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Chef injects Southern influence into menu

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Lucy Collins (Photograph by Nadia Hall)

As a child, Lucy Collins played with her food.

She thought it was the best way to learn what was in it and her parents didn’t stop her.

“[They] say I was cooking since I could reach the microwave,” said the head chef at Bermuda’s newest restaurant, Huckleberry at the Rosedon Hotel.

“I used to dissect my food, just to figure out what was in it.”

Babysitting gigs had her cooking her first tables. When her mother got breast cancer, she took over kitchen responsibilities at 14.

“I have a younger brother and two older sisters, but I kind of took on that motherly role of making dinner every night and that’s really where the experimenting with cooking started,” she said.

The 33-year-old moved to the island in April after Rosedon owner Scott Kitson, a family friend, called with plans to update the restaurant.

He was looking for a Bermudian menu with a “Southern flair”.

“My mom cooks, my grandmothers have always cooked. It’s a big family ritual. As I’ve grown as a chef, our Thanksgivings have become more gourmet,” said Ms Collins, who hails from Charleston, South Carolina.

Her southern background is evident in the Bermuda menu — fried chicken, shrimp and grits — alongside east-meets-west additions like a lamb meatball masala. The brownies are a family recipe, passed over from one of her mother’s best friends.

“It’s collaborative,” she said.

Her team, Alex Santosh, Rafael Umpig and Glenn Deseo, come from India and the Philippines.

“It’s been really cool to share our abilities and talents,” Ms Collins told Lifestyle.

“It’s also rare to find a kitchen crew that you just mesh with and I feel like I’ve worked with these guys for years.

“It’s almost like a dance when we work at night. We’ll find ourselves putting the plates up at the same time.”

Ms Collins has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens Momofuku and Ai Fiori in New York.

While the pace of life is slower in Bermuda, she said the pace in the kitchen is just as fast.

The real difference lies in navigating items that arrive by boat.

“I really support local produce and want to integrate more farm to table as much as possible.

“Boat orders and how it all comes — that’s something I’m not used to. Thinking we might have to 86 this strip for a week because we don’t have it.”

She’s becoming comfortable with accepting these unavoidable tweaks of the menu, abandoning the just-make-it-happen attitude she learnt in New York.

“At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about — good food and good service,” she said.

“In New York, you have people working for barely nothing because they love it. That’s what I found here with these guys.

‘It’s not just a job you fall back on; you wake up every morning proud to do it.”

A summer internship at New York’s Gramercy Tavern strengthened her conviction. After graduating the University of South Carolina she joined a culinary programme at the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, Italy, and worked at a local restaurant. At Huckleberry she rolls fresh pasta daily,

In 2007 she packed her bags and moved back to New York, landing a job at Momofuku at the start of its rise.

“It was Thanksgiving weekend and it was just on the cusp of breaking out; David Chang becoming this huge phenomenon, entrepreneur, chef,” she remembered. “I got screamed at every day for three months and then one day I got really good.

“The tables turned and it was awesome. People were lined up around the corner. It was cool to be a part of Momofuku while it rose to fame.”

After being promoted to sous chef, she moved to the Alta Marea group under head chef Michael White, working alongside PJ Calapa and Kevin Pemoulie.

“Two really intelligent and passionate people to have learnt from that were also like family,” she said. “That’s what you get when you work in a kitchen.”

Although working in a male-dominated industry has been tough, she’s enjoyed coming in at a time of advancement.

“In New York, it came to this point where it wasn’t about gender. That kind of faded. It was a movement and it was powerful. There was an article written in the New York Times about women in the industry and one of our head chefs [Lauren DeSteno] at the Alta Marea group was featured in it.

“She said, it’s not about being a girl or a boy, it’s about working your hardest.”

Ms Collins said she tried not to think about the coveted Michelin star.

“It’s an honour, it’s a privilege just to work with people that are that good and to learn from people that are that good.

“Maybe subconsciously it is in every plate of food you put up, but I tried not to harp on that ever because it’s not about [Michelin], it’s about everyone.

“The other night, [a guest] said, ‘That was perfect. It was the best meal that I can remember’.

“Those words to me were enough. That is why I do this.”

Fish tacos at Huckleberry (Photograph by Nadia Hall)
Fish tacos at Huckleberry (Photograph by Nadia Hall)
Lucy Collins (Photograph by Nadia Hall)