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Chef Melissa Rodriguez

Chef Melissa Rodriguez Takes Center Stage

With two exciting restaurant openings under her belt, the chef/partner shares the secrets of her success

Chef Melissa Rodriguez (Daniel, Del Posto) and partner Jeff Katz (Del Posto’s longtime general manager) have come together to open three unique restaurant concepts in the old Del Posto space in the Meatpacking District. The 27,000-square-foot behemoth houses wood-fired pizza spot Mel’s, Italian fine dining tasting menu restaurant Al Coro, and sexy, subterranean lounge Discolo.

DuJour spoke to Rodriguez about this massive culinary undertaking to find out how it all came together.

You partnered with Jeff Katz, with whom you worked at Del Posto for years. Why was this a good partnership for you?

Jeff and I worked together at Del Posto for almost a decade, and we were running it side by side for about three years before the restaurant shuttered. Jeff and I both have an emotional connection to this place—Jeff met his wife here—and we felt like we hadn’t had the opportunity to see it through.

The counter at Mel's

The counter at Mel’s

What is special about this location?

Jeff and I chose to take over the space at 85 Tenth Avenue because we know all of its nooks and crannies and intricacies. We already knew how we wanted to use the space and how to optimize it because we’d lived it for decades cumulatively.

Culurgiones at Al Coro

Culurgiones at Al Coro

What made you decide to break it up into three venues: Mel’s, Al Coro and Discolo?

When Jeff and I were negotiating with our landlord, we found out that the restaurant space next door was still vacant. We realized pretty quickly that we could combine the two kitchens and build a sort of ecosystem. Al Coro is the big night, celebratory restaurant that Jeff and I have dreamt about; Mel’s is the simple hangout that we knew the neighborhood needed from our late nights in Chelsea; and Discolo is the grown-up dancing destination (where you just might find some late-night pizza).

What’s your culinary inspiration behind each one?

At Al Coro, we cook using Italian flavors, but we’re not dogmatic about preparations. That is to say, we take some liberties. In a fit of insanity or brilliance, I decided to change the menu at Al Coro every six weeks. I decided to change the menu more frequently not only to inspire guests to return more regularly, but even more so to give the kitchen team an opportunity to change their routine, to flex their muscles and learn a new set of skills.

The dining room at Al Coro

The dining room at Al Coro

What was your approach to the design?

Designing Al Coro was sort of like renovating the house that you grew up in for your kids. You want to maintain the heart and soul of the place, update the broken appliances for the next generation, and replace your grandma’s tchotchkes and the goddamn moldings that you hated while you were growing up.

Pizza and salads at Mel's

Pizza and salads at Mel’s

What’s unique about the pizza you’re making at Mel’s?

Our objective when we were testing doughs for the Mel’s pie was to create a hybrid of Neapolitan and New York pizza. We wanted a Frankenstein with a pillowy crust that’s still sturdy enough to eat by the slice in your hand. I haven’t worked in a casual restaurant since I was in high school, so Mel’s was a treat. It’s the sort of simple food cooked over a wood fire that I would eat any night of the week.