Chef de Cuisine
Melanie Wilkerson had a bicoastal upbringing between San Diego and North Carolina. She grew up playing softball and basketball, two team sports which she also credits for improving her food and wine game to this day. Her grandfather was a strong influence on her future career. A southerner through and through, he made his own wine and instilled in her the idea that, to be successful in any culinary endeavor, “You have to have a head of a chemist and the heart of an artist.”
Wilkerson attended culinary school in North Carolina, where – in her eighth month – the dean told her she was ready for an externship (an honor typically reserved for those further along in the program). That led to the turning point in her culinary career, when she staged at a restaurant in Ruthin, Wales. She was impressed by the high level of quality she found across the board, with a strong cultural emphasis on using fresh, local, thoughtfully prepared ingredients in even the most informal pub settings. After two and a half years in the UK, she moved back to San Diego, where she was hired as a chef at Hotel Fairmont Grand Del Mar and The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. It was at the latter where she met Chef Casey Thompson, who tapped her to join her in Sonoma as her Executive Sous Chef and to help open Folktable and the forthcoming Georgette Restaurant.
Here in Sonoma, with its agricultural bounty and proximity to the sea, Wilkerson finds a great deal of culinary commonality to her time in Wales. She is thrilled to be in a region where she can more actively pursue her other passion, wine. Wilkerson was recently a recipient of the 2020 Welcome Award from Wine Unify, an award whose goal “is to change the access, change the optics, and reshape aspirations for women and men of color in the wine industry.” As Chef de Cuisine of Folktable, Wilkerson fuses her international culinary influences with her southern upbringing and fine dining techniques. Her Welcome Award scholarship has enabled her to formalize her wine and food education with comprehensive study, mentorship and support from the wine community, while better understanding wine’s connection to history and how it can tell the story of a region. She looks forward to telling that story through every dish she prepares at Folktable. In her own words, “Information is not to be hoarded, once you have it, it’s your duty to share it and give back.”