Jared Van Camp just keeps the surprises coming for Nellcôte, the forthcoming West Loop follow up to Old Town Social. The restaurant's concept is inspired by the villa in the French Riviera where the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street. And now, Van Camp, known in Chicago as one of the foremost experts on charcuterie, will take his culinary prowess to a new level when he creates a craft cocktail program in the kitchen.
Last fall, while Van Camp and his partners held a cocktail summit at their San Diego restaurant, Quality Social, a group of high-profile mixologists attempted to create a shrimp stock for a Bloody Caesar. Van Camp had an epiphany, "It was an a-ha moment where chefs who've been cooking on the line for years could step up to do the fundamental base things," Van Camp said. "It's not a slight against mixologists. I was like, 'Why don't we do that in the kitchen?' We are trained to do that and are better prepared."
The Nellcôte kitchen will have a station dedicated to the craft cocktails, which can change daily based on available ingredients and inspiration. The drinks will appear alongside food on the dinner menu, where diners can generally select between seven to 10 cocktails that will be $10 or less. The chefs will create housemade bitters, preserves, sodas, seltzers, tonics and more to build out the cocktail program, which will see Van Camp pulling in the freshest ingredients possible. They'll make drinks like a Yellow Jacket (reposado tequila, St. Germain, yellow chartreuse, orange bitters); a Peach Swizzle (Flor de Cana rum, peach preserves, fresh ginger, mint, shaved ice); and the Mamie Taylor (Macallan blended scotch, fresh lime, ginger beer).
"This is the next step in the evolution of our group, and there will definitely be charcuterie sprinkled throughout," Van Camp said. "It's more about taking the notion of obsessive handmade cocktails and food and taking it to the next level."
If this program sounds similar to what Grant Achatz has created at Aviary, Van Camp said they've also gained inspiration from that project. The difference is that the drinks will be at a much lower price point. "[Grant's] a virtuoso and what he's doing is obviously revolutionary," he said. "Ours is a more common man's approach to the idea."
And don't worry: You'll still be able to order a traditional cocktail—whether it's a Sazerac or a simple vodka soda—from a bartender at the regular bar. "The one question we keep getting is, 'There won't be a bartender?' That's not it at all," he said. "The experience of sitting at bar and ordering a drink and getting it from a bartender is not something we want to take away at all. It frees up the bartender to have more interaction and return to the 'How was your day?' kind of thing."
Anyone interested in getting a sneak peek at what Van Camp will do at Nellcôte should get a ticket ($50) for this Sunday's tweetup hosted by Suzanne Ko of Sko-Fit. During the event on June 5, guests will sip on Fraise Sauvage cocktails (Death's Door vodka, housemade Klug farms strawberry cordial and champagne) and snack on passed apps before enjoying a three-course meal. The menu consists of items including duck meatballs; grilled bread with fresh housemade ricotta and pickled ramps; and a spaghetti with local lamb ragu served family style.
Van Camp looks at the cocktail program, and Nellcôte in general, as an evolution of his culinary experience. "One of the most exciting things in the industry is the ability to continute to learn and evolve," he said. "If you get bored, you're a moron. There's so much more to learn and do all the time."
· Sko-Fit Nellcôte Preview [tickets]