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March/April 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Central Coast chef thrives at helm of hometown restaurant

Chef Brian Collins serves Italian-inspired California cuisine at Ember restaurant in his hometown of Arroyo Grande.

There's a reason Brian Collins named his restaurant Ember. Actually, several reasons, but it comes down to his love for open-fire cooking.

"The intense heat adds to the flavor and aromas of the food," said Collins, whose Arroyo Grande restaurant features an open kitchen with a wood-burning brick oven and a fireplace grill. "Also, I think we all have a little bit of caveman inside of us, where we see a fire and we want to gather around it and socialize and eat and cook."

In a way, Collins has come full circle. After graduating from culinary school and working in restaurants up and down the coast, he returned to his hometown—where a stint years prior at a local pizza place had ignited his passion for cooking.

"Opening a restaurant was always a dream of mine, and I promised myself that I would do it when it felt right," he said.

Ember is open for dinner only, serving what Collins calls Italian-inspired California cuisine—simple fare to be shared and enjoyed. Each month, he changes about three-quarters of the menu as the seasons usher in fresh ingredients. And although writing menus and developing new dishes is his favorite part of restaurant ownership, he acknowledged he enjoys the less-glamorous aspects as well, such as insurance, taxes and payroll.

"You have an obligation to your family and to your employees and their families to do a good job. You've got to meet payroll every two weeks," he said. "But it's a fun challenge. I definitely enjoy challenges, and owning a restaurant is 100 percent challenging."

Collins' next challenge lies on the near horizon: He's opening a lunch café this summer.

Barbara Arciero


Prosciutto-wrapped artichokes with arugula salad and salsa verde

Grilled wild king salmon with jalapeño yogurt

Root vegetable bisque

Salsa verde

Navel orange crème brûlée

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