Justin Melnick doesn’t care much for blenders. He likes to mix pasta dough with a fork, crushes tomatoes by hand, bursting them like little stress balls, and spends three days creating tagliatelle Bolognese.
“It’s a real labor of love,” he said the other night inside the Terrace at the Charlotte Inn, where he has run the kitchen as executive chef since November 2012.
Born and raised in Londonderry, N.H., the son of a banking vice president and police chief, Mr. Melnick’s love of cooking was not handed down directly. His parents worked a lot, he said.
“My parents would make us fish sticks and fries for dinner,” he whispered, as if 20 years later he still didn’t want to hurt their feelings. But he understood they were busy and it’s never easy cooking for a big family — Mr. Melnick has three brothers and two sisters. And his parents made up for it in other ways.
“We had a great garden, they were great gardeners,” he said. “So at night, after dinner and when my parents went to sleep, we would sneak out into the garden. And we would go and cook different things in the kitchen while our parents were asleep.”
Mr. Melnick’s first job was at Mack’s Apples, an orchard in Londonderry — Mrs. Mack was his first grade teacher. He scooped ice cream in the summer, sold pumpkins out of the parking lot in the fall and stocked apples in the market during the winter.
After a few years, he left the orchard to work at a friend’s restaurant, where he washed dishes and learned the lingo of cooking.
“I worked for the Audino family, both brothers who own other restaurants now, but this is where I started. These are the guys who got me into cooking.”
At the same time he took a second job at a pizza place.
After high school, Mr. Melnick attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. “And that’s where I met my wife Emily,” he said. “I first met her at a mutual friend’s house at a dinner party. Then I met her again at a friend’s house in New York. My friend Korn from Thailand made traditional Thai food. As soon as she walked through the door, I handed her a plate of food.”
The two started dating, graduated from the CIA together, both earning their associate’s degrees in 2004 and their bachelor’s degrees in 2005. His degree is in culinary arts management, while hers is in baking and pastry arts. After graduation, Emily worked at a bakery in Wellseley while Justin worked at Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. Later Emily shifted to working as the assistant general manager at Panzano, an Italian provisions store, located right next door to Tomasso Trattoria.
“I was there for six years and she was there for four,” Mr. Melnick said.
The couple married in 2010 and in 2011 they had a baby, Amelia, named after a region in Italy they had travelled to before they were married. It was a wonderful time in their lives, he said, but then he got a call from a recruiter in Texas offering a job at a restaurant.
“It seemed like a good opportunity. Lower cost of living, higher salary.” The three Melnicks packed their bags and moved to Texas. “And then four months later the restaurant closed.”
Mr. Melnick remembered a regular customer from Tomasso Tratto ria, Chip Walker, who had told him, “when Texas doesn’t work out give me a phone call.”
Mr. Walker put him in touch with Gery and Paula Conover, the owners of the Charlotte Inn, and in November of 2012 the Melnicks started working at the Terrace, Justin as executive chef and Emily as the pastry chef. Two-and-a-half-year-old Amelia helps out, too, going on food errands with her father “down the bumpy road to the Farm Institute to collect the eggs.”
Mr. Melnick has brought his love for local ingredients to the Island along with an expertise in a range of cooking styles. In addition to his signature Italian dish there is a sauteed lobster tail in a creamy saffron sherry sauce, grilled swordfish in a lemon buerre blanc sauce, pepper crusted filet mignon, a house-cured gravlax; the list goes on and on.
Pair the food with the setting of the Charlotte Inn and life couldn’t be better. Mr. Melnick agreed. Then he paused, remembering something. Yes it can, he said.
“Next month we’ll have another girl,” he said. “It’s going to be another great year.”