Wide Eyed, Dark Horse: Marc Collins of Circa 1886

24 Mar

Goat cheese mousee, truffle souffle, lobster panna cotta, and coffee-brined antelope loin: the atypical evening family meal. These wouldn’t pack the table with egg nog, but this league of flavors is bringing one chef closer to both his family at home and the one in the kitchen.

Executive Chef Marc Collins, 38, of the Wentworth Mansion’s Circa 1886 is a self-described anomaly. His restaurant has earned the Four Star distinction from Forbes and is fit for a fairy tale, yet Collins shrugs any kind of pretension away.

“I’m more of a substance person,” Collins said.

In a food-as-pop-culture period, shows like Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen have the head chef baking in the spotlight, while Bon Appetit magazine has writers from Rolling Stone. With every tattoo and four-letter swear, being a modern chef seems to be more about being the “rock star” of the kitchen instead of the “ruler.”

Gordon Ramsay, Courtesy of BBC

Most chefs are rebellious in appearance and dish execution, choosing to glaze magazine covers. Collins might be the most audacious of them all.

He’s perfectly normal.

He’s got a job. He’s got a family. Two kids.

He now wears the chef toque because of his family. While a high school student in Eerie, Pa., the job of his dreams floated high above smells of garlic salmon. A pilot’s license was the sweet finish, and after his older brother, Scott, got one, Marc was determined to follow suit. He lacked one uncontrollable criteria: perfect vision.

“Most engagements at the time are in radars. If you don’t have it [perfect vision], forget it. Once you get close, it’s a dogfight,” Collins said.

When his true talents started showing up in the kitchen, his career goal was no longer forcing a dream, but following his gifts.

After the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, Collins had a degree on a new path that he believes happened for a reason. Though he’s not at the driver’s seat like he is at Circa 1886, Collins spends some flying time with Scott.

Even though the food that billows out of Circa’s doors tends to be elaborate reunions of science and finesse, the balanced Collins is plain spoken. His eyes widely glance about the room in almost a protective sweep.

Circa 1886, Collins’ mission control, also steers away from the clicking of high heels that floats up and down East Bay Street, Charleston’s main line of high cuisine. There, the restaurants are packed like fish in a net with customers lined out the door, eager to try a media darling’s menu.

“Sometimes things get too artsy. I’m all for pushing their envelope,” Collins said, “but I don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Collins launches taste buds into the 21st century with the courses Circa 1886 puts out. Five nights a week, Collins manipulates a catalog of cuisine types: French Huguenot, Caribbean, and Charleston’s recipes metamorphosize in texture, shape, color, and particularly taste.

Courtesy of circa1886.co

The synthesis he approaches a new menu with is a collaborative effort, and based on the flow the creative process takes, Collins is more of a jazz musician than scientist with dish invention.

“It’s like Ratatouille,” Collins said in reference to the animated family movie about a rodent living in foodie Paris, “all the ingredients have to be harmonious. Put them on a board and everything on a board and if you can’t take it out, does it still work?”

Like brothers, there’s a division of “chores” among the cooks, but there’s also plenty of boy-like kidding. The kitchen doesn’t rumble in fury, but with dance music by Gorillaz. The relationship the executive chef has with the kitchen staff isn’t father to son, it’s brother to brother.

“It’s to help them along rather than scream them along,” Collins said with hands in his pockets.

The culinary explosions on the plates of Circa 1886 may be balanced between the past and future, anticipating a revolution, but Chef Collins wants to continue balancing the first priority: the family that inspires him.

“You can have another job, but you can’t have another family,” Collins said.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: