"Don't worry, it's not going to change that much, you don't have to worry about some crazy lady taking over," Chrissy Camba laughs about the news last week that she would be taking over as chef of Vincent, Chicago's only Dutch restaurant. That's because she's been the chef de cuisine since it opened— "even before, I was in here painting the walls and stuff like that," she says. Executive chef and owner Joncarl Lachman, who also owns HB Home Bistro and whose Dutch heritage originally drove the concept, is leaving ownership and management of the restaurant in mid-November to return to HB Home Bistro and to consider other projects in his native Philadelphia. But Lachman told us he couldn't be happier about leaving Vincent in her hands— "Chrissy rocks," he said. "I met her at a Starbucks and she came to cook at HB and I've been a fan of hers ever since." We spoke with Camba about life as the Filipino chef of a Dutch restaurant in Andersonville.
What's your background?
My background, actually, is that I got a degree in biology at DePaul. And then I didn't know what I wanted to do, I didn't want to go into medicine and take the MCATs. So I worked at Starbucks for a year, doing nothing— which was great. And I baked a lot, and really got into doing structured cakes. I did a couple of them for weddings, but then I decided I didn't like that, it was too nerve-wracking. So I heard about a cooking job at HB about six years ago, and Joncarl hired me, and I've been cooking ever since— at a place called Sage Grill in Highland Park/Highwood, at Duchamp and, oh, Bin 36 and now here.
Do you do pastry, too?
A little, but I prefer savory. The owner who's most involved in the business, Michael Bransford, he actually does the desserts.
So did you know anything about Dutch food when you started?
Not really. I thought it was all, like, mooshy potatoes and stuff. They actually sent me to the Netherlands— which it was like their winter there, so it was snow here and snow there then, kind of a crappy vacation (laughs). But I had reservations at all these places and so I really got to know how Dutch food should be. And also Indonesian food, since that's the ethnic cuisine there.
Is that on the menu too?
There's some— we have sambal mussels, and some Indonesian spiced pork ribs. Sometimes we get people in here who look at that and go, what's that doing here? And we have to explain that it's part of Dutch cuisine, too.
The thing is, we're not a strict Dutch restaurant— we're a New American restaurant with a Dutch focus. That was my question when all this started, that we weren't going to become a Dutch-Italian-Mexican-fusion restaurant now. But it's cool, we're still Dutch.
The only thing that's changing is that, later this week I'll start our winter menu, because of the farmers. We buy a lot from Green Acres and Seedlings at the markets, and of course that's changing now, the market is closed on Wednesdays. So it's going to be a lot of braised meats. I'm making pork and beans— this is actually kind of like a Filipino dish, but it'll be a braised pork knuckle with a crispy fried outside and beans, it's really good.
Sounds kind of like cassoulet.
Yeah, but we did a cassoulet last year and I don't want to repeat that. And I'm making apple cider and foie doughnuts. Things aren't changing that much. It's pretty much what I've been doing all along.