“MY PARENTS HAVE A HOME in Idra, Greece so I grew up eating this way,” said chef Melia Marden clad in jeans and a Proenza Schouler tee, and flanked by a dozen helpers in the kitchen of The Smile To Go. “I love countries
like Morocco, Greece and the coast of Italy. All those places with warmer climates.” To wit, her first cookbook Modern Mediterranean is chockfull of med-inspired recipes such as fennel, cucumber and pomegranate salad, fava bean crostini and a saffron fish stew. As the head chef for three locations of The Smile as well as Ruschmeyers in Montauk, Marden is no stranger to trawling farmer’s markets, meeting with produce dealers and conceptualizing ever-changing menus that focus on fresh ingredients and simple recipes. Take the quinoa recipe she whipped up specially for Bonberi. Here, we caught up with Marden on what she can’t live without in her kitchen as well as her favorite spots in the city.

One of my favorite recipes in Modern Mediterranean is the Moroccan Chicken. My mother would make it every Christmas with lemon and olives. She would also make a simple Thai chicken soup with rice noodles and chestnuts. It was really comforting.

My favorite restaurant to splurge in New York is La Grenouille. It’s so old school and classic. It’s the perfect place for an anniversary dinner or something like that. I also find the dishes at Il Buco interesting.

A great healthy snack is sugar snap peas. They’re like potato chips.

The easiest Indian summer dish is corn. It’s really good when you grill it in the husk. You don’t need much because it’s so sweet.

One chef I admire is Prune‘s Gabrielle Hamilton. I really liked her book and she has a developed palette, which I admire.

The last inspiring place I visited was Big Sur. It’s so beautiful, it feels like you’re inside a cloud. There was wild fennel growing on the side of the road. It was surreal.

I used to have a cherry tree on our roof for two years. I would make my own maraschino cherries, it was really labor intensive.

My sweet indulgence is Cadbury’s milk chocolate. I also love raw cookie dough.

The most underrated kitchen ingredient are shallots. They’re onions but not too

The most overrated ingredient is bacon. I like a BLT but having bacon in everything is overwhelming. I don’t put meats in my vegetables.

Three must-haves in the kitchen are crushed chili flakes, Diamond Crystal kosher salt and pomegranate syrup or honey, which I use to roast vegetables.

My last memorable meal was Rich Table in San Francisco. That’s where the beginning of this food culture started. We had the tasting menu but it wasn’t like small bites, it felt like we ordered everything on the menu. I had this sardine dip and a savory panna cotta, which was amazing.

My husband’s favorite dish I make is fish stew.

All of our meat is sourced from Pino’s on Sullivan Street. We make sure it is antibiotic and hormone free. We source Manouri cheese and greek yoghurt from Optima. And we get our herbs from Cedar Farms.

My favorite thing to do is to infuse olive oil with fried garlic, sage and pink peppercorns. We pour that over a goat cheese crostini.

To exercise, I swim or run on the treadmill at the YMCA.

I don’t have control of the music played at The Smile. I’m always surrounded by Mexican death metal rock.


1. Erato Olive Oil 

2. Wusthof Knives

3. Micro Zester

4. Neutrogena Sunblock

5. Aveeno Baby Moisturizer

6. Lucas Paw Paw

7. Klorane Chamomile Shampoo