Sweet Melissa’s chef among semi-finalists for ‘Best Chef in the South’

Melissa Donahue. (Credit: WINK News)
Melissa Donahue. (Credit: WINK News)

Melissa Donahue loves making meals as owner and executive chef at Sweet Melissa’s Cafe on Sanibel Island.

“There there’s definitely some pressure with your name being in the title,” Donahue said.

Now, Donahue is up for the title of ‘Best Chef in the South,’ which is one of 19 nominations for the prestigious James Beard Award. The semi-finalist will find out Wednesday morning if she is a finalist for the award.

Melissa Donahue. (Credit: WINK News)
Melissa Donahue. (Credit: WINK News)

“It’s a huge deal,” Donahue said. “If you look back at past winners, they’re the best chefs in the world. Now to be able to have that tag line on my name is amazing.”

Donahue did not always want to be a chef. After graduating from college, she transitioned to a job in the government. Soon after becoming a mother, she decided to change careers to pursue her passion for cooking thoroughly.

She would later land a job as a cook in New Orleans. Then, disaster hit in the form of Hurricane Katrina. Donahue evacuated from the hurricane, landing in Sanibel where she eventually would become a chef and a leader in the kitchen.

“I do a lot of seafood because we’re on an island,” Donahue said. “Any local stuff that we can possibly get our hands on.”

Donahue has a busy schedule. She also owns a pizza store next door, Island Pizza. She said she works about 12 hours a day, five to six days a week. But, it is time well spent enjoying sweet success she has made from scratch.

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