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Chef Melanie Molinaro has all the trappings of a rock star chef: a fine-dining pedigree, a smattering of stylish tattoos, and close ties with a trendy, local farm. What’s less expected is this chef’s new concept, Stall 11, which will be elevating vegetarian and vegan fare.
Molinaro’s Stall 11 was the second concept to come onboard Baltimore food hall R. House, which will eventually host a total of 10 limited-service concepts.
“I had always really wanted to open up my own spot, but to open a restaurant, you need a lot of capital,” says Molinaro, who most recently served as executive chef at Italian fine-dining establishment Birroteca. “[R. House] allowed me to do exactly what I wanted on a smaller scale so it’s almost like a test run of a restaurant.”
Urban Pastoral, a vertical hydroponic growing facility in east Baltimore, also approached Molinaro with whom the founders had a mutual friend. Urban Pastoral, which is dedicated to revitalizing metropolitan areas that have fallen into disrepair, specializes in leafy greens and culinary herbs, making the operation an ideal partner for restaurants like Stall 11. Some types of vegetables, Molinara says, are even grown in repurposed shipping containers to maximize space.
Working in tandem with Urban Pastoral, Molinaro hopes to shift Baltimorians’ perception of greens and veggies.
“Vegetables can be badass, too,” she says. “We wanted to do was change people’s outlook on eating vegetarian and vegan. I think there’s a huge stigma behind it that the food is not good, and it’s kind of granola. Honestly, Baltimore has some of the best produce I’ve ever worked with. I have really close relationships with a lot of farmers here and pretty much what we’re trying to do is showcase their hard work.”
When Stall 11 opens in R. House this fall, its seasonal menu will feature ingredients like squash, earthy mushrooms, and Korean cauliflower with dishes like oat porridge with wild mushroom ragu.
Although her new concept will be limited service, Molinaro still wants customers to have a special experience, beginning with a mini market where they can buy produce, pre-made items, and snacks. For those ordering at the counter, turnaround time will be under five minutes.
Molinaro recommends aspiring restaurateurs—whether they be chefs like her or not—be 100 percent committed to their concept because changing it after opening can be “the kiss of death” for a new restaurant.
“Stick with your concept; have a strong attitude about it. Be completely organized with everything that you do, and really, really network with people because those are the people who are going to make or break you,” Molinaro says, adding that community support is also key.
And while the chef world is still a man’s game, she says female chefs like Jenn Louis (of “Top Chef Masters” fame) and Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat are helping change that dynamic.
“I think we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Molinaro says.
By Nicole Duncan