When it comes to Tour Catering, the name says it all.
The Suffern-based company, which is led by executive chef Kenneth Collins, offers clients an explosive culinary experience with a spread of ethnically inspired fare. His worldwide cornucopia of dishes may include anything from the likes of French-, Mexican- or Asian-inspired cuisine to traditional American bites that often evoke Texas roots.
“It’s about satisfying the palate, giving the personal service of letting a client choose anything they want and having the ability to produce it,” Collins says.
He and his team cater events in any setting, from parties of 700 in large venues to private dinners of 10, held in the comfort of the host’s home in the tristate area and, recently, Philadelphia.
“That’s one of the parts of the business that I love,” he says. “I’m hospitable and hospitality is one of the reasons why you get into this business.
“One of the other reasons that I cook is to have a satisfied client or to have a satisfied eater, and for someone to give you that ultimate compliment of, ‘I’ve never had anything like that,’ or ‘What is that?’ or ‘Can I have that recipe?’ Those kind of reactions really excite me.”
That excitement was born in Ennis, Texas, where he spent his childhood. When he was a teenager, Collins recalls, he disliked the clothes his grandmother bought for him.
“She said, ‘Well, if you don’t want what I buy you, get a job and buy your own clothes,’” he says.
That served as the impetus for Collins to get into the restaurant business. He began working as a bus boy, observed the chefs crafting their dishes and became intrigued.
When he entered high school, he enrolled in a culinary program and, as he says, “It just took off from there.”
Collins opened restaurants in Manhattan, starting with Ida Mae Kitchen n’ Lounge in midtown, which was inspired by his great-grandmother, Ida Mae Collins, who, along with his grandmother Lonnie Mae Collins, raised him and his brother.
“I would take the Southern kind of influences, taking black-eyed peas and mixing them with foie gras, and taking saffron and making aioli from it and things of that nature, which would always take from the Southern roots and add to the classical experience,” he says.
But Ida Mae Kitchen n’ Lounge was just the start. After closing the restaurant, he opened Tour, an after-hours eatery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, which ultimately inspired Tour Catering. The company has been in business for some eight years, with corporate clients including Kenneth Cole, Sephora, Donna Karan, Web MD, Calvin Klein, Puma and Scoop.
“One of my fortés is to take something simple and to create something divine from it,” he says. “When I do that, it’s the ultimate satisfaction, not only for me as an artist and a chef, but for a client to be really be pleased and tell somebody else about me.”
Collins, who is also an artist, explains that his cooking is very much like painting.
“I’m inspired by Christ. I’m inspired by nature. I’m inspired by music. It’s layers of creativity, from that perspective,” he says. “When I start to cook…I might put on that texture or that color on that layer and then try to embellish and create something that’s unique and different.”
WAG recently had the opportunity to try a selection of Collins’ creations. The global food excursion began with a gourmet cheese and fruit board, accompanied by guacamole and tostones (twice-fried plantain slices), assorted crackers, flatbread and olives, for a flavorful flight through France and Mexico. Next was the roast beet salad, with sherry vinaigrette and goat cheese garnish, an ode to Greece and the Mediterranean. This proved particularly refreshing, with delightful contrasts in textures. Vietnamese salmon — which included smoked salmon, bitter greens, peanuts and sweet chili sauce wrapped in rice paper — was a lighter rendition of sushi with Thai influences.
The heartier tastes began with the “mac and three” bar. This decadent pasta exploded with flavor, an ode to his Southern heritage but with Italian influences. There was the option to top the mac and cheese with shrimp, pancetta or scallions (hence the “three”), though it was delectable all on its own. The grilled herb-spiced baby lamb chops with a ginger hoisin glaze saluted Chinese cuisine and was truly cooked to perfection in a medium rare, melt-in-your-mouth way.
The experience closed with assorted petit fours, with obvious French influences. I opted for a bit of lemon bar, which was a gooey, devilishly sweet way to end such an overall treat.
But given that Collins has sampled — and made —more unique dishes than most, I couldn’t help but ask his favorite.
“Duck,” he says. “Even foie gras or confit of duck or duck breast. It seems to always satisfy me. And I don’t eat it as often, so when I have it, it’s just like falling in love again.”
For more, visit worldculinarytour.com or call 201-248-6264.