Top Chefs

06 Sep 2023

Circa 1886

Marc Collins, Executive Chef

By Emily Shiffer

Growing up, Executive Chef Marc Collins of Circa 1886 Restaurant had dreams far away from the culinary world. He joined the JROTC in ninth grade with the hope of becoming a jet pilot for the United States Air Force. But after learning that the role required perfect vision, he started exploring other career options. 

“That summer, my father helped me secure a job on The Paradise II yacht, the sister ship to President Kennedy's yacht, the Sequoia,” he says. “During my time on the yacht, I learned various cooking and serving techniques from the chef.”

After attending vocational technical school for Culinary Arts in tenth grade, his teacher recognized he had natural talent and advised him to take the classes seriously. 

“With no concrete plans, I continued with the course and worked as a dishwasher, baker and line cook in high school,” he says. Chef David Spadafore, a gold medalist in the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, took Collins under his wing and taught him fine dining at the Erie Club in Erie, PA.

He attended the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, PA, and earned his Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts. Following years of work in restaurants, he became the Executive Chef of Circa 1886 in June 2001. 

“We have strived to continuously evolve our restaurant by not conforming to one particular style but by using food to create thought-provoking experiences for our customers,” says Collins. “Our restaurant stands out for its atmosphere, location and longevity. Additionally, we offer two tasting menus on our current menu, allowing diners to experience a wide variety of flavors in one evening.”

Creating unique and inspiring dishes is his goal, and he notes that the restaurant's popular wild antelope dish will soon make its way back.

“Our entire team works diligently to make a memorable dining experience, one that you want to tell your friends and family about,” says Collins.


Nick’s German Kitchen

Nick Ruhotina, Executive Chef

By Emily Shiffer

Photo by Aleece Sophia

Nick Ruhotina grew up in Europe, where he started his vocational training in restaurant management.

“I was actually a late starter to the kitchen side of things,” he says. “I worked my way up the restaurant ranks as server, maitre'd and then restaurant manager of a large high volume German brew pub establishment.”

In 2004, he opened his first restaurant, Mezzo, in Darmstadt, Germany, a “tiny restaurant” where he only employed one chef. 

“I was responsible for menu creation because even then I had very definite ideas about what I wanted to serve in my restaurant,” he says. 

He worked front of house, but eventually wanted a part in preparation and cooking.

“I completed a second vocational training as ‘Küchenmeister’ (German chef training) and started supporting my kitchen team daily,” says Ruhotina. “Working side by side with good chefs and perfecting the fundamentals of classic European dishes, I was finally able to create the dishes that I had previously only envisioned in my mind.”

He opened his current restaurant in 2019, first naming it Mezzo European Cuisine. The restaurant combines Ruhotina’s love of Italian and German cuisines. At the time there was not a demand for German food.

“With time we noticed that our guests were seeking German dishes, in particular our ‘Schnitzel Nights’ on Tuesdays and Wednesdays were always sold out,” he says.

After the restaurant made it through COVID, he decided to rebrand the restaurant as Nick’s German Kitchen with a focus solely on modern German dishes. 

“The reception has been amazing and I have loved being able to serve real German classics, even the ones I think might not fit the American palate,” he says. “I’m amazed time and time again how open Charleston is for new experiences. Diners here love to embrace culinary diversity.”

One of Ruhotina’s favorite dishes to serve is called Schweinshaxe, a skin-on pork shank baked until very crunchy. 

“This particular cut of meat is hard to find on a regular basis, but we usually get it in the fall,” he says. “I enjoy taking simple dishes and making them just surprisingly delicious. It's gratifying to hear people talking about how they love the red cabbage or our creamy sauerkraut. These are simple dishes that people don’t usually get excited about.”

Passion remains the center of his cooking.

I always say that you have to cook with passion, and although you can teach anyone to follow a recipe, you cannot teach everyone to cook with passion,” says Ruhotina. “‘Essen gut, alles gut!’ This is our motto and loosely translated means that if the food is good, then all is good.”


Peninsula Grill

Caleb Hulsey, Executive Chef

By Emily Shiffer

Caleb Hulsey is a hometown chef who has stayed true to his hometown roots after his father sparked his curiosity about food. He started in the hospitality industry in 2002 at a quaint restaurant on Sullivan’s Island called Atlanticville. 

“I spent about 12 years there working my way up the line, pulling all the knowledge I could from the pool of talent,” he says. 

He attended two years of culinary school while at Wando High School under a Johnson Wales instructor, who fueled his culinary career. 

In March 2021, he started at Peninsula Grill. “Peninsula Grill sets itself apart from other restaurants in the area not only with our cuisine and timely decor, but we also strive to maintain top standards and professionalism with our staff,” he says. “We work to give each guest that walks through our doors an experience they will never forget.” 

Open since 1997, Hulsey notes that the chefs before him helped create “the exquisite experience you get when you dine at Peninsula Grill.” He adds, “I am excited and honored to continue creating magical memories for the people of Charleston.”

Menu highlights for Hulsey revolve around seasonal dishes. 

“Currently our menu is full of excitement for my staff and I,” he says. “We rotate our menu seasonally. This keeps the team's passion alive, while giving the guest the best local ingredients available.”  

His favorite on the menu? The lamb chop.

“We trim it down to one bone to a ‘Charleston Chop,’ pair it with mint jus, roasted root vegetables, English pea and Lamb Chopper cheese,” he says. And for dessert? Hulsey recommends the restaurant’s famous 12-layer Coconut Cake.

He adds that the Peninsula Grill’s café next door, Benne’s, recently celebrated its first anniversary.

“It’s a great place to pop in for a coffee and a slice of cake,” he says.


Swamp Fox at Francis Marion Hotel

Heyward Davis, Executive Chef

By Emily Shiffer

Heyward Davis originally saw his future on the golf course, not in the kitchen. The executive chef of Swamp Fox at the Francis Marion Hotel went to school for horticulture and landscape design to work on golf courses. But his path shifted after moving to Charleston in 1999.

“I started working in restaurants downtown Charleston and immediately fell in love (with cooking). I was hooked,” he says. “The camaraderie. The energy. The flow of service. The people. Everything just fascinated me.”

He took time off from college and traveled, working in kitchens and resorts around the country. He took over his first kitchen back in 2002 on Folly Beach before investing in his own small restaurant that ultimately closed. He later attended culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona, which led to work with Major League Baseball in California. In his own words, he said he did “everything backwards.”

After making his way back east to Asheville, North Carolina, he landed back in South Carolina at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Yet an opportunity to be a part of the Grand Bohemian Hotel opening in Charleston brought him back to the Holy City. With the hotel’s restaurant established, he was transferred to Savannah, Georgia in 2017, until a position was offered to take over Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina restaurant in 2019. 

He then got a call from the Swamp Fox restaurant at the Francis Marion Hotel, where former executive chef of 23 years Simon Andrews was set to retire. Davis “took the leap,” and focused on working with seasonal produce and sustainable seafood.

“We started sourcing everything local as much as possible, really supporting farmers and fishermen,” says Davis. He notes that shrimp & grits are a dish patrons come back for time and time again.

The Francis Marion Hotel will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in February 2024, something Davis looks forward to helping with by creating a special menu—his “creative outlet”, that will feature Lowcountry cuisine at its finest.

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