery store, and I picked veggie cream cheese because I remembered the deliciousness of that bagel!
The first time I remember feeling joy cooking for people was when I was 10. I made macaroni and cheese and brought it to a potluck. I did it in a crockpot and it came out so well! Everyone loved it and it made me so happy to see them enjoying something I made for them. I think I knew then that I wanted to cook for people.
Fast forward several years. I began working in a small, mostly vegetarian restaurant in Iowa. I started making sandwiches and taking orders, but soon I was creating and executing soups and specials. Not only did I feel such a sense of satisfaction from cooking, but the act of service was something that meant a lot to me. When I saw a regular customer walking in, getting their order started so it would be waiting for them gave me an immense sense of satisfaction.
Sadly, 24 Carrots closed when I was 19, but the experience I had set the stage for me to continue my love of preparing food. I had my first son 2 months after 24 Carrots closed and opened my home-based cookie business, Rainbow Cookies. (My second son was born 19 months later.) I sold 4 different cookies to local businesses; Brownies, Raspberry Shortbread Crumble Bars, Oatmeal Fudge Bars and Chocolate Chip. I spent several years with my sons strapped to my back, baking cookies.
My family moved to New Hampshire in 1997. My kids were 4 and 6 years old, and I took a job waiting tables at Chili’s Bar and Grill. The service aspect took me back to what I loved about pleasing my customers at 24 Carrots. I was the Front of the House opener. This meant a lot to me, because I could make sure the restaurant was set up appropriately. Well begun is half done! Start with the end in mind! Those are mottos I live by.
We moved again to the Seacoast of NH. I was enjoying cooking for my family so much (mostly plant-based) I started teaching cooking classes. I also started a blog, Melomeals, where I shared my love of cooking and my original recipes. My blog caught the eye of a vegan restaurateur and I began creating in the restaurant setting again!
Over the next several years, I worked as a Vegan Chef in several restaurants. I expanded my knowledge to include Raw Foods and Gluten Free (vegan) baking. My food was featured in our local magazine as being the best vegan food in New Hampshire. I was also working as a Plant-Based Personal Chef in my downtime.
I heard about a wine bar opening in Kennebunk, Maine, and knew that being their Chef would give me a chance to expand my culinary horizons and cook for a more mainstream audience. I took the job and was a one woman show! Everything on the menu was made from scratch except the bread and pickles and I prepped and cooked it all! Not only did I do it all myself, but I did it with one induction burner and a convection oven the size of a large microwave. I also made three desserts daily. This experience pushed me to the limit and I relished every second of it. It was intense and wonderful and so beyond anything I ever thought I would be capable of. My food caught the eye of the Portland Press Herald and there was an entire article dedicated to my Panzanella Salad!
Working 70 plus hours a week was not sustainable for my family. My kids were teenagers at this point, but they needed me, so I cut my hours back and took a local job as the Chef/Kitchen manager at a local health food restaurant. The restaurant was inside of a health food store, so each day, I would get a cart of amazing vegetables to use for soups and specials and deli case items. This was very much like my job as the Vegan and Raw Foods Chef at Blue Moon, and I loved coming to work every day and flexing my creative muscle.
I had been keeping up with my blog during all of this and over the years, fell in love with photography. Mainly food photography! I wanted to try my hand at portraiture, so I started taking pictures of my friends. My portfolio started to speak for itself and I caught the eye of a regional magazine.
My unique (plant based) food perspective was something they hadn’t been exposed to and I was contracted to contribute food photography, food writing, recipe development and testing for them.
I have contributed recipes to the Whole Soy and Earth Balance corporations as well as several spas.
My recipes have been featured in various Web venues; Fox News Magazine, Buzzfeed, CNN, and many more! I was interviewed on New Hampshire Public Radio about my Vegan for $3.33 a Day Melomeals blog.
When my youngest son went off to college, I moved to Boston where I worked as a Personal Chef and Plant-Based Chef for a small take out restaurant in the Back Bay.
My skills have also been utilized as a Consultant, designing and developing plant-based menus and recipes, along with staff training.
I love looking back at my culinary history and seeing how each piece of the puzzle has led up and fed the next step and learning experience. My love of service and creation is what drives me and my skills are being fine-tuned daily. I never stop learning!
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Plant-Based Chef Melody Polakow