Colin Nunez takes the helm at Villa Harlequin – American Press

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Colin Nunez takes the helm at Villa Harlequin

Published 11:21 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Don’t expect dramatic, overnight changes to the menu, but there will be signs, and maybe the aroma of garlic and good cheese wafting from the kitchen more so than in the past.  Villa Harlequin has a new executive chef at the helm, 33 year-old Monroe native and Lake Charles resident for the past 13 years, Colin Nunez. Regulars may have already sampled the chef’s subtle influence.

“I am finally finished with the new lunch menu,” Nunez said, “but I’m still working on the dinner menu.”

He said he’s taking it slow, a benefit to him and everyone else in the kitchen. Totally and immediately flipping a menu has consequences, not all good.

“I’m trying to bring more of the  Italian dishes back in, the ones we’ve gotten away from,” Nunez said.

The Villa and the Harlequin were two separate restaurants until about five years ago when two of the oldest restaurant family legacies in Lake Charles came together. The original Italian Villa on Ryan Street was opened by Mike Sperandeo’s father in 1986 before it moved into a new location in Downtown Lake Charles in 2017. Harlequin Steaks had been in the Lake Area since 1956. It was owned by Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter and his family before him.

The menu will not become pasta-centric, but the Italian cuisine will fill a fine dining market niche.  “Louisiana-centric” dishes are still comfortably situated in the mix and Nunez is working on a variety of dishes that do not fall neatly into either category.

Growing up, his dad was his inspiration to get in the kitchen. When he ventured out on his own, he realized just how much he enjoyed cooking, and began to challenge himself with more complicated dishes. He also picked up tips from cooking shows, and in particular from Good Eats hosted by Food Network star Alton Brown, a two-time James Beard award winner.

Nunez has seen Brown’s show live, and he likes it best because Brown not only takes the viewer through the recipe from start to finish, but also covers what could go wrong, how to guard against that happening and what to do if it does.

“Recipes aren’t always straightforward.

As a sous chef at Calla, he also learned “a ton” from David Sorrells.

High food prices continue to challenge households and restaurants to scrutinize every purchase.

“People have been complaining about rising food prices for the past 30 years,” Nunez said, “but it’s never been this drastic.”

It was at Calla that Nunez looked to less popular meat cuts and his experience as a butcher to develop his popular low and slow-cooked beef cheeks and gravy.

His daughter Hannah likes her father’s seared salmon best. His spaghetti runs a close second, and it gives him great joy to see her appreciation of anything he cooks. In fact, even though cooking is his profession – it’s work – he hasn’t lost that feeling of joy that comes from friends, family, co-workers and now Villa customers, who appreciate his food.

If he could ask anyone, living or not, to cook any meal for him, he’d want it to be the late Anthony Bourdain.

“I’m sure I’d love anything he wanted to make,” Nunez said.

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