Tom Van Lente
After gaining national recognition at the Bib Gourmand-honored TWO and the renowned taco mecca, Big Star, Tom Van Lente is back to the imaginative, ingredient-driven culinary style that earned him a Jean Banchet Rising Chef of the Year nomination in 2013. At White Oak, Van Lente is focused on delivering an approachable, “refined rustic” tavern experience that is neighborhood centric at its core.
According to Chef’s vision, White Oak aims to be the quintessential neighborhood-gathering place; a spot where a group of friends can come in on a Wednesday for drinks and small plates, then couples can return on a Saturday for an “affordable” date night meal. His menu is streamlined so that the four or five ingredients that appear under each dish description are pretty much everything that make up the recipe. Simple and straightforward, yet seasonal and seductive.
Van Lente believes that being a part of a small team and handcrafting great food is something all cooks seek at some point in their career. White Oak gives him the opportunity to put his heart and soul into the food and to connect with guests at the same time. The chef-driven neighborhood tavern also gives Van Lente another outlet to utilize his strong connection to local farmers and purveyors, a core philosophy that owners Lynn and John Manilow have adhered to since launching the scratch kitchen in December 2014. Van Lente invites his Lincoln Park neighbors to come in time after time to experience creative new dishes, rare bourbons, small batch beers, and most importantly, the same superior service and quality food that they are used to and should expect.
Previous to White Oak Tavern & Inn:
As the chef de cuisine for One Off Hospitality’s Big Star, Tom Van Lente oversaw the execution of all food from three outlets: Big Star restaurant, to-go window, and catering. He enforced record-high consistency at the nationally renowned Mexican eatery and whiskey bar, producing 7,000 to 8,000 tacos/menu items daily. As the opening executive chef of the Bib Gourmand-honored and Jean Banchet Award-nominated best new restaurant, TWO, Van Lente showcased midwestern ingredients at their prime. For him, it’s all about seasonality, sustainability, and making everything from scratch—no walk-in cooler, can-opener, or shortcuts in his kitchen. The chef sourced the best products available from local farms, allowing them to shine on the plate by cooking them with respect and not overpowering their flavors.
Van Lente pursued his love of cooking after graduating from Chicago’s DePaul University with a B.A. in public communications. He went on to attain his culinary arts degree Kendall College in Chicago. His rise up the culinary ladder in the Windy City began at Landmark, a Boka Restaurant Group institution at which he started as prep cook before becoming sous chef. Van Lente also worked as chef de cuisine at Flatwater, followed by executive chef at Westend Bar and Grill, at which he worked for two memorable years before opening TWO, then signing on at Big Star a few years thereafter. Van Lente lives in Chicago with his wife, Shannon, and their son, Benson.