A young food enthusiast, who cooked in a Copenhagen restaurant voted best in the world for 2012, now works in a Blacksburg wine and beer store.
Collin Wagner, 21-year old Richmond native, has traveled and worked in various restaurants in Europe since graduating high school. He has also cooked in New York City and Richmond as a head chef for pop-up restaurants. Since moving to Blacksburg, Wagner said that he has found a group of friends who share his passion for cooking and the art of fine cuisine.
While in France, Wagner worked on a vineyard, which sparked his interest in wine. He said that he felt deprived living in America, because he could not try or learn how to appreciate and work with wine when he was under 21-years old. Now, he said, wine is all he drinks, and he loves how it compliments the food.
Wagner works at the Vintage Cellar on South Main St, which allows him to use the skills he obtained in France.
“I get to meet and work with all kinds of distributers,” he said. “Even though a lot of them don’t make their way all the way down here.”
Wagner's experience made him an easy hire for his current employer.
"Collin walked into the store around November, and we hired him right on the spot," said Hunter Davidson, a manager of the Vintage Cellar.
"He has tremendous experience for his age, and is very much in-tune with the alternative interests of the food community," he said.
Wagner did not attend a culinary institute after high school, instead he cooked in his home town until he saved enough money for a plane ticket to Spain.
“In Europe, days are planned around meals,” Wagner said. “Everybody in America doesn’t have time; it’s all about the convenience.”
Wagner also said that he learned how to forage and focus on seasonal cooking while he was in Europe, which is why he advocates the use of local food in all dishes.
“I never liked tomatoes until last year when I had one that was grown in the town during summer,” he said. “Now, I love tomatoes, because I know how they are supposed to taste.”
Davidson said Collin expresses his love of organic food and a farm to table style of production while at work.
"Collin isn't interested in a big corporate kitchen or getting food from a Cysco truck," Davidson said.
Most of the cooking jobs Wagner had in Europe were invitations to experience high-ranked kitchens and work with chefs who use with the trendiest ingredients.
In Copenhagen, Wagner cooked at Noma as one of the 40 chefs in the kitchen working from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. to serve what was voted the best food in the world. The restaurant also had a research and development team, which Wagner worked with.
“They are always looking for what’s new,” Wagner said. “They develop new dishes with new ingredients and do a dish over 20 times to tweak it just a little every time.”
He said that his favorite research finding was adding a certain ingredient to a chicken’s diet flavors their meat. When he was assisting the head chefs in this project, he said the seaweed fed one was the best. He said there was an irresistible greenness flavor to the meat.
Noma won first place on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which is sponsored by S. Pellgrino and Acqua Panna water. Wagner said that chefs, reporters, and regular restaurant goers vote for the best by the region they are from.