Meet Ross Melling, Director of Casual Dining and Culinary Development and Operations for Chef Thomas Keller’s Restaurants!

As Director of Casual Dining Culinary Development and Operations, Ross Melling is responsible for culinary development and operational strategy for Chef Thomas Keller’s casual properties. In this role, he mentors the team to maintain the quality and high standards using the techniques he gleaned during his tenue working in Chef Keller’s kitchens.

After nearly five years at Bouchon Bistro, Ross was promoted to the role of Executive Chef of Casual Dining in 2018 and to his current position in 2021. During his tenure, Ross has been instrumental in the launch of new concepts and pop-ups including La Calenda in 2019 and Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge in 2021. With each new property, he is involved from concept to execution, from managing kitchen design to advising on menu format.

Scroll down to learn more about Ross.

Briefly describe your work history and what brought you to Napa County

I moved to Napa in 2005 on a J1 visa from the United Kingdom to pursue my dream to work for Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. After 18 months, I returned to England, where I worked with Michael Caines and the Adobe Group to open several boutique hotels, and next served as the executive chef for the National Welsh Rugby team. In 2010, I returned to the United States to work for Chef Keller once more, this time in Manhattan at Per Se. In 2013, an opportunity to return to Yountville to serve as the Chef de Cuisine at Bouchon Bistro arose and I jumped at it. I have been based in Napa ever since; it’s such a special place to live and raise a family.

How long have you been in working in Napa County?

I have worked in Yountville for nine years.

Can you describe your job? What do you do and how do you do it?

As Director of Casual Dining Culinary Development and Operations, I support the culinary operations for Chef Keller’s casual restaurants. In this role, I work with the teams in Yountville, Las Vegas and Surfside to maintain quality and consistency. My work encompasses opening new concepts, advising on menu format and developing new dishes. One of my key responsibilities is providing mentorship to the team. I enjoy having the opportunity to share my experiences—both my successes and failures—to help our young culinary professionals grow and learn how to be better than I was at their age.

Can you talk about when/why you made the decision to go into your current career? Was there a specific defining moment or realization?

Both my parents were professional chefs, so cooking was in my DNA. When I was only 15, I began working in a kitchen at a hotel in my hometown of Coventry, England, and immediately loved it. I feel privileged to have a career that has enabled me to travel the world and ultimately settle down in Napa Valley.

Why do you do what you do?

I am driven by creating memorable guest experiences. Napa Valley’s locals and visitors are united by a deep appreciation for hospitality, and there’s nothing better than providing guests with the opportunity to be transported beyond their everyday through food and beverage. There’s no greater feeling of success than seeing smiling faces at the end of a meal and knowing that our guests have immense gratitude for all that we do.

Why did you choose Yountville?

There are few destinations that are truly dedicated to food and beverage, and Napa County is one of them. Napa is to culinary professionals what Wall Street is to bankers or Silicon Valley is to engineers.

What is the biggest challenge in your job?

Every day offers a new opportunity to make a lasting impression on our guests and our team.  One of my go-to sayings is that pressure is a privilege. I like to see difficult moments are a privilege, as they constantly push us to evolve and strive to succeed, rather than stay stagnant.

What are the biggest rewards?

Beyond being in Napa Valley, where our guests truly appreciate what we do, I feel the most rewarded by our team. I am always impressed by their tenacity and growth.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in your career in Yountville/Napa County?

My advice for starting a career, regardless of where it is, is to be patient and trust the process. Surrounding yourself with people who strive for excellence will guarantee your success.

What are your favorite things to do in Napa Valley when you are not working?

When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughter and playing touch rugby with a group of friends.

What are three words that describe you?

Patient, thoughtful and resourceful.

What is your personal motto?

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”