Chef's Q & A: Charles 'Chas' Milner

Nacho Mama's

599 S Collier Blvd,, Marco

Charles “Chas” Milner

Head Chef

Nacho Mama’s

599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Walk. Phone: 389-2222. Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven day a week;

Began working at present restaurant?

In 2001 at the first Nacho Mama’s and continued here at the expanded Nacho Mama’s since it opened almost 3 years ago. I’ve been with Eric eight years.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?

Actually, by accident helping out at a friend’s restaurant when their chef quit — that was in 1975 — I worked there 14 years at Jim and Edie’s in Isles of Capri. That location later became Nick’s Backwater. Then I just kept on cooking, learning and refining my cooking skills at the Café de Marco for six years and the Snook Inn for seven years until I began working for Eric in 2001.

What was your first restaurant job?

Jim and Edie’s, where the chef quit, I was there 14 years, and then I wanted to expand my horizons so I went to work at the Café de Marco for six years where Chef Dick Scheeler took me under his wing. I learned a lot from him, he was a wonderful chef.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

Seems like a lifetime but really 39 years. I’ve been on the island since 1972 right out of high school in Hopeston, Ill. I like spring, summer and fall. A friend from high school told me how nice the weather was on Marco Island, I came down to see and stayed.

Do food trends affect your cooking style?

My specialty is fresh seafood, and was taught to cook it right by a Florida Cracker. You can’t be any trendier than that!

Are you planning changes to your menu for the new season?

We recently upscaled our regular menu and we stay current with our daily specials: one of our newest is Grouper Cozumel, it’s very tasty and the customers really liked it so I’ll be featuring it often.

What’s your most popular dish?

That’s probably Nacho Grande, “our signature item” with beef or chicken chili, and our quesadillas. We have a great variety with a choice six different combinations, is another customer favorite. We also offer an American Fare sandwich menu that offers familiar favorites and a Little Jalapeno’s kid’s menu for the 12 and under crowd.

What is your favorite food?

To misquote a famous chef — it’s whatever I happen to be eating at the time.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your pantry?

I’m single, but I usually cook something fresh and fast. If I have friends over, I like to cook something on the grill, like fresh seafood or maybe a steak.

What is your secret ingredient? Why?

Fresh garlic and Mexican cilantro because you can’t beat the flavor rush you get with those two simple ingredients!

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a chef?

I’ve always wanted to be a baseball player. A long time ago I played center field for the local American Legion-sponsored baseball team. But I can’t complain, I really enjoy what I’m doing now.

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

Re-stocking, because I do the ordering for the kitchen! You know, someone using something up and leaving the empty box there.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I guess knowing that people enjoy eating your cooking. We get a lot of people at Nacho Mama’s that ask their server to say “My complements to the chef!”

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