Chef Bren­dan Collins gets a kick out of cooking

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - By Jenn Har­ris 1634 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los An­ge­les, (323) 960-3369, www.birchlosan­ge­les.com jenn.har­ris@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Jen­n_Har­ris_

Bren­dan Collins, chef-owner of the re­cently opened Birch in Hol­ly­wood, cred­its Mar­garet Thatcher for his restau­rant ca­reer. Well, sort of. When Thatcher closed Bri­tish mines in the ’80s, Collins’ fa­ther, once a mine worker, be­came a re­lief pub land­lord. He and his fam­ily trav­eled around Not­ting­hamshire in Eng­land, run­ning pubs when the land­lords were on hol­i­day. Dur­ing his fa­ther’s part-time stints, Collins says he al­ways grav­i­tated to­ward the kitchens. It was ei­ther that or be­come a foot­ball player (the Bri­tish kind), which is what he re­ally wanted to do.

Collins has re­mained a die-hard Manch­ester United fan, but in­stead of spend­ing his time on the pitch, he’s be­come one of the most well-re­garded chefs in Los An­ge­les. Most re­cently, he closed Water­loo and City, an English gas­tropub in Cul­ver City, and opened Birch, a homage to his home­town in Eng­land, which hap­pens to grow birch trees. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Collins talked about lik­ing to make his cooks sweat over staff meals and his fa­vorite thing to eat at the end of the night. What’s your idea of com­fort food? My com­fort food is usu­ally a sand­wich at the end of the night when I get home and I can fi­nally sit on my couch with my feet up. You know, a grilled cheese with some or­ganic turkey and a lit­tle but­ter let­tuce salad.

What’s a staff meal at your restau­rant like? Usu­ally it’s what’s in the fridge, and it’s re­ally a test for the cooks. There’s al­ways a lot of chicken, al­ways a lot of ground beef, al­ways a lot of rice and dry pasta, al­ways sal­ads. And then it’s ba­si­cally what­ever we’ve got that’s sort of co­in­cid­ing with the menu. Then we say, “Go and make some­thing, and make it de­li­cious” — and then we sort of score them on it. Some peo­ple get ridiculed for a cou­ple of days, and some peo­ple get a nice big pat on the back.

One thing you want peo­ple to know about your new restau­rant? I want peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that we’re work­ing re­ally hard and that we’re cooking re­ally good food. I’ve never been a cook that’s in it for the glory. It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that this is a busi­ness; it’s not just a play­thing, and we’re not just here to get awards and pats on the back. I just want peo­ple to come in here and en­joy them­selves, eat good food, drink good al­co­hol and have a good time.

What do your tat­toos mean? I like to hide mine be­cause my tat­toos are for me; they’re not for any­body else. They’re a re­minder of my life and where I’ve come from, and my demons and stuff like that. There’s a dragon un­der­neath a fam­ily tree that’s be­ing chopped off; that’s to sig­nify the fact that I don’t re­ally have a good re­la­tion­ship with my fam­ily. Then I have a Bud­dhist prayer that says, ‘In­side the belly of man roars fire.’ And then this one is not fin­ished [on the un­der­side of his arm]. It’s sun shin­ing through storm clouds. It’s to sig­nify that I’ve got­ten older, you know, and I’ve got my own fam­ily.

If you could have din­ner with any­one, whom would it be and what would you eat? Mark Twain and Win­ston Churchill. And I’d like to sit and eat roasted foie gras.

Dustin Down­ing

BIRCH’S Bren­dan Collins is a big United Manch­ester fan.

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