Arcadia born-and-bred, Chef Chris Collins’ passion for cooking has been evident since he was a young child. Arcadia News caught up with Collins to discuss his life’s work and what makes him a successful restaurateur.
How long have you been a chef?
I have been cooking in kitchens since I was five years old. My father owned Marie Callender’s. With six kids, I was always the one in the kitchen with my dad. Stealing a piece of bacon, all that stuff. I have literally been in kitchens my entire life. I didn’t start operating and running my own kitchens until I was 22. Simply put, I followed my father’s footsteps.
What do you love most about being a chef?
I love that every single day, we have challenges that we overcome. I feel proud when we have successful shifts. I can’t paint you a picture – I love creating food. That is my outlet.
If I’m not cooking in one of my restaurants, I’m cooking in my home. I’m experimenting, I’m going to other guys’ restaurants and seeing what they’re doing.
It is literally a 24/7 passion that I am fortunate that I get to live. It’s what I get to do every day, and I love it.
What restaurants do you operate?
We own the Collins Small Batch Kitchen, The Macintosh, Wally’s American Gastropub in Gainey Ranch, Grassroots Kitchen and Tap, Twisted Grove Parlor Bar and Sweet Provisions Ice Cream.
My company, Common Ground Restaurant Concepts, serves “New American” food. We believe each restaurant reflects each neighborhood. They are inspired and are driven to be compliments of the neighborhood.
We’ve grown six restaurants in seven years, so there’s a lot of aspirations to keep peeling the onion and finding how else we can improve.
What restaurants did you work with before Common Ground Concepts?
I was general manager for Houston’s at the Esplanade. I worked with Beau MacMillan at Elements at Sanctuary, I worked with the Royal Palms – and I worked for my dad at Wally’s when I was in high school. So, I did a little bit of that down-to-earth local stuff, the Hillstone and worked with two of the best-known chefs in the Valley.
What is your signature dish?
At Grassroots we have the Grassroots Vegetable Chop Salad. When we opened up the concept seven years ago, it was intended to be inspired by the season. It was so popular that guests were literally telling me they wouldn’t come back to the restaurant if I changed the salad.
The second is the short rib dish at The Macintosh. It’s the best-selling protein dish there and it’s my favorite dish within the company. There’s a lot of love put into our short ribs.
Describe your cooking technique.
I have a philosophy: simple foods and extraordinarily high-quality ingredients can be the most beautiful, great-tasting products in the world.
I’m not here to reinvent the wheel or to come up with some crazy new cooking technique or operation in the kitchen. I pride myself that my kitchens are very smooth-running, clean and well-organized. Consistency is just as important as quality. We serve straightforward, clean, beautiful food and that is what I am proud of.
What is the most challenging dish you’ve ever had to cook?
Paella. I haven’t nailed it yet. I have to give a shout out to my dad, Wally, because he crushes it. He spent a month in Spain learning how to make it – I haven’t had a chance to do that yet. I’ve bought the pans and used the right ingredients and I have yet to nail it! My dad teases me – I haven’t reached his level until I’ve knocked out a good paella.
What do you do when you’re not cooking?
I play with my children. We swim a lot. I always teach my boys (Topher, 5 and Fitzgerald, 3) to love their mother and brother, to get good grades and to know how to swim.
What celebrity would you like to cook for?
That’s a tough question. My dad actually opened up Cooperstown with Alice Cooper, but there’s so many to choose from. Honestly, I would have cooked for Senator McCain. I have always looked up to him, he’s been a big part of Arizona, and we all love Arizona. It might sound cheesy, but if I had the chance, I would have dropped everything to cook for him.
Favorite comfort food?
Mac and cheese with ribs. I take the rib meat off the bone and mix it into my mac and cheese – people laugh at me at barbecues because I do that. The smoky sauce and awesome – what I like to call “fat boy cheese” – put a beer in my hand and I’m the happiest guy in the world. My kids love it. They’re going to take after their dad.
Who is your hero?
My dad. He raised six awesome kids. We are the six closest siblings in the world. My mom and dad have done an amazing job raising a great family. We’re trying to do what they’ve done with our generation of kids and it shows. We have a wonderful family that I’m extremely proud of, so I’d have to say my dad and my mom.
What’s the most challenging part of being a chef?
Being a chef of multiple operations means that we now rely on a lot of different people for everything to come together. Cooking staff, vendors, suppliers – there’s a lot of relationship managing going on that’s become big part of my day. I have to carve out time where I get to play with food and keep pushing the envelope. That’s kind of how we came up with Collins Small Batch – we create a new menu every month. We’re learning new ingredients and new dishes here and that’s one way for me to keep cooking food.