Big Star needs a new chef. After eight months, chef de cuisine Tom Van Lente's moving on, this time to White Oak Tavern & Inn, leaving the rowdy world of tacos and whiskey in Wicker Park for a more tranquil dining environment near DePaul that focuses on cheffy hyperlocal Midwestern fare. Before Big Star, Van Lente opened TWO as executive chef.
"I just wanted to get back to hand-crafted food, having the ability to change things," Van Lente said, adding that while he loved working at One Off Hospitality, that he felt it was time to leave the corporate food world. He and his wife just had their first child two weeks ago.
One Off offered no comment on Van Lente's departure. It took the group two months of searching before hiring Van Lente after Cary Taylor left Big Star in December 2014. The Tribune first reported Van Lente's move.
White Oak's opening chef, Alinea vet John Asbaty, left in August after his own eight-month stint, but there's still no news on his unnamed new project. In the interim, Scott Weisner —White Oak's sous chef— filled the executive chef's role. He's no longer with White Oak.
Van Lente will start at White Oak on Nov. 10, and will slowly add new menu items. There will be big changes, but that won't happen overnight, Van Lente said. He'll take customer feedback, as menu stalwarts like the crispy pork starter will remain. The changes won't come at the expense of White Oak's neighborhood feel, as Van Lente wants to ensure that he'll only bolster the restaurant's strengths.
This is bit of a homecoming for the suburban Burr Ridge native, as he earned a B.A. in public communications at nearby DePaul University before pursuing culinary arts at Kendall College.