Melissa Muller Daka is a restaurateur, professional cook and writer, specializing in Sicilian cuisine. She holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University as well as a degree in Culinary Arts and International Breadmaking from the French Culinary Institute.
Once dubbed “the Kitchen Mistress” by a New York Post critic, Melissa was born in New York, but owes her passion for food to her childhood summers in rural Sicily, where she learned the value of being connected to the land. She is a firm believer that we are what we eat, and that good eating is a cornerstone of living a long and healthful life.
By the time Melissa was four years old, she was a regular sous-chef in her mother Josephine’s kitchen. On one of her “shifts,” she found herself standing on a stool over the stove-top, stirring a hot pot of pudding, when suddenly a huge bubble burst from the pot and landed on her arm. She recalls that day so clearly, not just because of the pain, but because the experience sparked a feeling in her of being challenged by the kitchen and all its mysterious attractions.
At the age of 22, Melissa’s childhood dream of opening a restaurant came to fruition, when she designed and developed “Osteria del Gallo Nero,” a Tuscan country-style restaurant in Greenwich Village, which she successfully operated and owned for the duration of the restaurant’s lease.
In 2010, Melissa opened bar Eolo, a self-professed “love letter to Sicily,” in Chelsea. Inspired by her childhood adventures and her fascination with the food culture of the region, Eolo’s seasonal menus reflect the history and cultural calendar of Sicily.
Melissa’s latest venture, Pastai, an artisan pasta bar, opened in March 2013, also in Chelsea. In addition to running both restaurants, Melissa is writing her first cookbook about Sicilian food and wine.