Chef of Chef Works – Chef Marina Mellino, The Spice Chica

Based in Calgary, Chef Marina travels around the world, sharing her authentic Argentinian flavours and teaching people cook. Recognised as the ‘Spice Chica’ she is bursting with positive energy and a unique passion for food. We caught up with Chef Marina to hear more about her journey…

 

Hi Chef Marina, tell us your story of how you started your career in the culinary industry?

I came to Canada from Argentina with an art degree. I was so young and had no experience but still thinking I could quickly make it big as an artist here. Landed in Alberta, a very conservative province. I started to paint bodies for a living. I needed to survive. Then I got a job at a restaurant. At that time, I was very motivated by money and saw how much I can make in the industry doing something I loved! I knew I liked food and people. Back then I hadn’t recognised the passion that my upbringing and family instilled in me about food and sharing a meal together as I know now.

 

What inspired the name ‘The Spice Chica’?

Once I started cooking I realized I could not find the flavours I was used to and that maybe I had something special when it came to spices, mixing, blending and food. I also try to use fresh spices and herbs on my dishes for aroma, flavour and enhance them with art. That is how I got the Spice Chica. Chica is “girl, chick, petite” in Spanish; in my first kitchen job I was given the nickname and it stuck!

 

Who inspired you to become a chef?

Probably my aunt. I used to watch her cook with a lot of passion. My aunt cooks everything but what really opened my eyes was her “Gnocchi pomodoro” turning ricotta, flour, eggs and a 3-hour made sauce into a pillory, soft and flavourful bundle of pasta.

 

How would you describe your food style?

Fresh – I love farmers markets! I try to buy daily fresh ingredients from there. So today’s dish may be something I picked up in the morning.

Healthy – Healthy because that is the way I feed myself – because I love food and want to try many, I cook with the thought of how can I make this healthy or healthier, perhaps use coconut sugar instead of white refined sugar or 00 italian flour instead of all purpose. Every slight change makes a difference!

Artsy – Artsy, because I like to make things pretty! My first career was art school – I am an artist first :). I use pansies a lot (edible flowers); they are so beautiful and colourful to help plate any dish.

 

 

Let’s talk about your favourite spice or herb to work with, what would it be and why?

Definitely oregano. It is an aromatic shrub with branching stems that sprout with greenish-gray leaves and pink or white flowers when mature. In warm Mediterranean climates, oregano is a perennial while in North America it grows as an annual due to the colder weather. And, best of all, oregano in Spanish translates to “mountain of joy”, who can say No to that.

 

What inspired you to open The Spice Chica Cooking School and become a personal chef?

I wanted to share with others the passion and fun we could all have in the kitchen. I love the fact that food brings people together. I truly think for that for those hours I spend with the clients cooking, surrounded by food, aromas, color and heat – I really think I change their lives. Maybe in a happy way, an informative way, a new taste way or even in a never experienced before way. I, Chef Marina was there; I was part of the experience and for a while will be in their mind.

Last year I cooked at a private birthday party; celebrating the clients mothers 80th birthday. My job was to make a paella for 75 guests. Nanna (as they called her) and I bonded right away, she stuck by me through out the whole Paella process – in many ways I was thinking…” This is what it would look like if my Nonna (Italian grandmother) was still alive :). For a short moment, I had déjà vu – could it have been her? My best private home memory for sure in a while!

 

 

Tell us about your most memorable cooking trip…

Argentina culinary week; not only was I in the roots I grew up in but it was the best tasting food, most memorable empanada experience and the best delicious steak!

 

What is your favourite piece of Chef Works’ gear?

Memphis Chefs Apron – that thing is sexy!

 

What is in the pipeline for The Spice Chica?

I am moving into a new area of the industry – restaurant-re-development! I have a few consulting projects on the go, love the idea of giving restaurants a new face and place to have a great meal for clients!

 

To follow Chef Marina’s footsteps, check out The Spice Chica’s profile below:

Instagram – #spicechica

Facebook – @thespicechica

Twitter: @thespicechica