Emme Collins was born in Brazil and moved to Seattle when she was 6 years old. She grew up steeped in Afro-Brazilian culture — her family started what she says was Seattle’s first Brazilian restaurant, Tempero do Brasil, in the University District.
Later, Collins attended the Seattle Culinary Academy and worked at various restaurants in the area, including Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon, before striking out on her own as a private chef for celebrities like Eddie Vedder and Jamal Crawford and starting her catering company, Soul and Spice. She briefly took over and reimagined Tempero do Brasil as the upscale Alcove Dining Room in 2019, then started working as Seattle Public School’s executive chef later that year. In March, she started teaching online classes on how succeed as a chef.
Most recently, Collins competed on an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped,” and says the experience of competing against other chefs taught her to stay true to her Afro-Brazilian culinary roots. She says casters from the show reached out to her on Instagram and, after going through some interviews, she went to New Jersey for filming in April. On each episode of the popular show, which is in its 50th season, four chefs compete for $10,000 by making dishes with unusual combinations of ingredients unveiled in “mystery baskets.” Collins’ episode airs Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How are you feeling about being on “Chopped”?
Collins: Super excited! I have watched “Chopped” for a while — superfun show. I never thought of applying for some reason, so I was really excited when they had reached out. I’m really competitive so it was a really fun thing for me to do.
How long have you been watching “Chopped”?
Forever. I remember watching it in my younger days before going to culinary school and throughout culinary school as well.
What can you tell me about the experience filming the episode?
The three other competitors are superdope, amazing chefs. They’ve worked for notable chefs, and in Michelin-starred restaurants, so it was really intimidating walking in. But I feel like “Chopped” is really positive and lighthearted, so we all stay in touch, and we really bonded over that unique experience.
How has competing on “Chopped” changed things for you?
It was supernice to meet those other chefs and go up against them. It really made me look toward myself — who I am, who I am as a chef, the way I cook. I really tried to stay true to how I cook and what I cook, versus, you know, being intimidated and going with the fads out there and trying to keep up with what other chefs are doing. That has really changed for me since being on the show. I think it also definitely helps with creativity, being that the time goes by superquick and you really have to think fast on the fly and come up with full concepts fairly quickly, and plated nicely, for the judges. That was really awesome to have that experience. I feel like if I could do that, I can face any challenge with catering or cooking for my clients.
You say competing on “Chopped” helped you stay true to the way you cook. How would you describe the food you make?
I describe my food as “soulful cooking.” It’s getting back to my Afro-Brazilian roots. My family had a restaurant for a while in Seattle that I took over and did my own concept, which was like, “Afro-Brazilian Pacific Northwest.” It’s unique — not a lot of chefs have been born in Brazil and have that Afro-Brazilian heritage and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. So I’m embracing that uniqueness.
So would you say competing with other chefs helped you find your identity as a chef?
Yeah, because being a woman of color and not being a restaurant chef, sometimes, you talk to yourself like “you’re not good enough” or “you have to go that route of working in restaurants, working your way up, doing what everybody else is doing.” Being on the competition made me feel like that’s not the case, that where I shine and where everybody shines is when they stay true to themselves.