Did you know that Orlando is home to a restaurant founded and led by the first female chef to win the James Beard Foundation Awards’ Best Chef twice? Almost twenty years ago, Primo by Chef Melissa Kelly opened right here in Orlando at JW Marriott Grande Lakes Resort, inarguably jump-starting the local farm to table movement in our restaurant industry with organic ingredients sourced not only from local farms but also right onsite at the Primo Garden and Whisper Creek Farm.
This past year, the restaurant got a major renovation, inspired by Chef Melissa Kelly’s Italian heritage from the Puglia region, featuring a more airy, naturally lit dining room – a perfect fit also for Central Florida.
Most recently, Primo recognized by MICHELIN Guide in their 2022 Florida Guide as a “Orlando Recommended” restaurant.
Another update to Primo this past year? New Chef de Cuisine Eric Petrie joins Primo here in Orlando from Chef Melissa Kelly’s original Primo located in Maine – we recently visited Primo and got a great update from him in our interview below.
Tasty Chomps Interview with Chef de Cuisine Eric Petrie – Primo at Grande Lakes
Ricky Ly of Tasty Chomps: Tell us about your experience growing up in New Jersey. What were some of your favorite memories around food growing up?
Chef Eric Petrie – Growing up in Weehawken, New Jersey I was lucky- exposed to incredible and fresh Italian-American food at home cooked by my mom but also exposed to a variety of cuisines coming from the most diverse part of the country.
I grew up in a majority Hispanic community and experienced Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican and all kinds of different cuisines out with my friends or cooked at their houses.
What inspired you to get into the food industry?
I was inspired to get into the food industry by my family lineage dating back to Sicily in the 1800s – it’s in my blood. I had always known what I wanted to be since I was a Chef for Halloween at 4 years old. There was never another option.
What are some of your favorite lessons learned in your years in the industry?
My favorite lesson that has been on my mind a lot since I took over as Chef de Cuisine in Orlando is that the basics will always follow you. I see a lot of young cooks that want to skip steps- not enjoying their years that they get to focus on the building blocks of what makes food great.
No matter how long you cook or how many accolades you receive the basics will never go away and the attention to these details always need to be considered and maintained.
Cooking is a battle against the elements, nature and time. It is an equalizer- everybody is playing with the same set of rules. That can’t be said for much.
What are some of the most popular dishes right now at Primo?
The most popular dish on the Primo menu right now is definitely our Grilled Ribeye – I serve this with Napa Cabbage from one of my favorite farms in the area- Big Daddy Organics. I turn the cabbage into a carbonara with Lake Meadow Eggs and some crispy pancetta. To bring balance to the dish we serve it with a sweet onion marmalade on the steak itself and top everything with fungi jon mushroom beef jus and crispy fried shallots.
The Octopus a la plancha is extremely popular as well – I was inspired by agrodulce sauce, a sweet and sour Mediterranean sauce that can be done in many different ways. I broke the flavors down into a few elements – chili vinegar pickled radish as the sour and golden raisin glaze as the sweet. To add some smokiness we make a charred eggplant puree- which was taught to me by Primo founder Chef Melissa Kelly. Some mizuna from our garden adds freshness to the dish.
Both of these dishes are balanced and fresh takes on classic Italian flavors.
Tell us about the spring menu – what are your favorites and why?
The spring menu is full of exciting bright flavors. I love salad – I resent the notion that salads need to be boring. I see a salad as a clean canvass to paint colorful flavors.
Local Dicuru Burrata is paired with local strawberries. I am huge on not wasting ingredients and getting all you can out of them – this presents opportunities to present the same ingredient with different flavor profiles. We make a strawberry jam, and use the strawberry tops and trimmings to make a sun brewed strawberry vinegar.
Fresh strawberries are sliced and served with Pernod marinated roasted beet root- the anise notes from the Pernod all highlight the strawberries.
We also highlight a lot of peas which are a classic spring flavor – we use blistered snap peas with Calabrian chili on the Bolognese with freshly grated parmesan and English peas with a Maine Lobster bisque served with Golden Tile. Peas/parmesan and peas/lobster are both classic flavor combinations- as I said these basics will also follow you and understanding flavor profiles is half the battle.
In my mind we work for the ingredients – so being able to highlight ingredients to their full potential is my proudest accomplishment.
What is something you wish people to know about Primo for their first time dining there?
My main goal for a first time diner at Primo is to understand the source of our ingredients and why it matters. We work very hard to grow ingredients in our garden and source from local farms. When food is grown like this it contains a different DNA that is far more delicious and nutritious than industrial grown ingredients.
For our diners to understand why using these locally grown organic ingredients is good for the environment as well as ourselves and ultimately more delicious.
Future plans for Primo?
The newly renovated Primo is an incredible opportunity and has infinite potential. I feel like we are just getting started – the goal is to keep creating the most incredible menu possible using seasonal ingredients and increase our presence in the local Orlando food scene.