A delightful pairing! Leelanau foodies Melanie and Tim Griffith, AKA Mel&Fell, love showcasing local bounty in their seasonal, globally-inspired recipes, just right for the perfect summer picnic in Northern Michigan.

Did you already read this feature in print? Don’t miss the BONUS Mel&Fell recipe below: Local Berry Summer Trifle Earl Grey Pound Cake & Whipped Cream.

This article first appeared in Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine. Find this article and more when you explore our digital issue library. Want Traverse Magazine delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Melanie Griffith has been visiting Empire forever— or as her mom likes to joke, since before she was born. Her family purchased a cabin in 1969, and 50 years later they still go straight to the beach as soon as they arrive to say hello to the lake. Tim’s introduction to Northern Michigan came later in life, after meeting Melanie. In 2003, they were both working at Beverly Hills Grill in Detroit, Mel as a server and then a manager, and Tim as pantry chef and later sous chef. Shortly after being introduced, they began dating and, not long after, they were saying “I do” at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

While still working in Detroit, the duo would head north every chance they got, packing the car after a shift and tooling around Leelanau County, the “Land of Delight,” on their days off: smoked chubs from Fishtown, farmstand pitstops for dinner ingredients, evenings at the beach. In 2010 they were ready to be here full time, Tim taking a chef job at amical and Melanie working front-of-house at Trattoria Stella, two of Traverse City’s most respected restaurants. In 2018, they made another leap, starting their own business Mel&Fell, offering catering for small events and a weekly meal delivery service.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Photo by Tim Hussey

Many of Tim’s recipes are inspired by global flavors and how to best pair them with local ingredients—think za’atar and grape tomatoes or a tahini sauce with grilled chicken. “I really enjoy making global flavors more approachable on a local level,” he says. Most of their produce is sourced from Lakeview Hill Farm in Traverse City, Cedar’s Second Spring Farm and Lost Lake Farm in Honor.

In the summer, Mel and her fella (the couple earned the nickname Mel&Fell during their days together at Beverly Hills Grill) love cooking for visiting friends and family. These are some of their favorite dishes for the perfect picnic spread; elevated but easy, and each bite a delight.

Special thanks to the French Valley Vineyard team for hosting us at their beautiful centennial barn in Cedar!

Photo by Tim Hussey

Cherry Lemon Balm Soda Recipe

Servings: 4-6
Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (2 hours inactive)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 cups water
  • 12 ounces frozen tart cherries 15 leaves basil
  • 10 leaves lemon balm*
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Club soda for serving

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; let boil for 1 minute. Turn off and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Add cherries and herbs (tie basil and lemon balm together so you can remove them easily later). Put in the fridge to cool completely, for 1-2 hours. Serve over ice and top with club soda.

Note: Mel and Tim grow lemon balm in their garden. If you can’t locate it, substitute lemongrass, or mint would be equally delicious.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Photo by Tim Hussey

Grape Tomato & Millet Salad Recipe

Servings: 6
Time: 3 hours (2 hours inactive)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup millet, rinsed before cooking
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 small red onion, diced small
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach

Combine millet and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes. Do not cover. Rinse with water until cool. Then mix all vegetables with millet. Toss the millet and vegetables with the dressing. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours for flavors to develop.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Photo by Tim Hussey

Preserved Lemon and Za’atar Dressing Recipe for the Grape Tomato & Millet Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 2 Tablespoons preserved lemons, chopped (If you don’t have preserved lemon, substitute with 2 Tablespoons lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt)
  • 2 Tablespoons za’atar seasoning
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Combine vinegar, garlic, preserved lemons and za’atar seasoning in a food processor or blend with a hand blender. Slowly pour in oil while blending to emulsify until smooth.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Grilled Skewered Chicken Tenders & Tahini Sauce

Servings: 6-8
Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes (4 hours marinade time, or overnight)

CHICKEN SKEWERS
Ingredients:
3 pounds of chicken tenders
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 10-30 minutes, so they won’t burn

SPICE RUB
Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Dash of hot sauce, to taste

TAHINI SAUCE
Ingredients:
3⁄4 cup tahini paste
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1⁄3 cup lemon juice
1⁄3 cup yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Skewer the chicken tender pieces. Whisk together dry ingredients, add oil, lemon juice and hot sauce, and rub mixture on chicken. Let marinate for a minimum of 4 hours or overnight, in the refrigerator.

Preheat your grill to medium-high, 350 F. Remove excess marinade from the chicken. Grill chicken until 160 F on a thermometer, or until cooked through. Juices will run clear. While the chicken cooks, mix ingredients for tahini sauce. Serve sauce on the side.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Grilled Zucchini & Charred Red Onion Wrap

Servings: 4 wraps
Time: 20-30 minutes, plus time to preheat grill

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut in half, then sliced lengthwise
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut in half, then sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small red onion, cut in thick round slices
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, 2-3 Tablespoons per sandwich
  • 5 ounces pea shoots
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 flour tortillas

Preheat grill to medium-high, 350 F. To grill the vegetables, brush with olive oil and salt and pepper. Start the onions first, cook 3-4 minutes before starting squash and zucchini. Grill until charred and tender. Build sandwiches, spread the mayo first (see mayo recipe below), then feta, layer zucchini, squash and red onion. Finish with pea shoots, wrap up like a burrito and enjoy!

BASIL MAYO RECIPE
Ingredients:
3 pasteurized egg yolks
2 garlic cloves
Juice from 2 lemons
1 cup vegetable oil
10 basil leaves
Salt to taste

In a food processor, blend egg yolks, garlic and lemon juice. Slowly add the vegetable oil to emulsify. Add basil, puree until smooth, and salt to taste.

Charred wrap by Mel and Fell

Photo by Tim Hussey

Local Berry Summer Trifle Earl Grey Pound Cake & Whipped Cream

Serves: 12
Time: 2 hours
*Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Perfect Pound Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Demerara sugar, to sprinkle in pan
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Earl Grey, whole leaf tea (Mel’s favorite is Light of Day Organics’ Creamy Earl Grey)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Grated lemon zest of 2 lemons

Equipment:

  • 12-cup tube pan or two loaf pans
  • Baking spray or butter to coat the pans
  • Parchment paper, to make a sling, across the short side of pan
  • Electric mixer

DO NOT preheat oven. This will help ensure an even bake. Place a rack in the oven so the cake will sit in the center. Generously spray a 12-cup tube pan (not one with a removable bottom!) or two loaf pans (8 1⁄2 x 4 1⁄2 x 2 1⁄2 inches) with baking spray to coat evenly. Sprinkle with demerara sugar, tilting the pan or pans to make an even coating of the sugar over the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Combine the sifted cake flour and salt and pass the mixture through a sieve or a sifter. Set aside. Steep the tea leaves in the heavy cream for at least 10 minutes. You will use the tea leaves in the cake, so don’t worry about straining them out.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy. With the mixer on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in thirds alternately with the cream, beginning and ending with flour and scraping down the sides of the bowl to combine. (Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled.) Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. The batter should be very light and fluffy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top, and place in the cold oven. Turn the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, carefully remove the cake to a baking rack, rounded side up, and allow to cool completely.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Macerated strawberries

Servings: 4 cups

  • 1 quart whole strawberries, hulled, sliced in half or quartered if larger
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine everything in a bowl and toss. Make at least 30 minutes ahead to let juices come out.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

Servings: 4 cups

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Whip the cream in a mixer with the whisk attachment. Starting on low, slowly increase speed. After it starts to thicken, add sugar and vanilla. (Don’t overbeat, you will make butter!)

BUILD THE DESSERT

Slice pound cake into 1- to 2-inch cubes. Layer with strawberries and whipped cream. A glass trifle dish is traditional, but you can do these in individual portions in small glass cups or bowls.

Photo by Tim Hussey

Carly Simpson is the associate editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and editor of MyNorth’s popular email newsletter The Daily Splash. Subscribe at MyNorth.com/Newsletter. csimpson@mynorth.com

Tim Hussey is the art director of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. He is also a fine artist and photographer who enjoys shooting stories that speak to him. husseyart.com

Sarah Peschel is a stylist and photographer with a special appreciation for all things related to local agriculture, food and drink. She’s a major supporter and cheerleader for small businesses across the region. 

Photo(s) by Tim Hussey; Styling by Sarah Peschel