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Kathy Collins pours herself in NOLA MOCA’s menu

Kathy Collins pours herself in NOLA MOCA’s menu

August 10, 2016 // by Denise M. Reagan

NOLA MOCA Executive Chef Kathy Collins always looks for ways to connect her food to the art at MOCA Jacksonville.

As the Museum prepared for Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction, an exhibition featuring six women who innovate in gestural abstract painting, Collins and Mico Fuentes, dining room manager and event coordinator, hatched the idea for Women of the Knife, a six-course dinner featuring some of the best female chefs in Northeast Florida on August 19.

We asked Collins about her connection to food and how being a woman has affected her career.

Kathy Collins NOLA MOCA Kitchen b
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

How did you become interested in cooking?

My mom didn't really like to cook. But I liked to eat. She had several things that she would make over and over again that I loved, but they were limited, and it forced me to start cooking for myself. I started waiting tables when I was 16, and I realized I would much rather be cooking the food than serving it.

What is your training as a chef?

I attended Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.

Where are you from and where have you worked?

I grew up in Chicago and worked for several places there, including Silverton's steakhouse, Flossmoor Country Club, some small diner-style places, and I did a stint as a personal chef.  I've also waited tables, and I bartended for several years. In Jacksonville, I was sous chef at Pastiche prior to joining MOCA in 2005.

NOLA MOCA Jenn Dragstra Kathy Collins c
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.
Kathy Collins NOLA MOCA Utensils d
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.
Kathy Collins NOLA MOCA Chopping e
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

What are you doing now?

I'm the executive chef for NOLA MOCA.

What foods do you love to cook?

I love cooking fish. I would fill the menu with it if I could.

What has your experience as a woman in the restaurant world been like?

I have had many positive experiences as well as negative ones. I've laughed, I've cried, I've fought, I've been intimidated and harassed, but I've also been respected, challenged, and taught things that are amazing. I should have been working in kitchens much sooner than I was, but when I expressed interest while waiting tables, I was basically laughed out of the kitchen by the male cooks. It put me off for years, and I still regret that time lost when I could have been cooking.

Kathy Collins NOLA MOCA Cheese Trays f
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.
Kathy Collins NOLA MOCA Gazpacho g
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.
Kathy Colins NOLA MOCA Business Card h
Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

What do you want people to know about your food?

I put a lot of myself into the menu at NOLA MOCA. The menu changes four to six times a year, and I have a personal connection to everything on it, whether it's a childhood memory, traveling, food experiences with friends, inspiration from one single item that just tasted delicious and I was determined to use, or something that's seasonal that I know is going to be at its peak. MOCA has allowed me complete creative control when it comes to the menu, so it's something that I take very seriously and my staff and I are constantly tweaking to improve.

What course will you be preparing for Women of the Knife and what are you thinking of including?

I am preparing the fifth course, right before dessert. I am not certain yet what it will be, but I am leaning towards a beef dish.

How is Confronting the Canvas inspiring your ideas for the event?

It's such a beautiful and colorful exhibition. Color is definitely going to play a part in my dish. 

Buy your tickets to Women of the Knife now.

See more photography by Brandi Hill on her website or on Instagram.

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