Chef Q & A: Meet Chef Hari Cameron

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware may be a small town, but it still has big flavors thanks to acclaimed Chef Hari Cameron of Grandpa (Mac) and a(MUSE). Earning several James Beard nominations including “Rising Star Chef” and “Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic,” he has garnered national attention. His concentration on details, persistence to utilize only the highest quality ingredients, and creating a diverse menu that is friendly to all diets, has kept this chef very busy. But lucky for us, he took a moment to sit down and explain how California walnuts are an important part of his menu, especially in his new “Nutty Fireman” walnut vegan chili.

Why do you enjoy working with California walnuts?

Versatility is one of the top reasons I enjoy cooking with California walnuts.  Their ability to take on a sweet as well as a savory flavor makes cooking and innovating with walnuts so fun. When using California walnuts in particular, the freshness is something you can taste. And at our restaurants, this is very important.

What drives you the most to work with walnuts? 

Flavor is a big driver for working with walnuts! They are great on their own.  But they also taste amazing as a meat substitute or on a carrot cake. Their flavor paired with their versatility makes walnuts a go-to ingredient in the kitchen.

Where do you find inspiration for original recipes with walnuts?

Thinking about how nutritious walnuts are inspires me to find as many different ways as possible to incorporate them into dishes. Looking to the past at what dishes have been successful in playing to the walnut’s strength really drives the creativity for developing recipes using walnuts.

Were allergens a concern for you when working with walnuts? If so, how have you addressed this at your restaurants? 

Allergens are always a concern and we stress the importance of education. Our staff is educated about what allergens are in each dish and how to avoid cross-contamination. Being aware of how to keep allergen-conscious guests safe without compromising flavor, an allergen like nuts or flour, can bring to a dish is key.

What has been the most popular walnut item at your restaurants? 

Most definitely the Walnut Vegan Chili. It is a huge hit at the restaurant right now. Our signature ‘Nutty Fireman’ mac and cheese, complete with vegan mozzarella and the Walnut Vegan Chili, was voted “Delaware’s Best Mac N’ Cheese” by PureWow and it’s completely vegan! Also, we have a Sweet Potato Split, which is made with white sweet potatoes, crème fraiche ice cream and topped with candied walnuts and a homemade nocino. We also do several walnut cheeses made by fermenting the walnut, and those are very popular as well.

Does your clientele care about healthy menu choices? Are they are aware of the positive health benefits in California walnuts? 

Flavor is paramount. If our food doesn’t taste good, our clients won’t care if it’s healthy. Of course, more and more people are health conscious these days, but at the end of the day flavor is still the most important factor. But, we strive to give our clients food that is not only flavorful, but also fresh, light and healthful.

What is your favorite walnut dish? 

As a kid I had fiery red hair, so I always loved carrot cake, with the cream cheese frosting and walnuts on top. My mom’s carrot cake is still the best! I also make a fresh pasta dish with a walnut, chilies and anchovies sauce that is definitely another favorite.

Do you have a cooking tip for working with walnuts? 

When cooking with walnuts, toasting is key. It brings out the flavor so much more than when they are raw.

What is your favorite walnut/food flavor pairing?

Walnuts and spice. Whether it’s a curry and chili type spice or more of the winter spices like cinnamon and clove, pairing the acidity and spiciness with the “fatty” flavor of the walnut is a great pairing.

What do you feel is the next big trend in the industry? 

Plant-Based eating. Plant-centric diets are already on the rise. With more and more people on the planet, plant-based eating is good not only for our health, but also the health of the planet. I also see the use of old-school style pickling and fermenting making as a way to add a modern twist to dishes.