BEYOND THE CONDIMENT with Chef Brandon Collins
Athleisure Mag|December 2020
When it comes to food, we all have our favorites from sides, entrees, desserts, sauces and more. We caught up with Chef Brandon Collins who is the Mustard Sommelier of Maille, a heritage Dijon brand which also includes an assortment of mustards, vinegars etc. He told us about what his job entails, how he stays up on mustards and their variants as a whole and also shares the culinary history of this brand! He also provides insights into the healthy aspects of it as well as how it is more of a condiment and a phenomenal ingredient to use when cooking a number of your favorite foods or even enjoying it with quality ice cream!
ATHLEISURE MAG: So when did you realize that you wanted to be a chef?

CHEF BRANDON COLLINS: That’s a long one. I would like to say that I traveled to the South of France and I walked on the beaches and I had these amazing epiphanies, but honestly, the deal was, I grew up in the Midwest and I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Basically, my Grandmother – both of them, were amazing cooks and I grew up eating really good food and realizing that at the worst times in my life, food kind of brought people together. That really ignited something in me and I realized that being around food always brought us from the farthest walks of life. If my family was away and nowhere near me, unfortunately due to a death in the family or something – everyone could rejoice over whatever plate we were having regardless of whatever we were going through. That kind of really started everything for me.

Not a lot of kids in my area or in my school were going to culinary school to be a chef and the “rebel” in me thought that I wanted to do something that not everyone else was doing. I’m very stubborn, I get that from my mother. When I put my mind to something, I do it. So I started working at a concert venue back home called the Nutter Center which is attached to Wright State University. I worked there and then I worked at Skyline Chili and I loved being able to work when I wasn’t behind a desk or a computer. That’s what really sold me 100% on it! I mean Skyline, I ate that way more then I should have – it’s good stuff!

AM: Um yeah, when you said the name, a smile and memories came together! We’re based in New York, but I had to tell the team about the beauty that is Skyline Chili. We’ve literally remade recipes to get that same test as most of our team is from the east coast so they had no idea what I was talking about!

CHEF BC: There’s something about Skyline Chili that people either love or hate – so the fact that I found another Skyline lover is a beautiful thing!

AM: Absolutely! So how would you define your cooking style?

CHEF BC: I would probably say honestly that from the get go, I have always been very interested in the science of food. Understanding the whys and not so much the hows. So a lot of my style is driven by why do I do this and why do I do that? Why do I grill a steak as opposed to searing it? Why do I like sous vide? Those are the things that are really really interesting to me. For me, it’s fundamental driven, seasonal New American and I usually tend to focus on local and sustainable. I live in the Hudson Valley so I have an abundance, a bounty of produce and meats to work with. So that has always been the driving force behind everything that I have done culinarily.

AM: What led you to coming to Maille?

CHEF BC: So my background is in fine dining. I worked in fine dining prior to joining a company called Sodexo initially actually. That was because we had just started a family and I needed to go from working about 100 - 110 hours a week at my previous job to being able to make a kind of shift. So, I started working with Sodexo and the parent company, Unilever was my client. I then started a couple of years later working for Unilever proper and Maille being one of my brands, I had the opportunity to being able to start working with this Dijon mustard brand that I have been working with my entire career and it just so happened to be that I was almost at the right place and the right time. I had the confidence of my line managers who said, “hey, this is the guy for the job.” Luckily, I was given the job of Mustard Sommelier and having the ability to train and to figure out all of that!

AM: Can you give us some history about the brand? It’s been around since the 1700’s which is just amazing to think about!

CHEF BC: Basically, the brand truly started around 1720 with Antoine-Claude Maille and basically, the story goes, there was a plague and he was a Master Vinegar Maker. The idea was that during this plague there were these 4 thieves that had been captured and they realized that they had been utilizing a vinegar mixture that was allowing them to kind of go into people’s houses, steal from them and leave without them getting sick! What ended up happening and this is a part of the story – it’s hard to find the actual story to see if this is true, but as it goes, they were sentenced to death by burning and in order to get a lighter sentence, they gave up their vinegar recipe. Then they were actually hung instead of being burned. Which is always fun right?

Basically, he was given the rights to this and we began making “The Vinegar of the 4 Thieves” and it helped through the plague. In 1747, Maison Maille was actually founded and we became the official supplier of the court of King Louis XV at that point in time. We also opened the very first Maille Boutique in Paris during that time as well. In 1760, we became the very official sup- pliers in the courts of France, Austria, Hungary and Russia. That’s really cool. In 1830, we were also named the privileged supplier to the Queen of England. We were one of the very few non British brands at that point in time, that were invited to be a supplier to the Queen. In 1845, we opened our boutique in Dijon and that’s whenever we started creating super creative store fronts and things along that line. As time has gone on and we were a supplier to Catherine the Great as well. It’s really cool because in our establishment in Dijon, we’ve been given through the division of antiquity through shipwrecks and things of that nature, actual mustard jars that were intended for Catherine the Great and Czars of Russia that had gone down. Whenever they had been found, they gave them back to us and it’s really really cool to be able to see the history and the different bottle shapes. To be able to see as we have gone on, starting out as a vinegar maker, becoming a mustard empire kind of cultish amazing high quality brand.

In ’96, we opened the boutique in Paris. We’ve been around for quite some time and it’s absolutely amazing to see all that we have been able to do. In theory, it’s 2 empires, 5 republics, 5 European conflicts, 2 World Wars and 5 currency conversions. It’s been awhile!

AM: That’s so crazy! First of all, love a good True Crime tale and although I know this is more of a “as the story goes,” – the True Crime element was enjoyable and I didn’t expect you to come up with that, but that is fantastic!

When you look at the website today, it has such a depth of an assortment from the vinegars, the oils, mustards, the cornichons and all of those things. How does the brand go about deciding what will be in the assortment from what will be in the main part of the line to other things that they may rotate in? Are you involved in any of that process?

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