Having never been to the Netherlands, (it’s on my bucket) I am especially intrigued when I learn that Delta Sky Club Director, Rene Van Camp is from there. “I grew up in a small town called Oisterwijk with eighteen thousand inhabitants,” he says. “It was a great place close to the Belgian border where kids walk to school,” he adds. “My parents were both entrepreneurs, my dad was a grocer for a long time and then ran his own pet-stores until he retired. My mom had a translation business, her specialty was legal language from French to Dutch and vice-versa. She then went on to work in education until she retired.”
Van Camp was the youngest of 5 kids. “Great big family!” he adds. And that’s not including the potpourri of animals. “With my dad having a number of pet-stores, I think we had every single type of domestic animal you can imagine.
Today, we don’t have any (yet), our kids are still young and give us plenty to take care for! My son is 6 and my daughter is 3. Life is good,” he says.
After living in Europe for four years the family moved to Atlanta in 2018 for a new start. “I spent 4 years overseeing Food and Beverage for all IHG hotels in Europe before we made that move. My wife is American, from Atlanta and was really looking forward to moving back. We had a good opportunity and we took it. I had to take a sabbatical for a couple of months before my Green Card came through, which was great. I got back in touch with some old colleagues and via-via, got in touch with Delta. It all worked out great!” adds Van Camp. “My global experience in running on-property as well as corporate food and beverage operations at all service levels really helps me in my job at Delta Air Lines. Delta is a big global company that has an incredible people culture and they have a huge passion for customer experience. It really is a good fit for me.”
Of course, I was curious as to how he got involved in the hospitality business to begin with. It sure wasn’t his first job. “I was a strawberry picker when I was 14, (labor laws were more relaxed back then,” says Van Camp, “and so were under-age drinking laws, so I needed that cash,” he adds.
However, strawberry picking was not his dream job. “I know it sounds boring, but I wanted to be a professional soccer player. Unfortunately, I never was good enough and my parents preferred for me to have a college degree (which in those days in Europe was almost impossible to combine with pursuing a professional sports career).” And the rest as they say is history. “I applied for a hospitality program, and from then went into my next big passion which was food and beverage and never regretted it.”
Food and wine were both readily available in Van Camp’s home growing up. “My mom had little kitchen-steps for my siblings and me to hang in the kitchen while we were kids. She was remarkably patient and taught us the love for food at an early age. We ate all the crazy stuff normal kids didn’t eat, like escargots and frog legs. I do the same with my kids now,” says Van Camp. The joy of food continues today. “I love food and I love the art of putting together flavors. I had the pleasure of working closely with some incredible chefs throughout my career and came to appreciate that the cuisine by itself doesn’t fully do the trick for me. For me it is the chef’s ability to recognize flavors and techniques, work creatively with them and bring all the senses together. Paul Pairet at Ultra Violet in Shanghai does an incredible job puling all 5 senses together, using techniques and flavors from many ‘cuisines’ around the world. Definitely a must-visit if you get a chance and if you can get in!”
Wine wasn’t far behind food in the Van Camp household. “My parents let me taste their wine from an early age, probably 10 to 12. I didn’t really like it then I remember.”
But that all changed when Van Camp headed to the Maastricht Hotel Management school in the Netherlands. “We had a great sommelier at the hotel management school, his name was Mr. Wassink. He was very entertaining and was great about explaining to us what wine, was all about; the culture around it and the terroir (in the broadest sense). This really spoke to me and it got me passionate about wine.” The location of the school also spoke to him. “The school is in a castle. It’s incredible,” he adds.
That first hospitality job came fairly quickly. “Out of college I worked as a bartender at the Port d’Amsterdam in Paris. For those of you in Paris in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, you will remember this place, it was epic,” says Van Camp.
Putting food and beverage together is definitely an art Van Camp thoroughly enjoys and is very good at. “A great (and unusual F&B pairing is Sushi and Tequila. The Fresh fish, the soy sauce, the wasabi and some reposado tequila are an incredible pairing. My old boss, JP Etcheberrigaray discovered this while he was sitting in the lobby of the InterContinental hotel in Mexico City and saw people walking back and forth between the tequila bar and the sushi restaurant! We later developed the SushiTeq bar concept around that idea,” says Van Camp
“For food and wine, I would say some escargots, a piece of Tomme de Provence, a freshly baked baguette and a great glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape on a terrace, under the plantains and the Provencal sun.”
Van Camp actually has a very special place in his heart for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
“It’s where Allison and I got married and we simply love it there,” he says of the place that’s home to his favorite wine. “In general, I love a GSM blend, but precisely it will be the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, southern Rhone, France. Hands down,” he says. But this wine aficionado does not discriminate.
“I have to say that I really believe in horses for courses here… and I love almost all wine, so I do like to mix it up!”
Having lived and worked around the globe there aren’t many places Van Camp hasn’t been. “My job in hospitality allowed me to live in all regions of the world. I spent time working in Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. I honestly can’t say what I like the most, because they are all great for different reasons.
Leisure travel isn’t far behind. “We had the chance to vacation in the Maldives, which was probably the most relaxed week I have ever had.
We love to Ski and we love to go to Niseko, in Hokkaido prefecture, Northern Japan. The snow, the FOOD and the experience are incredible.”
What’s missing from this list? “South-Africa, Australia and New Zealand,” says Van Camp of three places he has yet to visit. “South-Africa is on the top of my list. I have no interest to go see the wild-life, but I can’t wait to drive through wine country around Cape-town and ‘bed-and-breakfast’ my way through a week of ‘tasting’!” he adds. “Australia and New Zealand wine country are a close second and third.” Perhaps his job with Delta can help with this. It certainly has helped him stay connected to his native homeland. “I love to go and see my friends and family in Amsterdam as often as I can. Working for Delta, this has been easy to do over the last two years, which is another great benefit working for this company!” Which is actually something Van Camp never thought he would do. “I never thought I would work for an airline,” he says, “but it turned out great!”
And that’s exactly how Van Camp envisioned his life; no exact blueprint or anything etched in stone. “Although i have always been quite ambitious, i have never really made a plan for where I wanted to be. I have always been adventurous, I love to ‘seize the opportunity’ and I love to move to new places to live. I don’t really enjoy vacationing somewhere new, just to tick it off a list. I have learned from living in many places that it is impossible to see a place in a week. It takes months, sometimes years to discover a new place. I don’t think I am where I want to end up and I don’t know where I want to go next. I am happy where I am now and if that changes, we will think about the next step.”
Truth, spoken from the heart.