Concept Chef Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social

Concept Chef Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social
April 2011

At Chef Jared Van Camp’s restaurant-cum-sports bar Old Town Social in Chicago, and his luxury dive bar Quality Social in San Diego, he and his team craft all menu items on the premises. And although Van Camp confesses to “fervent” pork love, it doesn’t bother this affable Chicago chef that guests may not know that only local, organic pigs make the cut for his acclaimed in-house charcuterie program. According to Van Camp, at the concept’s core lies “local, savory, and delectable bar food … offered at a price that is easy on the pocketbook.”

After graduating in 2000 from Johnson & Wales University with an AAS in Culinary Arts, Illinois native Van Camp worked in Charleston, South Carolina, before returning to Chicago to work under Paul Kahan at Blackbird and under Rick Tramonto at Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood. Stages at wd~50 and Craft in New York City and Charlie Trotter’s, Everest, and Trio in Chicago also helped shape his maturing craft.

In 2009, following the opening of the Social concept, Time Out Chicago named Van Camp one of “The 10 Most Important Chefs Right Now.” He has since received a number of accolades, including “Best Charcuterie” in 2010 from San Diego Magazine and Chicago Magazine, “Favorite Chef of the Year” in San Diego 944 Magazine, and 2010’s “Best New Chef in Chicago” from Time Out Chicago’s Eat Out Reader’s Choice Awards.

Seasoned chef and savvy businessman, Van Camp’s wages a porcine-tattooed (he bears the tattoo of an English butchers’ diagram on his right forearm) and toqued campaign to produce “food that is handmade and good, unpretentious, blue collar in spirit, seasonal, and uses the freshest of high-quality ingredients”—at bars to boot.

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

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.

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