Melba Wilson Chats Soul Food and Dream Dinner Guests With Judy Joo

Sharing their favorites — in and out of the kitchen! Celebrity chef Judy Joo chatted with restaurateur Melba Wilson about food, famous customers and pairing late-night snacks with her favorite TV shows.

Since opening its doors in 2005, iconic Harlem eatery Melba’s has been a staple in the community — something founder Melba Wilson takes great pride in. “Harlem is to me what the soil is to the earth. It’s where I’m rooted; it’s what nourishes me and allows me to grow,” said the entrepreneur, who strives to make a difference in people’s lives both at home and in the workplace. “My daily intention is to [model] values that help sustain and guide my life: accountability — owning things without making excuses; humility — how your actions can affect others; and gratitude — showing appreciation for others.”

Wilson sat down with Joo to dish on her famed Southern restaurant, her biggest inspirations and her dream dinner guests.

Judy Joo: What does “soul food” mean to you?

Melba Wilson: It’s an energy that permeates more than the soul — it’s a rhythmic dance that never misses a beat.

JJ: February is Black History Month. Who has made the biggest impact in your life?

MW: My grandmother Amelia Pressley Davis, who taught me how to cook simple and use food as a conduit to bring people together for any and all occasions. Another would be my second mom, Ophelia DeVore, who taught me to dream and the power of positive thinking.

JJ: Many famous faces have dined at Melba’s, including Zendaya and Meghan Markle. Who are your dream dinner guests?

MW: The Obamas.

JJ: What’s your go-to late-night snack?

MW: I love a nice bowl of ice cream, rice cakes and some darn good chocolate.

JJ: Those all pair perfectly with a great TV show. So what are you watching these days?

MW: I’m binging Cook at All Costs, The White Lotus and The ReidOut.

JJ: What’s next for you?

MW: I’m excited about Melba’s Newark, New Jersey, location, a food product line and a few major endorsements.


  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 lbs fresh collard greens
  • ½ lb smoked turkey wings
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp hot sauce of your choice


1. Bring the chicken stock and water to a boil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.

2. Wash the greens thoroughly in cold running water and cut off the tough stem ends. Lay the greens on top of one another and cut them into ½ inch wide slices.

3. Put them in the boiling water along with all the remaining ingredients. Stir reduce the heat to low, and cover.

4. Cook on low for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the greens are tender.

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