Tom Van Lente’s energy and experience with high volume restaurants makes him perfectly suited to Big Star, Wicker Park’s taqueria and honky-tonk bar.
A Burr Ridge, IL native, Van Lente was born into a family passionate about food and business. Van Lente was reared in the art of hospitality, the foundation of which was laid by his mother who instilled the importance of work ethic and compassion. His grandparents were also a steady influence, as owners of the legendary Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, IL. It was there, working alongside his grandparents, that he hosted banquets requiring extensive and large scale food preparation.
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 from 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. Next, Van Lente worked as chef de cuisine at Flatwater, followed by executive chef at Westend Bar and Grill. In August of 2012, Van Lente opened TWO, leading the team to great success and acclaim. As executive chef, Van Lente further honed his managerial skills and continued to push his culinary boundaries.
After two and a half years, and ready for change, Van Lente joined One Off Hospitality Group as Big Star’s chef de cuisine. In his current post, Van Lente harnesses the breadth of traditional Mexican street food, while continuing to grow the Big Star brand.
Van Lente lives in Chicago with his wife, Shannon. In his spare time, the diehard Blackhawks fan enjoys cooking for his wife and playing with his dogs- Piper and Mr. Bananas.