In this season of thanksgiving, there are so many people we think of with gratitude – people who have helped shape and grow Charleston Wine + Food into the world-class event it is today.
There is one individual, though, whose fingerprint can be found on the very foundation of the festival. Chef Marc Collins, Circa 1886, played a significant role in founding Charleston Wine + Food more than eleven years ago. It was Collins who believed that this community, steeped in rich culinary tradition and full of incredible talent, was ripe for an event that would showcase Charleston as a notable culinary destination. Alongside other committed individuals from the culinary and hospitality communities, Collins helped to build the concept into reality, and in 2006, the inaugural Distinctively Charleston Food & Wine Festival was introduced. Several years later, Collins was recognized with a namesake award, and each year since, an outstanding chef in the Charleston community who shows leadership, dedication and innovation in his/her field is honored with the Marc Collins Chef Award.
Recently, we caught up with the busy chef for a quick chat, and we must tell you – not only is Collins talented in the kitchen, he’s also an incredibly nice guy, with a down-to-earth energy that is both warm and welcoming. Ladies and gents, it’s our pleasure to introduce Marc Collins, Circa 1886 Executive Chef:
Tell us about Circa 1886.
Circa 1886 is a beautifully restored carriage house set behind the grounds of the Wentworth Mansion, a luxurious 21-room inn. Circa 1886 means “of the year 1886” which happens to be the year the Mansion was finished. We are a small, 50 seat white tablecloth restaurant that specializes in creating dishes rooted in the south but with different parts of the world woven through it, just as Charleston was 200 years ago when it was the largest port city on the east coast, even larger than New York City.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I am very grounded in French Classical cuisine and you will see that but I have adapted the great cooking styles of the southern U.S. to go right along side of it. I’ll add a dash of the islands and of course Africa plus a bit of creole. My goal is to push you to the culinary edge but not over it.
Who/what are your influences as a chef?
I’m influenced by creativity itself. I am the son of an artist and that seems to have had an impact on me. I get excited writing new menus. To me it’s a lot like walking down a trail and looking for unique things you might not see if you didn’t take the time to look. I also love browsing cookbooks and looking at how chefs compose plates and bring flavors together.
You were one of the founders of Charleston Wine + Food. What are your thoughts on how the festival has grown and evolved?
You really can’t help but get a kick out of watching something so small, like an idea, grow into a nationally recognized Wine and Food festival! Each year it gets more amazing. The lineup of chefs, events, winemakers, and the list goes on and on. The Festival has had a great team each and every year that put a lot of thought and creativity into it. That’s no easy task, too. Trying to top what came last year is always a challenge but the team is very engaged in the Food & Beverage community both here and across the U.S., and they try to think outside the box when coming up with events. I truly feel that Charleston has solidified itself as a food town and will continue to play off of that reputation showcasing itself in the years to come. We have so much talent here in all aspects of the dining experience from the farm to the table that I can envision guests from all over coming to see why this city is so special and what it’s history has to do with it.
What would you go back and tell your younger self (just starting your career as a chef)?
Don’t change a thing. Life is truly a journey and in such it is full of so many ups and downs and I have learned from both of them. Besides, I don’t think I would have listened to myself anyway!
We’re curious: what do you snack on, Chef?
Good question! I love pita chips and that Carrot Hummus with dried apricots. Chobani yogurt flips are addictive, too, and then there is peanut butter and jelly which reminds me of being a kid. I miss being a kid.
Just for fun: what would your theme song be?
The Best is Yet to Come by Frank Sinatra.
Want more? You can catch Collins in action during Charleston Wine + Food at Opening Night: Cheers to Charleston!, Life of the Party: All Things Entertaining with Tara Guérard, Circa 1886 Signature Dinner, and Bubbles + Truffles Dinner @ Circa 1886.
Collins’ legacy is strong and we are beyond thankful for the contribution he’s made to the festival and Charleston’s ever-growing culinary community. Recently, Circa 1886 was named #13 Best Fine Dining Restaurant in the U.S. by TripAdvisor’s 2015 Traveler’s Choice Awards. We can only imagine what’s next for this accomplished chef.