Following His Muse: Chef Hari Cameron
Hari Cameron keeps it creative, whether he’s whipping up an 11-course tasting menu or pasta dishes to go
As the coast settles squarely into fall, chef-restaurateur Hari Cameron looks forward to a slower pace. He’ll finally have time to sit and jot down recipes and the ideas that swirl around in his mind. But even in winter, Cameron’s definition of a slower pace would exhaust most people.
Cameron is the owner of a(MUSE.), a Rehoboth Beach restaurant that’s received national recognition since opening in 2012. With brother Orion, he owns two grandpa(MAC) locations, which feature freshly made pasta dishes in a casual atmosphere with counter service. He juggles the restaurants with speaking engagements and appearances. Plus, he has a 2-year-old son with his wife, Stephanie.
Most would assume that Cameron is under a lot of pressure—and not just because of the schedule he keeps on his iPhone calendar. Cameron has received three James Beard Foundation Award nominations and a mountain of press. A little performance anxiety is to be expected.
Cameron, however, is seemingly unflappable. It helps that he is full of energy. Friend and former employer Josh Grapski—the managing partner of La Vida Hospitality Group, which owns Fork + Flask at Nage—calls Cameron a “force of nature.” Cameron might talk in careful tones, bowing slightly from the waist like a sensei talking to students, but you can practically see the crackle of exuberance under his tattooed skin. “My body doesn’t tire,” he says.
Neither, evidently, does his mind. He acknowledges that he’s a progressive chef and progressive thinker. Consider the dish he made for a Salvador Dali-inspired dinner: diced tenderloin tartare dressed with mirin, rice wine and olive oil topped with bone marrow powder and a crumble of bone marrow broken up in a vat of liquid nitrogen.
Such recipes are part of a repertoire that he cultivated while working at Nage, a Rehoboth Beach restaurant known for esoteric fare under his tenure, and a(MUSE.), which has seven- and 11-course tasting menus in addition to the seasonally based regular menu. Cameron can also draw inspiration from a cultivated palate. His parents exposed their three sons to sushi, Thai food and curries at a young age. While other families were sitting down to roast beef, his family tucked into a vegetarian meal.
But Cameron, who records his creations on Instagram and Facebook, didn’t grow up dreaming of sous vide machines. Born in Seaford, he was into sports and theater at Sussex Central High School, where the only course the future guru of local gastronomy failed was, interestingly, chemistry.
While working as a server at The Buttery, he filled in for an employee at the salad station. He was hooked. He worked at several restaurants including Espuma, then owned by Kevin Reading. When Reading opened Nage in 2004, he called Cameron to join the kitchen team. Cameron went to Reading’s alma mater, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, while still working.
At a(MUSE.), Cameron’s dishes run from “mind-bending ingredients that people have never heard of to something comfortable,” he says. He points to a recent offering: Poulet Rouge chicken and dumplings. Granted, he used corn masa for the dumplings, and the stock included fresh, charred corncob husks. On top? Shaved Australian black truffle. “It was comforting and easy for people to understand, but it was a twist on what is classically served here in the Mid-Atlantic region,” he says.
The accolades for a(MUSE.) might seem to overshadow the newer and more casual grandpa(MAC), where pasta machines churn at locations in downtown Rehoboth and on Route 1. Cameron is patient. “The main goal is to have a restaurant that people could eat at frequently and won’t break the bank,” he says. “I want it to be a fun concept, and I feel like we’re achieving that.” Last summer, the 15-seat downtown site often had a line out the door. More locations are in the works (the partners are eyeing Newark).
If Cameron ever left the kitchen, it might be for a classroom. “I’m dyslexic and have ADD and have been lucky to have a lot of great teachers in my life,” he says. “I think I could make a positive difference in that way.”
For now, the hospitality industry is his home. “I am,” he says, “living the dream.”
> a(MUSE.), 44 Baltimore Ave, Rehoboth Beach, 302-227-7107, amuse-rehoboth.com
> grandpa(MAC), 18756 Coastal Hwy and 33 Baltimore Ave, Rehoboth Beach, 302-727-5509, grandpamac.com