Chef Nicole Van Camp: Texas Weather Can Make Bringing the Farm to the Table Hard
When Nicole Van Camp was 15 years old, she decided to become a vegetarian based on the grounds of animal cruelty. But she lived in highly carnivorous Carrollton. Unless she wanted to starve, she had to learn to cook. She quickly fell in love with her new life-sustaining hobby. And although she learned about humane ways to raise livestock, she still prefers to stay vegetarian, mostly based on texture.
Lauren Drewes Daniels Chef Nicole Van Camp at Secret Supper Club
Currently she hosts Chef Nicole's Secret Supper Club in Deep Ellum on Saturday nights, where she uses mostly local, organic ingredients to create a seven-course meal for 18 people. We spoke with her to learn more about the farm-to-table movement and her thoughts on how Dallas is receiving the trend.
What was your first job in a restaurant?
When I was in culinary school in San Francisco, I worked at a bar and restaurant that was right next to the Giants' ballpark and I was the prep cook, line cook and the dishwasher. I was the only one there during lunch. Then when I came back to Dallas, I did my externship for three months with Chef Marc Cassel at the Green Room.
You worked at Bolsa for a while, then started doing pop-up dinners. What made you choose that route?
Well, it was an idea that I had before, but just didn't know how to go about it. Then, I met Chef DAT and staged with him one night and I loved the way it all worked out. I liked what he did even though his was more like a party, which is good because that's what some people want. But I had a different idea, so that's why I branched off because I really wanted to focus on sourcing local and using organic ingredients.
How did you get involved in the farm-to-table movement?
I think the biggest reason I moved on to local and organic was because I was a corporate trainer at BJ's Brewhouse and I helped them open nine restaurants. But it wasn't cooking. Everything was opened from a can or a bag. Then I worked with Graham Dodds at Bolsa and learned a lot about using local sources.
Do you visit many of the farms whose produce you use?
I volunteer and work at some. I really have always wanted to learn more about farming just for the pure fact that we should know where our food comes from. When produce comes from a big company, there are usually a lot of chemicals on it, it's not high quality and it doesn't even taste the same. And you don't even know who has touched it. I like knowing all my farmers and everyone who has handled the produce. They show me what they do, so I make sure they're not using any harsh chemicals.