When Jane Chatham thinks back on some of her most foundational culinary experiences, she immediately goes back to her childhood home in a small village in the Philippines. Though her mom made her living as a laundress, she'd supplement the family's income by offering food to people who passed by their home. There was always a massive pot on the stove, and Chatham would help her mom serve whatever food they could produce from their front doorstep. It may have been humble fare, but Chatham recalls her family instilling in her the importance of always offering something to eat or drink, no matter how humble it was.
"I grew up poor, but for us, food was always this thing we could give," Chatham explains. "There was always something on the table for lunch and for dinner, and our house was open to extended relatives. People would always come over to our house, and we would share what we had. Even boiling hot water for instant coffee was a big thing because gas is so expensive. My parents were very hardworking people, and I have learned from them."
As the newly-minted chef de cuisine at Vicia (4260 Forest Park Avenue, 314-553-9239), Chatham is drawing upon that tradition of hospitality for guests at the acclaimed restaurant. A talented chef who got into professional cooking after moving to St. Louis thirteen years ago, Chatham began her career at Vicia as a line cook when the restaurant opened in 2017. Since then, she has grown professionally as the restaurant has grown, and she is eager to help owners Michael and Tara Gallina, as well as executive chef Aaron Martinez, with many new projects they have on deck. As this new role cements her leadership position within the company, she sees herself as instrumental in helping to shape the restaurant's present and future.
When Chatham thinks back to how far she's come in her culinary career since helping out in her childhood home, she feels immensely grateful. Though she's always enjoyed cooking, she never realized she would make a career out of it until after she married a St. Louis native and left her home in the Philippines so they could settle close to his family. Chatham enjoyed life in her adopted city, but she found herself craving traditional Filipino food and began cooking more at home. Eventually, she parlayed that interest into cooking jobs around town, and those gigs inspired her to pursue culinary training at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.
After graduating from culinary school Chatham worked for Robust Wine Bar and Reeds American Table before joining Vicia. She clearly remembers her first encounter with the Gallinas and recalls being immediately impressed with they way the husband and wife worked together, as well as their hospitality philosophy. Eager to be a part of their team, she signed on as a line cook and worked her way up the ranks over the years, working alongside Gallina and Martinez in the kitchen and taking on a variety of tasks, including whole animal butchery for the restaurant.
As chef de cuisine, Chatham will continue that work as she takes on responsibility for all back of house operations. She's also excited to serve as a bridge between the restaurant's cooks and executive team, a vital role that makes her instrumental in translating the Gallina's and Martinez's vision to the plate. Chatham admits it's a big step, and one she finds incredibly humbling, but she knows she is up to the task and looks forward to using her role to show the Vicia team, as well as her adopted city, how grateful she is for helping her realize her culinary potential.
"St. Louis has been great to me," Chatham says. "I love to stay at a place where I can see myself growing and learning more and more every day, and I have found that in the Gallinas."