To say Brandi Collins is one of the Bulkley Valley’s hidden treasures is true, yet it is ironic, as she is also known around the world, in some impressive circles of people.
Collins is a chef, but not just any chef.
The list of complimentary adjectives used to describe her talent with food, is mind boggling. Suffice it to say, by all accounts she is extraordinarily gifted.
Collins juggles her very busy life with an air of unflappability and a quick smile while many people might be a bit unnerved and more than a little burned out.
She is a year-round chef for an exclusive destination lodge in the valley, has a young, busy and expanding family, and last spring, she opened a new catering and private chef business in Telkwa, Riverside Kitchen Co.
Focus is not a problem for Collins.
During fall, you can find her as the executive chef for Frontier Steelhead Experience Lodge, a world-renowned fishing lodge that offers high end, quality experiences to clientele who travels from around the globe to the Bulkley Valley, year after year, in pursuit of steelhead, excellent cuisine and fond memories,
That is when having a top notch, master chef like Collins is an ace up your sleeve.
“Our reputation as having the best food in the business, is single-handedly due to the hard work, extreme preparation and creativity of Brandi Collins,” said lodge owner, Derek Botchford.
“She has elevated the food experience far beyond what guests have enjoyed at other lodges around the world.”
“You can taste a difference in her food. Her chef-driven vision, passion for excellence and focus on perfection, takes her food to the next level.”
After nearly a decade of running the Frontier kitchens, Botchford says of his chef and friend, “we are thankful each and every day to experience her cuisine.”
The fishing industry can be a tough one, for a chef.
If the fishing is poor or the weather and waters give out, the menu and delectable food are often expected to take the edge (and sometimes temper) off of even the most discouraged of anglers.
For Frontier Guests, Collins never fails to deliver.
Whatever the day has brought, guests of Frontier know, that at the end of it, the most delicious expanse of foods awaits them.
Being a chef in world-class places is not new for Collins. After completing her studies in culinary arts at in Vancouver, she worked winters at Whistler, B.C. restaurants Nita Lake Lodge and Dubh Linn Gate, while spending her summers at Langara Fishing Lodge on Haida Gwaii.
In the early days at Langara, she was the staff chef for a crew of more than 50 hungry fishing guides and personnel.
This is where she met her husband to be, Bryan Henry, an accomplished fishing guide.
“She made burgers for lunch one day, and they were so good, she had put so much effort into every detail,” Bryan recalled about their first meeting, noting it was certainly not the norm for the staff meals he had experienced in the guiding trade.
“I told her right away I loved her,” he laughingly said.
That was the start of the adventures for the two of them.
They continued working at Langara Lodge in the summer months, and in the fall of 2014 Collins and Henry came to Frontier as a team.
The spring of 2015 brought the pair back to the Bulkley Valley permanently. They bought a beautiful home on the river in Telkwa.
With their Son Wyatt on the way, Henry hung up his guiding waders for a more traditional job at Glacier Toyota in Smithers to spend more time with his family.
On Sept. 12 of that year, Collins’s 30th birthday, along the river in their backyard, Henry asked Collins to marry him.
“I was so nervous my hands were shaking” Henry recalled.
That evening, back at the lodge, Huey Lewis — the Grammy Award-wining musician is a regular visitor to the lodge — sang Collins the Happy Birthday Song with his own flair, rounding out a joyous day.
Collins and Henry have since welcomed daughter Olivia into the family and are expecting their third child this coming April.
“I’m so proud of her, I am one lucky guy,” Henry said.
His support continues to keep Collins grounded.
Her new venture, Riverside Kitchen, may have opened during the start of COVID-19, a definite time of uncertainty, but the ever-resilient Collins saw that as an opportunity instead of a negative.
“I had to get creative, thinking of new ways of doing business right from the start,” she said in a video sponsered by the Chamber of Commerce as a way of supporting local businesses.
One of her creative ideas saw her team up with another local business, Rustica Bakery, to come up with a weekly food box they deliver, called the “Good Grub Box.”
The boxes feature a local supplier each week, to support businesses in the community and provide food security for community members, Collins said.
“We are supporting each other to get through this,” she added.
“It’s really cool how the community is supporting whatever businesses have to offer. For my business, I am still preparing food for individuals and corporations, but I am delivering and dropping off meals.”
Collins has found many ways to be innovative, including catering meals for local companies, but individualizing them, wrapping them up as a bag lunch, picnic kind of idea and delivering them to business or home doorsteps.
Telkwa School staff members had this experience recently and Kim Tofsrud wrote a glowing review.
“It was absolutely delicious, such a treat and giving everyone exactly what they wanted, it was very much enjoyed by all,” she wrote.
But it’s not just local customers who appreciate Collins’s cooking, other chefs rave about it as evidenced by the reviews on her company’s Facebook page.
Riverside Kitchen Co. can personalize meals and menus for smaller groups, gatherings and families right now, but Collins knows larger events will come back.
With a delightful smile, long signature pony tail, and unassuming manner, she will be ready to take on the challenges, whipping up the masterpieces in the kitchen she is known for and continue to bring this valley some of the most fabulous food in the world.