Current gigs: Sous chef at Loquita; mastermind, with his girlfriend, Jenna Isaacs, of After Hours Pop-Up series.
Background: Born in the Bay Area and raised in Los Angeles, Collins ditched his pursuit of biology at Cal Poly when he realized he didn’t want to be a doctor. “I did a bit of soul-searching and found the kitchen,” said Collins, who attended culinary school instead. He stage’d at Providence, Craft, Maude, and Melisse, easily some of the best restaurants in North America. After visiting Santa Barbara one weekend with Isaacs, he moved here about two years ago for a job opening Somerset. When that short-lived restaurant shut down and most of the original staff bailed — it’s now Smithy — Collins moved to Loquita.
Isaacs’s resume includes Melisse, where they met, and then Redbird, Maude, Patina, and, in Santa Barbara, Angel Oak at the Bacara and Blackbird at the Hotel Californian. “She’s a fantastic sounding board for creative purposes,” said Collins, “and she’s an incredibly talented chef in her own right.”
After Hours rationale: “One of the things you read about in every chef biography is the camaraderie of the crew, of going out after work and blowing off steam,” said Collins. “But a lot of that is kind of absent in Santa Barbara, because there is not a lot of late-night food. That was the inspiration for this pop-up series, as was doing my own twist on the kinds of foods I used to eat in L.A. when I got off work at midnight.” That means a lot of ethnic foods, including Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Jewish influences, as well as chicken ‘n’ waffles and classic diner fare.
The format: Collins and Isaacs have hosted two After Hours Pop-Ups so far, one at Bibi Ji and one at the S.B. Wine Collective, and the next one is planned for Black Sheep on Monday, November 12. The evenings, which cost $90, or $130 with beverage pairing, begin with a series of amuse-bouches, or “snacks,” and then include three larger courses and dessert.
Originally it was aimed at restaurant people, but now it is open to all, and they shifted the start time to be a little earlier, with service starting at 9 p.m. and wrapping up by midnight at the latest. “We’re making it a little more accessible for people who aren’t used to staying up ’til the wee hours of the morning,” said Collins.
Menu highlights: Collins gets gastronomic in his interpretations of traditional foods, like encapsulating al pastor taco flavors into liquid spheres, à la El Bulli, or serving potato pave, which is thin layers of potato pressed together, alongside the Wagyu flatiron burger and American cheese fondue. “That tastes like a cross between the best French fries and the best hash browns you’ve ever had,” he said.
He’s also prone to hybridizing cuisines, such as in the homemade kimchi pastrami sandwich, or going highbrow over Denny’s lowbrow Grand Slam: a maple-butter-lined milk crepe (which is 20 stacked thin pancakes) that’s topped with cured eggs, meringue ice cream, and a candied-bacon-and-potato crumble. “Who doesn’t love breakfast for dessert?” wondered Collins, who paired that with malted milk coffee Jell-O.
Next up: Of the three snacks, three entrees, and dessert on November 12’s menu, Collins is most excited about the aged duck mole with purple tomatillo and jalapeño. “Mole is something I am firmly passionate about,” he said. But he’s also fired up about the dessert again, this time called After-Work Beer and modeled on a pint of Hefeweizen, with sponge cake, citrus gastrique, and wheat ale flavors.
The future: “I would like to keep these going,” said Collins, who imagines the following one will be in January. “I love putting my own spin on classics and doing some mash-ups of flavors that are a little outside the box.”
For a full menu and tickets, see afterhourspopup.com.