Chad Wells, corporate chef for Victoria Restaurant Group, talks about his career and the long-awaited Food Plenty in Clarksville, the third and largest restaurant the group has opened. Food Plenty serves seasonally influenced comfort food, like beef carpaccio with Appalachian cheese or a shrimp and grits with smoked turkey collard greens. It’s a concept in which Wells has a lot of confidence.
How is working in the new space?
This kitchen is a dream to work in. Some of us are lucky and we get to do something that we love every day. That’s the situation I’m in. This is in my blood.
Food Plenty takes its inspiration from owner Tori Marriner’s childhood experiences on a farm. Is this something that you can relate to?
Honestly, I can relate to all of it. My grandparents had a farm in Maryland when I was kid. I remember going over there. … There was a bug zapper and my grandmother made me pick green beans. I want the food here to achieve the same comforting food that my grandmother’s food did for me. I’m not a very fancy person. I think that cooking always goes in a circle — you end up where you started. It’s about going back to that. … That’s what I’m trying to push forward here.
What is your go-to food?
I have a pizza obsession. I don’t know where it came from. Since he was old enough to eat adult food, my son just loves pizza. I have pizza tattoos. My son and I both have shoes with pizza pies all over them. I dove into it hard when we opened Manor Hill Tavern. If my day is really, really stressful, I can just disappear over to the [Manor Hill Tavern] pizza station for a little while, clear my head and get back to it.
What is your role with all three restaurants, Victoria Gastro Pub, Manor Hill Tavern and now Food Plenty?
I’m a very hands-on person. I think a lot of people, when they come into a corporate role, kind of take their hands away and just go sit in the office and do a lot of office work. That’s never going to be me. I like to work with people as opposed to having them work for me. I like for everybody to have input.
What’s your job like outside of the kitchen?
We try to work with as many smaller producers as we can. I spend a lot of time researching. We do farm visits. I like to see the entire process as much as possible. I like to know that things are done responsibly and ethically, especially meat and seafood. Seafood is a big one with me, as far as using sustainable practices.
Speaking of farms …
The best part of this job, at the end of day, is that we have [Manor Hill Farm in Ellicott City]. We’re really going to be able to shine in the spring and summer — not only with the farm, but with the greenhouse we have outside. We’re going to position ourselves to be very strong with seasonal and local ingredients here.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
Anything that’s new and presents a challenge, but I really like seafood. It’s always been the thing that drives me the most. I don’t think there’s any better food than just an oyster or a piece of fish. I fish in my personal life. We are a fishing family, for sure.
You were a musician before you were a chef?
Yeah. I did not take this seriously until one day I realized that I should. I lost a friend that was a chef. We got into this field originally because we were like, “All right, how are we gonna play punk
rock without any money?” I started working to fund my music. It took a lot of pushing, some pretty poor circumstances and a bit of soul-searching to realize, “Oh, I can really do something with my life by cooking.”