Do you want to enjoy the sunshine on the deck in the summertime? Warm up by an outdoor fire pit on a cool fall night? Watch a big game on one of many high-def TV’s, all while drinking from one of the largest and best craft beer draft lists in town? Meet Chad Vetter, executive chef at City Tap House University City, where you can do all of the above and more, just off the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I first met chef Vetter at a media luncheon for Boulevard Brewery. While I had enjoying my many dining experiences at City Tap House over the years, I was blown away by how much effort and enthusiasm chef Vetter put into pairing exceptional dishes — like oat-crusted sweet breads with white BBQ sauce, bacon brittle and radicchio — with different beers for each course. He communicated this energy with great passion when introducing each course, and the food itself was equally impressive. A few months later, chef Vetter was the chef for an exceptional Sam Adams dinner, where we dined on, among many dishes, pork belly, pork rillettes, oxtail, smoked hedgehog mushroom flan and even cheesecake “egg rolls!” Chef Vetter and I continue to cross paths in the Philadelphia food world at Brewer’s Plate and other food events around town. Recently, City Tap House University City’s executive chef Chad Vetter was kind enough to share his (Chocolate Covered) Memories with us …
How did you end up in this niche of the industry?
I got my first kitchen job while attending Clemson University at a place called TD’s, a sports bar and grill located right in the downtown area of Clemson. While the food was not challenging at this location, I was able to learn the most important skill I still possess today: running a well-oiled line while cooking for a high volume restaurant. I quickly fell in love with the high-stress, fast-paced environment that came with working in this kitchen. I went from a know-nothing, new line cook to a key player in the kitchen as well as the entire restaurant in a few months, working the line, expo’ing, running food when needed, hosting when needed, bar backing and eventually bartending. At that point, I became fully immersed in the Food and Beverage lifestyle — and loved it.
A couple summers later, I moved to Hilton Head Island with a bunch of fraternity brothers for the summer. I was planning on serving in Sea Pines Resort for the summer and returning to Clemson for the following fall. When my starting date to serve kept getting pushed back and money began to dwindle, rapidly (there’s a great night life on the island), I was able to secure a kitchen position helping to prep for the opening of a seasonal beach restaurant through a friend of a friend. This is where I got my first run at a scratch kitchen. After working a few days with my chef, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I worked hard all summer and once again found myself in a leadership role come the end of summer. My chef was promoted to the executive chef of Sea Pines flagship restaurant, The Quarterdeck, and accepted the position on the condition that I was brought on full time as his sous chef. Needless to say, what was meant to be a summer stint turned into a seven year run with Sea Pines Resort, rising through the ranks, eventually becoming the executive chef of Harbourtown Restaurants, overseeing five different Food and Beverage outlets.
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
Throughout high school and during college breaks, I worked at Peter Taylor Farmstead in Newtown, Pennsylvania. It was a vegetable and flower farm where I did everything from planting to picking. While this wasn’t necessarily in the Food and Beverage industry, I grew a great appreciation for farm fresh produce and learned an understanding of what it takes to get a final dish to the plate.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
My family has long been involved in hunting and fishing. So much of my childhood was spent consuming game that my dad, brother, uncle, grandfather or myself harvested. It wasn’t uncommon to find goose, deer, rabbits, squirrels, quail, pheasant or duck on the dinner plate.
Where does your love of food stem from?
I think deep down it comes from a want to entertain people. During high school, on trips to my cabin in the Poconos with buddies, I always enjoyed being the first one up, regardless of the amount of Keystone Lights consumed the night before, to cook pork roll egg and cheeses for everyone. Or hosting New Year’s Eve parties and cooking for twenty of my closest friends. The joy of watching someone take the first bite of something I created is still exciting to me today.
What foods remind you of childhood? What were your favorite foods growing up?
Stuffed Cabbage. I would go to my Babci’s (polish grandmother) at least once a month and have stuffed cabbage. To this day, when I see this dish, it puts me in my seat at my Babci’s dinner table.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
One memory that always sticks out to me was my unwillingness to eat goose. I was around 10 years old, and we would often have it in the fall, as that is when goose season is in, and I would always complain. After about two attempts, we had pot roast one night. While I was getting my third helping, my dad looked at me and said, “You’re really enjoying the pot roast tonight, huh, Chad?” To which I replied something to the affect that it was delicious. My dad said, “That’s good. It’s goose. I never want to here you complain about goose again.” I learned in that moment to never have a preconceived notion of what I was eating and to always try things at least once. From that moment on, I became a pretty adventurous eater.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I was never really a picky eater. However, I couldn’t stand deer liver growing up. My mom, dad and brother all loved deer liver sauteed up with bacon and onions. I could never stomach it. After several times of trying to eat it, not being able to stomach it and going to bed hungry, I think my parents finally realized I wasn’t being picky, I just didn’t like it. Now, I love the stuff. I will eat anything now and really have no lingering fears of food. One thing that has changed from when I was a child is probably my consumption of sweets. These days I would rather fill up on dinner than save room for dessert. It was probably the opposite when I was a kid.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside?
Growing up, the main thing that sticks out as something that I always ate outside is watermelon, sprinkled with salt, and tomato slices, sprinkled with sugar. I think we ate them outside just because they were messy, but they both occurred during the summer so it had a lot to do with the weather as well.
What do you think of the modern food world?
Currently, I think we are living in an incredible time for food. I think a lot of it has to do with the availability of a wide variety of ingredients, coupled with the extreme diversity of cultures we now see. The knowledge you can gain from watching someone from another country prepare one of their authentic dishes is priceless. Being open minded and understanding that there are many different ways and techniques to prepare one thing has been a great asset for me. I think people start to get in trouble with cooking when they begin to manipulate food too much rather than using fresh ingredients and letting those ingredients be the driving force of a dish. I always try to understand where an ingredient is coming from, how the people from that region would use it, what else grows or is harvested in that region and then create a dish that honors those traditions. It is a simplistic view on food, however some of the best things I have eaten are those things that are created with minimal preparations.
My wife is from Costa Rica and every time we travel there I am amazed at the amount of flavors I can taste in a dish that may have four ingredients in it. I always cook for her family and friends while I am there and use these principals while doing so. In a recent trip, after going to the farmers market, I slow roasted a pig. I purchased sugar cane at the farmer’s market, and prior to roasting the pig, I inserted sugar cane under the skin of the pig. When it was done, the sugar cane was like pork candy crack, and the meat had an incredible sweetness to it. The best thing was that nobody there had ever thought of doing this and were all amazed at seeing something new. In short, that is what cooking is about to me.
What family recipe do you want to share with us?
This is a recipe from my Babci, which she mailed to me to share. This dish and stuffed cabbages was what she made when we would go over for dinner, which I always loved. Enjoy my Babci’s American Chop Suey! Enjoy my Babci’s American Chop Suey!
City Tap House University City’s executive chef Chad Vetter is originally from Levittown, Pennsylvania and lived in South Carolina for twelve years, six of which were spent cooking in Hilton Head at Sea Pines Resort. Chad and his wife Lucy, who is from Costa Rica, have a 16-month old son, named Jack. Chad loves pork, and his father-in-law has a pig farm in Costa Rica.