Jason Vincent’s path to cooking was an unlikely one. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he got a job as a dishwasher at a local Italian restaurant. Though it wasn’t a glamorous position, Vincent was drawn to the familiar regimen of the industry. On Monday nights, the chefs would shop for the staff meal; it was over these family-style dinners that Vincent glimpsed the behind-the-scenes processes that make a restaurant hum.
When cooking began to define his college years, Vincent decided to leave academia to pursue his passion at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating he worked for a stint at the renowned Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. It was here that Vincent learned how simple food could be expertly executed, and how intricate details could make or break a dish. A chance encounter with a famous chef made him realize he still had a lot to learn. “The chef told me, ‘After working here, you could rule the world.’ And I realized, I didn’t want to rule the world. I first had to learn every single thing I could about cooking.”
After Spain, Vincent returned to the United States, zigzagging across the country, eventually moving to Portland, Maine, to work as a line cook at the lauded Fore Street restaurant. Through his travels, Vincent met chefs he respected and connected with, and the emotional component of cooking became clearer. Eventually, Vincent settled in Chicago, where he was introduced to Jason Hammel, chef-owner of Lula Café, Nightwood’s sibling restaurant. After working together for four years, Hammel broached the subject of a second restaurant. Located in Chicago’s near-South Side Pilsen neighborhood, Nightwood advances Lula Café’s farm-to-table philosophy to the next degree. The menu changes daily, and is handwritten to reflect the ingredients that are available each day; the ever-evolving menu keeps Vincent on his toes.
Under Vincent’s leadership, Nightwood has earned the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand Award, was recognized on Bon Appétit magazine’s “10 Best Dishes of 2010” list and was named “Best Neighborhood Restaurant” by the Chicago Tribune in 2011. When Vincent isn’t working, he can be found at his home in Logan Square with his wife and newborn daughter.