Chef Melinda Burrows, CEC, CCA, Executive Chef, Hickory Hills Country Club, Springfield, Missouri
INXS. Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Even Sir Paul McCartney and Phil Collins. These are just a few of the legendary rock stars and A-list celebrities Chef Melinda (Delgado) Burrows, CEC, CCA, cooked for when she was a traveling personal chef many years ago. It’s also how she met her husband, Darren Burrows, perhaps best known for playing the role of Ed on the hit TV show “Northern Exposure.” They have been married since 1993 and have four sons—a 17-year-old and the rest in their twenties.
These days, the Burrows live a quieter life—for the past six years, Chef Melinda Burrows has helmed the kitchen at the prestigious and serene, private and member-owned Hickory Hills Country Club in Springfield, Missouri, while Darren Burrows tends to the couple’s hobby farm in the area with the help of their teenage son, Cochise. Though she regularly dons her chef’s coat and toque, a streak of pink hair, houndstooth skirts and funky glasses pay homage to her edgy past.
The honor of being able to cook—and cook well—for such high-profile clients demonstrates Chef Burrows’ commitment and dedication to the craft. Many celebrities are notorious for requesting very specific foods, meals and customs from their private chefs; Chef Burrows was no exception to this rule.
“Michael Hutchence’s champagne in his room after the gig better be ice-cold,” says Chef Burrows, who once even cooked for INXS in a bullfighting ring in Spain with no running water. “They were great experiences and everyone treated us well, the work was hard; the kitchen crew was the first one off the truck in the morning and the last to get on at night.”
Chef Burrows, a Seattle native and graduate of Seattle Central Community College’s Culinary Arts program, also earned savory and pastry diplomas from an apprenticeship program at the Ritz Escoffier in Paris. Upon returning to Seattle from France in 1992, Chef Burrows joined forces with the catering company, Special Occasions Catering, as executive chef, and was also a food stylist for “Northern Exposure.” Around this time, she was the traveling chef for Sir Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, INXS and local personal chef to members of Guns N’ Roses, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. The Burrows clan moved to Los Angeles in 1996 where Chef Burrows took some time off to care for her family. In 2001, she established Your Personal Chef, a catering business for Hollywood’s elite, a clientele base that included the likes of George Clooney, Dermott Mulroney, Catherine Keener and David Fincher. She joined Morrison Management Specialists in 2004 as catering manager at the Motion Picture Television Fund in Woodland Hills, California, where she catered events for other Hollywood notables such as Marisa Tomei, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kate Beckinsale.
In 2009, Chef Burrows transferred with Morrison Management Specialists to California P.E.O. Home in Alhambra as their executive chef and director of dining services. In September 2010, Chef Burrows answered First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to reduce childhood obesity in the United States by adopting Fremont School in Alhambra, California, through the Chefs Move to Schools program.
After 15 years in L.A., the Burrows moved back to Darren Burrows’ hometown of Wichita, Kansas, where Chef Burrows served as the campus executive chef for Wichita State University from 2011 to 2013. Another move took Chef Burrows and family to Missouri, where she served as executive chef of The Branson Convention Center, Hilton Branson Convention Center hotel and Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing from 2013 to 2014, before being recruited by Hickory Hills Country Club.
Still, an impressive resume wasn’t enough. “I was an executive chef, but I wanted those three letters—CEC—after my name, and I didn’t want to attend another ACF convention without them,” says Chef Burrows, who accomplished that bucket list item in 2016 after a year of diligent study. She went on to earn her CCA in 2018 and credits Chef Robert Philips, CEC, CCA, AAC, the current ACF Western Regional vice president, as well as ACF Chefs David Ivey-Soto, CEC, CCA, Elizabeth Mikesell, CEC, AAC, Michael Ty, CEC, AAC, and Michael McGreal, CEC, CCE, for encouraging her to seek accreditation through ACF and remain active. Last year, Chef Burrows was asked to participate on the committee to update the CCA exam. She was elected President of the Wichita ACF Chapter in December 2012.
In a male-dominated industry, It’s hard not to ask about how her gender and Mexican heritage factored into her career path as well. “The female chef contingency has grown over the years,” says Chef Burrows. “What’s nice is we share a ‘Culinarian Code’ of helping each other.
Chef Burrows credits her family for support as well. “My Catholic, maternal Grandma Sendejar was my primary influence and mentor; she taught me how to cook, how to be a good mother, a devoted wife and a hard worker,” says Chef Burrows. “Also, my awesome husband, Darren, continues to support my chef career and is my biggest fan.”
In addition to ACF, Chef Burrows remains active in Women’s Chefs & Restaurateurs, with which ACF shares a partnership. “Together, we are working to develop the next generation of female culinarians.” she says.
It’s no surprise, then, that Chef Burrows is a known mentor for her staff, especially her female employees. “Mentorship is an important part of my work at this point in my career,” she says. “I told my executive sous chef, who recently left in February, to give me three years when I first hired her and I would teach her everything she needed for her next big job. She did just that and the job she just accepted was for executive chef. It’s amazing to see your people grow like that.”
With all the glitz and glamor in the past, one has to ask Chef Burrows if she misses her former life. “Not at all,” she says. “I grew up in Seattle—not Tacoma or on the East Side, but in the city—and lived in L.A. for many years, but I love the state of Missouri and the quality of life here and what it offers for our family.”
At the club, Chef Burrows enjoys table-touching, greeting and talking to members. People naturally gravitate toward her calm demeanor and warm and friendly personality. “I love talking to people in the dining room rather than always staying in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s exciting to be able to create memories through dining for my members.”
Her current role also allows her much more flexibility to develop more creative menus using seasonal ingredients from her own farm. She’s also known for hosting many special dinners, from wine dinners to farm-to-table and chef tasting events. “I maintain a typical bar and grill menu with a little bit of everything, from Hereford burgers to vegan options, salmon, different salads and soups, but I like to play around with specials,” says Chef Burrows, who brings in fresh tomatoes that her family grows just for the club, along with beets, garlic, asparagus, turnips and more. They also have hogs and chicken on the farm for eggs, so she’ll often bring in those products as well. “I care about what our guests eat and how I feed them. I want them to have the most nutritious and satisfying meals possible. What’s great is they seem to get excited about that.”
Bringing in whole animals also helps Chef Burrows teach her cook staff butchery and processing. “One of my members last November brought in a deer he had taken that morning and by 3 p.m., I had a 100-pound deer on my table and I processed it,” she says. “We also filet whole salmon and part out all of our whole chickens. When I hire staff I tell them they’re going to have to do a lot of things by scratch, and I promise to teach them those skills.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Chef Burrows continued to cook for her members via curbside pickup until the dining room reopened in May with occupancy restrictions. She continues to offer the take-out option, however, because it is still popular with members. “To reassure our members, we made videos talking about our enhanced safety and sanitation procedures,” says Chef Burrows, who has also spread out her staff in the back of house and requires single-use gloves. A timer goes off every hour reminding staff to stop what they are doing and wash hands. In addition, the team uses single-use sanitation wipes versus those ubiquitous red buckets.
“My dream was always to be a hotel chef; at least that’s what I thought was my big dream,” she says, reflecting on her diverse culinary career. “It’s truly an honor to work as a chef at a country club; it’s so hard to land that job because no one ever leaves and I had to pull out all the stops during my interview and demo. What I love most about the job is being able to be a visible presence and engage the members because that fits with my personality. And the members expect and love that.” Indeed, a win-win for all.