In the kitchen with Dan Kelleher

Simple, fresh, and local ingredients inspire this Island chef.


Each month, I meet with Island chefs and home cooks and watch them work their culinary magic. Best part? I get to enjoy the finished fare. This month I met with Chef Dan Kelleher at his girlfriend Emily Serge’s house, where he made Martha’s Vineyard Bay Scallops and Risotto with Elote Salad. Oh, and lest I forget, resident dog Tank joined us when he wasn’t on squirrel duty.

Kelleher has been in the restaurant business for 20 years. Since moving to the Vineyard in 2007, he’s worked in numerous eating establishments across the Island. “I didn’t go to school for cooking,” Kelleher said. “I learned on the job. The parents of a friend of mine owned a restaurant, and I started off as a dishwasher. It was just a job. But then they invited me to join them on a vacation in Greece.” Tasting all the wonderful food in Greece not only satiated Kelleher, but inspired him as well: “I decided to make cooking a career.”

When asked why Kelleher chose the meal he was preparing for us, he had a few reasons. “I like simple meals,” he said. “I like to let the ingredients speak for the cuisine. Plus, people can definitely do this recipe at home.” Kelleher also focuses on using ingredients that are local and in season. “I was fortunate to get these scallops today. We’re so lucky here. There are so many great farms and fish markets on the Island.”

Kelleher had all his ingredients organized and ready to go. I watched as he took what looked like a flamethrower outside to char the corn. Though I might normally feel nervous watching someone shoot flames while standing on a deck, Kelleher was clearly in his element. “It’s a cooking torch. It’s the same piece of equipment you’d use when making crème brûlée,” he said. Of course, I thought (like I’ve ever made crème brûlée).

The risotto simmered while Kelleher cut corn off the cob and into a bowl. I’m always impressed by people who effortlessly multitask in the kitchen, especially when there are numerous opportunities to burn things. Kelleher had two pans going while he chopped vegetables and herbs and talked to Emily and me. He also didn’t appear to be remotely distracted while I took pictures, and Tank barked at a squirrel who had the gumption to stand on the deck.

When Kelleher was ready to sear the scallops, he took them out of the refrigerator, where he’d placed them on a paper towel. “If you dry the scallops before you cook them, you’ll get a better sear,” he said. “The liquids will be released. I put them on a paper towel 15 minutes before I’m going to sear them, then put them back in the fridge. If they’re white, they may have been frozen, or their liquid wasn’t drained well.”

The meal took about an hour to prepare from start to finish, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. Kelleher plated three meals into lovely white bowls, and set them on the table. After I oohed and ahhed and took photos, we sat down to enjoy the feast. It was amazing. The risotto melted in my mouth. The Elote salad was sweet, but had a hint of heat from the jalapeño, and the scallops were mild and delicious. I told Emily she was a lucky woman. She nodded. “Dan cooks dinner 98 percent of the time,” she said. “I don’t know a lot of chefs who want to cook when they get home. Luckily for me, Dan does.”

Don’t be jealous: You too can enjoy this meal. The recipe is below. If you wish Kelleher would come over and cook this dish for you, or any other meal, you’re in luck. He recently started a private chef business called Sea Salt & Harvest. “The name makes you think of the ocean and fresh bounty,” he said. “New England coastal flavors and Mediterranean.” Yum.

To contact Dan Kelleher, visit his website at, or email him at You can also find him on Instagram at

Martha’s Vineyard Bay Scallops with Risotto and Elote Salad

1 lb. bay scallops

Remove abductor muscle and place the scallops on a paper towel in the refrigerator for a better sear. Get pan heating up to sear while cooking risotto.


5 ears of corn
½ red pepper, diced small
½ orange pepper, diced small
⅓ to ½ small jalapeño, micro-diced
¼ medium red onion, diced small
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 to 2 tsp. Cholula hot sauce
¼ to ½ cup Cotija cheese (can substitute feta)


4 cups chicken stock
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup red onion, diced
½ cup red and orange pepper, diced
2 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan cheese

Start risotto by heating up your stock. While that’s heating, sauté the veggies, then add the Arborio rice. Toast for 1 minute, then deglaze with white wine (optional), and start ladling in hot stock one ladle at a time, stirring rice consistently. When stock has all been incorporated, add butter and Parmesan. While risotto is cooking, take the corn (par-cooked/charred), cut off the cob, and add all diced veggies and cilantro, then the zest and juice of 1 lime. Add mayo, Cholula, and Cotija cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove scallops from the refrigerator, salt and pepper well, then sear in a ripping hot pan with a little oil. After about 90 seconds, add a pad of butter and start to flip. Once you finish flipping, they will be done. Plate and enjoy.