Fearless Friday: Chef Charles Webb
Charles and I met at an event a little over a year ago. He was catering and whipping up gourmet bites and the conversation was easy. This is often the case with creative types as I gravitate to them like a moth to a flame. He was at ease and passed his business card to me on the way out. I was just launching Oak St. Social. Needless to say, the food we inhaled was nothing short of amazing and I felt we needed to collaborate in some way.
I emailed him quickly after and we had a casual meeting...as if we had known each other for years. We met several times to chat, brainstorm, discuss social media and talk shop. He's rarely stationary hence these meetings were key in what was to become a friendship built out of respect. We both have a creative vision and work tirelessly to achieve it. I am still working tirelessly to make him an OSS client (cough, cough) but that's a story for another day. I kid. I kid.
Charles is not just a chef. He's a brilliant light in Chicago's culinary industry with many layers to peel back. There's no ego. There's no attitude or sense of entitlement. He's worldly and funny and approachable which makes you want to root him on. And root him on I do starting with today's interview...meet my friend Chef Charles Webb.
Tell us a little about Chef CW and the mission of your brand. How hard was it to get started? Give us the deets on all your recent collaborations as well!
Chef CW is a one-stop gourmet experience that revolves around the best foods in the world that is delivered via the “experience” factor through our culinary curators. We execute in-home dining and corporate events that are smaller (2-200) with clients who want more than, well, the rest of what everyone is offering out there. I work with the best ingredients, the most dynamic team, all of my partnerships such as the cocktail architect or DJ Madrid, are all several steps above the norm. We strive to bring you and your clients, family, friends, neighbors, pets, and enemies the coolest experience possible.
How hard was it to get started depends on how you look at it. The hardest part was making the decision that I was going to succeed no matter what and taking the leap solo involved many risks (which I was accustomed to) but there was no safety net, only jagged glass below, so to speak, and well, I had to put my mind to it, align my energies, my attitude, and utilize my skills that I have learned along the way including getting up fast when I fell down.
Our recent collaborations have been with everyday families, tech companies, entrepreneurs, hotels/F&B operations that need alignment/consulting, and non-profits/foundations. I work with 15 annually both in the Chicago area and globally. One in particular is One Goal. For example we are doing a series of Jeffersonian dinners to bring awareness to local philanthropists. Another is the Gale Sayers Foundation where we will be doing some really cool “Legends of Chicago Sports” dinners to help raise awareness for an amazing cause to help children.
We work anywhere from Spitzbergen to Tierra del Fuego and all the way across. Basically anywhere in the world! “It’s not just food, it is an experience.”
1. What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur let alone in the culinary industry?
Two interesting stories: One, the entrepreneur side. When I was about five years old my mom and dad got into a really bad argument about, what else, money and as a five year old, I was scared but somehow I wasn’t scared about the yelling and screaming and slamming of things. I was scared as in the “how was I going to do something about this when I had no idea where to start” scared?! We lived in a tiny apartment on the south side of San Antonio at the time, not the most desirable neighborhood, actually, it was a super dangerous one to be honest. After the argument both my parents looked around for me and I was gone, they searched high and low through the complex splitting up and finally my mom found me at the end of the complex by the street on the sidewalk. She yelled “Charles, what the hell are you doing?” Before she could finish her sentence, she saw me on the ground with all of my art work spread out on the sidewalk. She asked me, “What in God"s name are you doing?” I said confidently, “Mom, I am selling my art so we can get money and you and dad will stop fighting." She, of course, started to cry, picked me up and it was pretty apparent that I was to become an entrepreneur.
Second story was I was working in Soho in NYC after moving there to work on Wall Street. Many things were changing fast in my life and big decisions were starting to hit me as to what direction I needed to take. It wasn’t until 9/11/2001 when I watched the entire modern day tragedy unfold at Prince and Wooster; where I stayed put on that street corner while the rest of the world ran chaotically through the streets and uptown to escape the downtown madness. I knew that if it was really the end of the world, which; believe me, it seemed like it was, that there was no where in Manhattan I could or anyone could run. At that point, two plus hours in, I decided that if I made it, I was going to simply follow my heart, my passion and no matter what that meant, including taking on an opportunity that wasn’t necessarily popular with others, I had to live it my way.
All in, it took me 92 jobs in nine countries to figure out that this was really what I had to share with the world. And there it really began, the transformation...
2. What one culinary moment are you the most proud of and why?
Everyday I have an opportunity to change the way someone sees food. They learn to appreciate it, to grow with it. That is a day I am proud of because I changed someone in a positive way!
3. How would you describe a typical day?
I’m up early and go to bed late. The rest is generally like a hurricane ripping through my life filled with fish market runs, shopping at farmers markets, business meetings, phone and skype calls to a handful of countries in the world to develop relationships...admin to dishwashing and everything in between, good stuff!
4. How do you describe your personal aesthetic?
When it’s game time I love the Bragard brand of Chef’s coats, it’s like a tailor constructed them with the best fabric. Speaking of that, Carlo Riva textiles in Lake Como has some of the best fabrics in the world and a small shop in Rome handmakes a few of my dress shirts. In Chicago I have a great group of designers for bespoke clothing like Josh Kercher. Forum jeans, and Osklen shirts, both Brazilian designers. Hoodies, tshirts, Havianas, anything suede and RL is my favorite American designer.
5. What individuals, tastemakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public figures inspire you?
I love hanging with the Chicago and national entrepreneur crowd, so much energy and so much to learn from. I have a mentor, I mentor a few people and I love my fisherman friends in Brasil. I guess people who have something to say that has impact no matter where you are from or your status is, if you are interesting then that is exciting, if you are cookie cutter then we probably don’t hang.
It’s being multi-dimensional, people with flavor, and people who are “doing” even if it is living in a small house with a dirt floor...at least you are real and have experiences. Boom!
6. If you weren't in the culinary industry...and could be anything else...what would it be?
I’d build a city from scratch in a foreign land where it had the look and feel of a fishing village in the Mediterranean but all organic, all grown in the area, a super ecosystem that also encouraged solar and natural resources from the region to allow for a true lifestyle of health and happiness. This very well may happen, stay tuned!
7. It's creative time...what's on your music playlist? What inspires you?
Music and mood alignment is super important. I love bands like Santana, New Order, U2, Coldplay, Seu Jorge, Monobloco, Jarabe de Palo, Jovanotti, Jamiroquai, obscure 70’s disco, 80’s new wave, 90’s dance, old school hip hop, MPB, Bossa Nova, Fela Kuti, Latin Soul. Listen to Radio Monte Carlo RMC (Monaco), JB Fm (Rio de Janeiro), Kiss Fm (Barcelona), to keep up with my languages. Music inspires me in so many ways! I can go on and on!
8. Favorite restaurant on a Friday night + why?
I really DO NOT go out on a Friday night EXCEPT when I am in a different part of the world.
RO - Raw and Wine, PURO, Fasano Mare, all in Rio de Janeiro. Le Bremner and Barroco in Montreal. Bar do Ze in Buzios, Bar Mut, SuperSuper, Xampaneria...all in Barcelona.
9. Wine or classic cocktail?
I am a fan of Amaro but honestly I tip heavily to wine. Drinking wines these days from Valle de Guadalupe (Mexico) Priorat, Montsant (Spain), Etna DOC (Sicily), Santa Maria (California) and still Mendoza (Argentina) but more obscure, hard to find, boutique, small production, cult wines that are packed with love!
10. Favorite weekend getaway destination?
Ok, I am different then most. I will stay on a plane for 6 hours as opposed to driving to a nearby destination. Weekends are long weekends for me. That said I really dig Cartagena, Montreal, Nashville and for a long weekend Rio de Janeiro. :)
11. Bonus question - 5 must-have apps that you need in your life to function?
12. What's next for Chef CW?
Buying my mom a home! Working on a digital show - five pieces of content per city, all under nine minutes with 32 cities in the world projected from interesting places like Havana and Tehran to some very dynamic situations. Many things being created in my artelier as we speak.
Scaling pieces of the business to different cities and creating the coolest experiences in the world. I'm partnering with groups and endless projects to do just that.
Follow Charles on Instagram.