Riveting, inspiring, passionate are just few of the traits which crossed through my mind while hearing Chef Melissa Kelly share her principles and beliefs regarding sustainability, slow food, and the true ‘farm to table‘ philosophy. By the end of our dazzling meal, I for one couldn’t resist racing to the nearest nursery to stock up on some fresh herb plants for my personal vegetable garden.
After 15 seasons, numerous awards, recognitions, the 1st Primo at Rockland Maine has matured into what Chef Melissa Kelly calls a “Full Circle Kitchen…” the ultimate farm to table experience. And she has brought this unique and delightful experience to two other locations – JW Marriott located in Orlando and Tuscon, Arizona.
What started with a garden, a few hens and a couple of pigs has now become an evolution of food; an endless pursuit to accomplish more. Primo is much more than a restaurant, it is about love and respect for food. It is also about creativity. Produce is grown & harvested here and the animals are raised on the property. 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.
What is not grown at the restaurant in Orlando comes from other local and sustainable farms that Chef Melissa Kelly is proud to support such as Mr. Dale Volkert from Lake Meadow Farms. From local cage free eggs to vegetables, fruits, and herbs, Dale sources most if not all of the fine dining and local Central Florida restaurants.
Chef Mariano Vegel, Chef de Cuisine at Primo, a transplant from Argentina, grew up cooking in his grandfather’s pizzeria and making fresh pasta from scratch for family dinners. Today the dynamic duo bring a thrilling marriage of Mediterrean flavors to Primo’s patrons at the JW Marriott, Grande Lakes.
Wine and Bread are as essential to an Italian dinner as a fork and knife (if not more). Along with olive oil they make “Santa Trinita Mediterranea” – the Mediterranean Holy Trinity. So here are my recommendations for wine pairing with each dish we tasted based on Primo’s by the glass wine list.
Mille Grazie (thousand thanks) to the brilliant Bokeh Studio for these mouth-watering photographs!!
Slow Cooked & Grilled Octopus – lima beans, artichokes, calabrian pesto, ndujo sausage, smoky potato chips. When octopus is slowly simmered, it becomes delicate and tender. Finished on the grill, it imparts deeply satisfying layered flavors. Typically with seafood, white wine works fabulously. When such a complex dish emerges from the kitchen, it begs for a robust wine. Fruity and rich, the Enamore Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Mendoza is what I am leaning towards.
Cold Smoked Tuna Tartare with tonnato sauce, confit tomatoes, mint, sesame oil, bottarga, and crispbreads. Shimmering, perfectly diced house smoked tuna, creamy tuna sauce, Mediterranean caviar – need I say more?
White wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, has a bright, citrusy acidity that acts like a zap of lemon or lime juice to heighten flavors in everything from smoked tuna to grilled salmon. Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough (New World) or Domaine de la Rossignole Sancerre, Loire (Old World) offered by the glass are the ideal companion for the vibrant and refreshing tuna tartare.
Farmer Salad: Primo lettuces, garlicky levain croutons, house cured bacon, soft poached Whisper Creek Farm egg, white balsamic vinaigrette. House cured crunchy bacon, perfectly poached egg, lettuce from the organic garden, dressed and dusted with white balsamic vinaigrette and Parmesan Reggianno shavings – each component was in perfect harmony. I could eat it as an entire meal.
Fruity, dry, with good acidity and earthiness, the sparkling Cleto Chiarli “Grasparossa di Castelvetro” Lambrusco, Modena, can balance the flavors in this salad.
We also got treated to Surplus Extra Pale Ale, flagship beer at The Brewery located here at Grande Lakes. This unique beer is brewed with the “Surplus” honey” from the farm here at Grande Lakes.
The best was yet to come….Squid Ink Linguine with ‘Fruitti di Mare‘ – calamari, jonh crab, rock shrimp, clams, charred peppers, tasso ham, pimenton crumbs. Fresh squid ink pasta, uni emulsion, mind blowing array of seafood – this gorgeous dish is a seafood lover’s dream, leaving you desperate for more. And that my friends is a good thing!
With most shellfish and crustacean preparations wines from coastal regions mirror the delicate flavors of the dish such as Tenuta Guado al Tasso Vermentino, Toscana and Pazo das Bruxas Albariño, Rias Baixas .
Saltimbocca meaning “jumping in the mouth” in Italian, is a staple at Primo and Chef Kelly’s to-go comfort dish. Sautéed Scaloppine of Pork Saltimbocca: in a sage infused mushroom-madeira jus with prosciutto, spinach and roasted garlic mashed potato.
Pigs loves an earthy, medium bodied wine like Pinot Noir. Carpe Diem, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley is offered by the glass at Primo; for an old-world pairing – Damilano Barolo, Piedmont.
An a fine finish to our decadent and fresh meal was the quintessential Italian refreshing gelatto – Caramello: caramel pate choux, caramelized hazelnut gelatto, toasted caramelized marshmallow.
Playful in presentation and pure in flavors, I will bow down to a double shot espresso please.
Whisper Creek Farm – a 7,000-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden with an adjoining 11,000-square-foot outdoor event space. Whisper Creek Farm boasts a chicken coop, composting area, 120 pineapple plants, eighteen seven-foot citrus trees, including tangerine, kaffir lime, and kumquat; cucumbers, acorn squash, collard greens, avocado, mango, sweet potatoes, a variety of herbs, a pumpkin patch, and much more. In addition to the vast garden, Whisper Creek hosts resident bees in three hives to help in the pollination of the flowering plants and provide more of the Grande Lakes signature nectar.
Did you know you can HOST your very own party at the stunning grounds of Whisper Creek Farm?
Even before you depart from Primo, you will be making reservations for your next trip. Its been said that the difference between a Good meal and a Great meal is that, with the former, you finish the meal thinking, “The Food was Good“. With a great meal, you can’t help but think, “Life is Good“.
When food is treated with the respect it so richly deserves, it becomes a way of life. Chef Kelly’s emphasis on freshness, seasonality, and a menu that accommodates what is coming out of the garden on a daily basis is a full circle farm to table experience.
Eat Local – Be Local – Be FRESH!