Chef Collin Cormier, 38, of Lafayette, has built a growing restaurant group that includes a variety of restaurants in Lafayette — Central Pizza, Tula Tacos, Pop’s Poboys and Viva La Waffle.
Pop’s Poboys was named in Bon Appetit’s Top 50 Best New Restaurants in 2016.
Cormier answered a few questions about his variety of restaurants and the process he uses to develop their menus and maintain the quality of food and customer experience.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I hadn’t worked in a restaurant before college. I was a political science major but realized pretty quickly I wasn’t headed toward a career I was excited about.
I had always enjoyed cooking as a hobby, but it wasn’t until college that I considered doing it for a living. I sort of jumped into culinary school on a whim and very quickly realized that this was the path I wanted to take professionally.
You worked in the restaurant industry for a while before opening your first restaurant (which was a food truck, I believe), what did jobs in the industry teach you about what to do and what not to do?
After culinary school, I worked at Tsunami for three years. then left for a short stint at a restaurant in the Virgin Islands. After my brief Caribbean sojourn, I returned to Lafayette and worked at the Blue Dog Cafe before ultimately starting the Viva La Waffle truck. I learned a lot from all the stops on my journey.
All these places taught me the ropes of the industry and the importance of showing up on time and ready to roll with whatever the shift might bring. Tsunami taught me to use great ingredients and let them shine with simple preparation.
I worked in a fine dining restaurant in the Virgin Islands, and it taught me how to be resourceful and think quickly as ingredients were less reliable and more prone to outages. I learned how to pivot quickly.
The Blue Dog taught me a lot about volume and got me back to my Cajun roots.
What value do you believe working in a restaurant is for everyone?
People always say that everyone should be required to work at least a few shifts in the service industry — and I couldn’t agree more.
People who have been through the madness of a successful busy restaurant shift all know what great feeling that can be, and it only happens if everyone is on their game and working together to make it all happen.
Tell us about your process in creating a specific dish — and then creating a menu for a restaurant.
There are no specific ways that I use to come up with dishes. Sometimes they are long dormant ideas that were just waiting for the right concept or menu. Sometimes, they are instantaneous and seemingly come from out of nowhere.
I’ve even had ideas come to me in a dream — and those have been hits and misses! Restaurant menus for me always start out as a big vision board of sorts and then we edit and eliminate until we have a cohesive menu.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time in the restaurant business?
Always deferring to what’s simpler is the most important lesson I’m still trying to learn — 98 out of 100 times, the simpler option is the better option.
Do you have a favorite dish you’ve created?
My favorite menu items always seem to be the ones that don’t sell well enough to keep on menus. The caramelized onion dip and muffuletta pizza from Central come to mind.
Do you have a tip (or two) for home cooks?
The one thing that stuck with me from culinary school is to add flavor at every possible opportunity. Season at each step, and take your time to coax every bit of flavor out of every step of the process.
Just that can take an ordinary dish and make it something special.
Will you ever venture into fine dining?
I would be very surprised if I end up in the fine dining world. People are a lot better at that part of things than I am — I’ll let them have it.
Do you have any other restaurant concepts brewing?
My wife always says I have three or four ideas in my head at any given moment. It takes a confluence of events for a restaurant to happen — some happen quickly and some never happen.
Do you have plans to extend your restaurants outside of Lafayette?
If I ever branch out, it will be to take one of the concepts I already have and build it somewhere else. We’ve thought about doing Pop’s Poboys in Baton Rouge or Houston. Who knows?