Chef Q&A: The Right Spice

Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK

COLLIN CLEMONS // Chef de Cuisine, 1540 Room

Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK

LESS THAN A YEAR since opening the 1540 Room, chef Collin Clemons has been named the city’s Best Chef. 

Here, the Ohio native — who has spent time in kitchens from Minneapolis to New Orleans to Austin — talks about reimagining the storied restaurant, located on the first floor of The DeSoto Savannah Hotel, and where he eats around town when he’s not at work.


ON TAKING THE HELM AT 1540 ROOM
I was at the Hyatt Regency Savannah when I met Lauren Teague, the director of food and beverage at The DeSoto, and we discussed the opportunity. The 1540 Room had been closed since COVID, and the team was excited to reopen and reinvent the space under a new concept. I was excited by the chance to flex my creative muscle — and to help bring the new vision for 1540 Room to life.


ON THE VISION FOR THE RESTAURANT
Hernando de Soto, for whom the hotel is named, was an explorer who came to what is now Georgia in 1540 — that’s where the restaurant gets its name. At the time, the world was dominated by the spice trade. We wanted to explore this idea of the spice trade bringing folks from one part of the world to another, while honoring the fact that Savannah is a port city that has been a destination for travelers and sailors from around the world for hundreds of years. Our idea was that the restaurant could be a gathering place that blended global flavors with local ingredients. 


ON THE DISHES THAT REFLECT THIS VISION
I’d like to say the whole menu, but I’ll call out a couple of dishes. The first is a merguez dish — lamb sausage from Morocco in North Africa. We get the lamb from 920 Cattle here in Georgia, and the dish is served with couscous and vegetables from Gannon Organics and other nearby farms. 

The pork pastilla is another plate that’s a bridge between two different worlds. Pastillas are a pastry typically served with lamb, fish or chicken. We put a local twist on it by using regional pork that’s flavored with Hawaij, a Yemeni spice blend made of turmeric, coriander and other spices.


ON DINING OUT AROUND TOWN
I love Bar Julian at the Thompson Savannah for bites and cocktails. I used to be at Big Bon Bodega just about every week. I usually get an everything bagel and a sandwich — The Pimento Pig, The 912 or whatever the special is. I’ve been a bit too busy lately, but I miss it and should make time in the mornings to get back there.


“I definitely want to keep pushing our creativity in the year ahead and to continue bringing more guests in to experience the new concept.” — Collin Clemons


ON WHAT HE IS MOST PROUD OF IN HIS FIRST YEAR — AND WHAT’S AHEAD
I’m most proud of getting this restaurant off the ground and going, and that we’ve gotten good feedback so far. It’s nice having an open kitchen — guests walk right up to you and tell you how they feel. I definitely want to keep pushing our creativity in the year ahead and to continue bringing more guests in to experience the new concept.


ON THE RISE OF HOTEL RESTAURANTS
The hotel restaurant has taken an interesting arc over the years. Forty years ago, all the nice restaurants were in hotels; 20 years ago, none of them were. But there’s been such a surge of boutique and lifestyle hotel brands investing in strong food and beverage programs, from Perry Lane Hotel to Thompson Savannah. So I’d encourage anyone still skeptical to keep an open mind. 

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