The JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, opened July 2020, has hired Chef Melissa Sallman as its new executive chef. In this role, Chef Melissa will oversee oversee all dining outlets at the resort—illume, Sear + Sea, the Sea + Sea Lobby Bar, Unreserved, the Unreserved Beer Garden, Palm Cove and the JW Market—and the resort’s banquet options.
Chef Melissa will be adding her own flair to the restaurant’s inventive dishes, bringing experience from her time at the JW Marriott Marco Island, where she spent over 3 years as executive sous chef.
Tell us about your background – where did you grow up and how did you get started into food?
“I grew up in Minnesota and I was always helping my mother in the kitchen, whether canning green beans and corn from the garden or trying to figure out how to make pork spring rolls from a recipe I “found. My father’s parents had a lake home in Wisconsin where I would spend weekends and even weeks at a time fishing (ice fishing in the winter) and learning how to clean fish from my grandfather, or hiking in the woods and picking berries. My mother’s parents had a farm in Missouri, and when we visited, our treat was going into the field to feed the cows or ride in the combine during harvest season. Holidays were always special, when the whole extended family would come together to prepare the holiday meal.”
Tell us about your past culinary experiences. What are some lessons you have learned along the way as a chef?
“I’ve worked in small family style restaurants, a private country club and hotels of all different sizes around the country. From my past experience, I learned to always take ownership and be proud of what you are doing. If the meal you have isn’t something you would be proud to serve to a loved one, then you shouldn’t serve it to a guest. I’ve learned so much about food from my coworkers from around the world and how food plays a role in their culture and history. I’ve also learned how, no matter how much I cook, eat, travel or read, I will never learn everything about food. I love knowing I can always further my knowledge, hone a skill, and most importantly share my knowledge with my associates.”
What is the moment that you realized you wanted to become a chef?
“I realized I wanted to be a chef in my first semester in college while studying to be a chemical engineer. It helped me realize I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer doing math all day.”
What are some childhood memories around food that sticks with you to this day?
“My fondest memories around food come from being outdoors growing up. I made fresh salads from my grandmother’s garden and beer battered fish that I caught and cleaned myself that same day from the lake. I also ate at a Mongolian BBQ when I was 10 years old. Trying completely different foods at a young age helped me to appreciate it even more.”
As the new executive chef, what are some upcoming plans that you have for the menu and hotel/restaurant? What are some changes that guests might see?
“I am working on changing up our pastry program, which will affect the whole resort and will especially elevate the offerings at the JW Market and Unreserved. Later this year, we have plans to start our JW garden, which will be utilized through the resort in menu applications, as well as for some craft cocktails.”
What are some goals you have for the hotel’s food offerings this year 2021?
“This year, in addition to expanding the menus and activating Unreserved to its fullest potential, I would like to start increasing the amount of plant based offerings we have around the resort.”
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu right now and why?
“The Sunset @ Rooftop maki roll at Illume is one of my current favorites. It’s delicious and very fitting to enjoy while watching the sun set over the Orlando skyline and nearby attractions. The Florida Grouper on a bun at Palm Cove is another favorite because it doesn’t get much better than eating a locally sourced fish sandwich on a warm sunny day poolside. Last but not least, the Unreserved Burger and Oreo Chocolate Bomb at Unreserved Beer Garden – do I even need to say why?”
What are the most popular dishes right now at Sear + Sea?
“Hand cut steak tartare, The Kansas City strip and the mac & cheese prepared with pimento cheese, bacon and jalapeno are the top sellers.”
What are some lessons you have learned during 2020?
“Last year taught me how to be flexible and shift as quickly as the business ebbs and flows.”
Sear + Sea at JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek
14900 Chelonia Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32821