Villa Harlequin executive chef Colin Nunez says he remembers his mother dressing him up as a chef for career day at his elementary school when he was 8.
But it wasn’t until he was an adult living on his own that he actually thought about a career as a chef.
“I realized I really liked cooking, and I was decent at it” he says. “I started trying to get my foot in the door of the industry.”
While working as a butcher in the meat department at Sam’s, he attended Sowela for a few semesters. “It just wasn’t doing much for me,” he says. He left Sowela, but continued learning. He says he learned a great deal from Food Network cooking shows, in particular Alton Brown’s Good Eats.
He got a major foot in that proverbial door when a good friend got him a position at Restaurant Calla as a line cook in 2015, when the restaurant had only been open a month or so. He worked there under chef David Sorrells, who, says Nunez, “taught me more about cooking and the restaurant industry than anyone else could have.” In fact, Nunez says, Sorrells is “a big reason I’ve stuck with (cooking) this long.”
He also credits his daughter, Hannah, and his girlfriend, Ashley, for his longevity in the business. And he also thanks Villa Harlequin owners Mike and Brenda Sperandeo for their help. “They’ve been the best people I’ve ever worked for,” he says. Nunez had worked his way up to a position as sous chef when Calla closed. It eventually reopened, but “it was much different than it had been,” he says.
He worked at 1910 for a while, then was offered a position as sous chef at Villa Harlequin, shortly after the Villa merged with Harlequin. “They needed more people to keep up with all the new business they were getting,” he says.
When Villa Harlequin executive chef Amanda Cusey left in October of 2022, Nunez replaced her as head chef.
Nunez says he loves being able to please people with his skills and creativity in the kitchen.
“I love the feeling I get when I hand someone food I’ve cooked and watch them truly enjoy it. I love being able to tell by the expression on their face that they’re not just saying they like it to be polite, they really do like it.”
But it’s not just the satisfaction of pleasing those he cooks for that keeps him going. He loves the intensity of a busy restaurant kitchen.
“I love it when it’s busy and I focus only on the pan in front of me. It’s cathartic, and it’s rewarding when everything goes smoothly.”
Nunez says that his inspiration and guide when deciding on menu items and specials is availability. “I also take inspiration from food I’ve had in the past.”
He also sources ingredients locally whenever he can.
“I have a few friends at Helen Street Bakehouse, so it makes sense to get bread for sandwiches from them. Sometimes I get fresh pasta from Pasta Lab for weekend specials. I want the restaurant industry in Lake Charles to be able to work with each other rather than just compete.”
If pressed to name a favorite ingredient to work with, Nunez says that poblano peppers could be called his go-to.
“In so many recipes, I sub them for bell peppers, and I love it.”
While that young boy who dressed as a chef for career day did indeed end up behind the kitchen doors of one of the most popular restaurants in the area, Nunez says the profession isn’t for everyone, and it involves much more than a love of cooking.
“You can love cooking in your home,” he says. “Don’t get into cooking professionally just because you love cooking. Do it because you love a difficult, high-intensity, rewarding job where you have to work as a team with others.”
It’s a job for someone, like him, who “hates the thought of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day.”