Interview with Chef Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social - Chicago IL

April 2011

Jessica Dukes:Tell us about your concepts. What links them?

Jared Van Camp: The common denominator is that we have a bar. Quality Social [in San Diego] is different in regards to design and feel. We wanted to do Quality Social right away after Old Town opened.

JD: Why the move to San Diego?

JVC: We wanted to get into a secondary hospitality market. We have a partner here, and Chris Dexter was working with smaller partner that was already established out there. We wanted to get a second one off the ground in the first year, get it rolling and develop a larger company.

JD: How would you describe the concept?

JVC: It’s a luxury take on a dive bar. We want to sit down at a shithole dive bar, but we like a clean place and good food, and we like design, too. Instead of opening a place and seeing it do well and then deciding, we knew we wanted to do multiple concepts, and do them the right way.

JD: Tell me about your product at Old Town Social.

JVC: We go to great lengths to use all local animals. We are the only people in Chicago that can legally bring in whole animals and cure them above 40 degrees.

JD: When did you get into charcuterie?

JVC: I got into charcuterie early in my career. We do 30 types of charcuterie in house.

JD: What’s your favorite item?

JVC: Sopressata. It's different everywhere in Italy. This is a Calabrian Sopressata with Calabrian peppers.

JD: As a chef you've crafted your talents among some of the local greats, which is maybe why your concepts have such backbone. For instance, you listed Paul Kahan as a mentor. Tell us what you learned from him.

JVC: Paul’s a huge influence, without a doubt. I’d be wrong if I said that I didn’t draw on my inspiration from Paul at some point; I was a sous chef at Blackbird. I worked there for four years. You’re pushed beyond belief. Your pushed so hard you gain some ground on your own. Paul’s sensibility of food is amazing. He’s a great talent. He’ll take a fish someone brings to him, elevate it, and focus on the concept. He’s bare bones and really good; he’ll make incredible sensibility of focus within a concept.

JD: What about Rick Tramonto? What did you take from working with him that you utilize now, in your current operations?

JVC: I still talk to Rick quite a bit. Working with Rick opened my eyes up a lot more; it brought in that other aspect, the profits and losses, working on the books, seeing the marketing side of it, traveling the country, etc. I drew on that experience quite a bit. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do multiple concepts at the same time without having worked with him.

JD: What about your experiences at Charlie Trotter’s and Everest, bastions of Chicago fine dining?

JVC: I staged at Charlie Trotter’s just a week. Paul’s is a rock and roll kitchen, the music is always on. I’m a music junkie, an audiophile, and vinyl junky. I expected the antithesis of that at Charlie Trotter’s. It’s very rigorous. You put your head down and don’t talk, admire from afar.

JD: And Everest?

JVC: A little more chill but not too much. There wasn’t music; the guys talked a lot. Still it had that level of refinement. It was definitely “put your head down and work.” Wylie on the other hand, that was a kitchen [at wd-50]—an extremely serious level of technique and refinement; all the cooks were awesome. They were badasses. I was only there for a week.

JD: How do you run your kitchens? Is it structured?

JVC: Don’t call me chef. Call me Jared. I think you can have the level of a brigade without it being this forced military regime. I want them to cook, work their asses off, and learn refinement.