Joe Collins is old-school. He doesn’t use email or a cell phone. He’s not on Facebook. He’s not the type to bother with the Internet. If he reads this column, it will probably be after someone has printed out a copy for him. Collins, 53, just likes to cook, and he is extremely good at it.
Collins is the executive chef at Go Fish in Mystic, known for its inventive seafood dishes, eye-popping artwork, and trendy, date-night atmosphere. The restaurant’s style seems mismatched with Collins’s down-to-earth personality, but for all 15 of its years, he has anchored the kitchen.
Originally from Queens, N.Y., Collins moved to Ashaway, R.I., when he was a kid. He got his first job at a family restaurant in Ashaway — the old Lantern Glow — when he was 14. He and his wife live in Westerly now, and you can hear a little of Westerly (or is it Queens?) in his voice. They visit Italy often and enjoy eating there, which has no doubt contributed to Collins’s talents in the kitchen, as has his mother-in-law, whom he credits for cooking the best meals of his life.
In this month’s chef profile, we salute Joe Collins of Go Fish.
What chefs inspire you?
Jeff Houston, the first chef I worked with (at the Lantern Glow). When we moved to Ashaway, I got a job when I was 14 years old at his restaurant because I saw they were looking for help. I stopped by and knocked on the door and said, ‘I’m here to help,’ and that was our joke for a long time. I worked five years there.
Where did you learn to cook?
I started at the Lantern Glow and with a catering company, Chickadee Catering in Dunn’s Corners. Then the Culinary Institute of America (Class of 1981), and I’m still learning.
What’s your best dish at Go Fish? What's so great about it?
All of our fish dishes, because we use great quality product. We do one that really sells, although I take if off the menu when it gets really busy because the execution gets tough. It’s shellfish linguini slow-simmered in marina with basil and hot peppers. It’s served with spinach. The spinach is sautéed with garlic and olive oil and added to the dish. It’s got littleneck clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, and lobster.
What’s your favorite restaurant (besides your own)? What’s your favorite dish there?
Da Ganino in Florence, Italy. His spaghetti with sauce. Excellent. The last two trips we made to Italy, we made sure we ate there a few times.
What’s the best meal you ever ate?
My mother-in-law Susie Perrone’s roasted pork chops and potatoes with vinegar peppers.
If you had catered the Last Supper, what would you have cooked for Jesus and his disciples?
Any fish dish, so in case I ran out … well, you know the story.
If you were headed to the electric chair tomorrow, what would you eat for your last supper?
Susie’s pork chops.
If you weren’t in the restaurant business, what would you do for a living?
It’s all that I have ever known, so I would probably starve.
What is your favorite processed junk food?
Barbecue potato chips.
If you were invited to compete on “Iron Chef” and the theme ingredient was mushrooms, what dishes would you prepare?
Perhaps a grilled fish with a spicy mushroom relish or a nice mushroom ravioli dish.”
What cooking tips can you offer to those of us who don’t know an oven mitt from a catcher’s mitt?
Start reading some cookbooks and watching cooking shows.
Tell us some numbers about Go Fish—maybe how many sansei rolls the sushi bar has made since it opened or how many clams are consumed in a year.
Thousands of sansei rolls, tens of thousands of clams. I have filleted more salmon in the 15 years I have been here, by far, than in my previous twenty-two years in the business. Note: Jerry Kodama, brother of Go Fish owner Jon Kodama, runs the sushi bar. Collins says he and Kodama help each other out with prep work when they can; he often cuts salmon for the sushi bar.
What lessons about life can we learn from seafood?
Keep our oceans clean, don’t pollute, recycle. It all starts at home.