Melissa's interest in cooking started in her home so early she knew she wanted to be a chef by age 5. She spent a lot of time watching and helping her grandmother cook for family occasions, so she associated food with love, family, fun and warmth then and now. When she wasn't watching her grandmother cook, Melissa watched Julia Childs cooking on TV.  "This was way before Food TV and modern cooking shows. You watched entire meals prepared with limited preparation done beforehand. They were serious cooking shows.", Melissa said. 
Melissa worked in a family owned Italian restaurant in her teens. This is where she learned success in the hospitality and restaurant industry was dependent on great team work. "If any person performs their job poorly, costs go up in a very low margin business, and/or the customer experience is poor and the critical repeat customers aren't earned. Either or both of these can kill a restaurant quickly." 
Melissa chose to attend Johnson and Wales College, a unique training ground for chefs. It combines the experience of working in the restaurant business with academics. Its closest rival for training chefs is the Culinary Institute of America, which doesn't provide the same level of academics. "The school rivalry lives within my house all the time. My husband is a Culinary Institute grad." 
The most critical aspect of running a restaurant is showing up. So every absence from a cooking class dropped your grade by one letter. Restaurants are an incredibly competitive business. So everyone competed against every other student in class by the use of performance curves, forcing a distribution of grades based on relative performance. The key evaluation factors used in class are the same used by the industry:
  • your passion for food , that you show you want learn and grow constantly;, 
  • caring and concern for the patrons, 
  • a strong sense of urgency, because the majority of business is done within a very few hours of the day. 
The key difference between evaluations in class and on the job is that in class there is really only one person evaluating you. On the job your boss and everyone else on the staff is constantly evaluating you. If you don't measure up, the staff don't want you around because your performance will adversely impact the entire team. So they can work to push you out. 
In addition to these pressures, Melissa was one of the few women attending Johnson and Wales. Professional cooking was still a male dominated world, so it was a very anti-female culture at that time. Despite this Melissa graduated in 1997 with excellent grades and went to work for Aramark Corporation. 
Melissa's first assignment was running the food service for Pfizer in Connecticut. Pfizer had just released Viagra, so money was no object and rapid growth was the driving factor. She had the opportunity to provide super food in a variety of settings throughout the corporate campus while her staff exploded. 
After several job changes Melissa became the Associate Director of Membership at Longwood Gardens. Their focus is building an emotional connection with members; and providing members with the information they want at exactly the time and in the format wanted. In Melissa's experience Longwood Gardens is an extremely customer focused organization. The unique factor at Longwood is the planning time horizon focus - while the next quarter is important, the next century is the focus