Marie's KitchenSoft-shell a(Muse.)-ments with Hari Cameron

Date Published: 
July 4, 2014

Coastal Point • Submitted: The beautiful softshell crab dish at a(MUSE.) Owner and chef Hari Cameron shares a few of his recipes with Marie Cook.Coastal Point • Submitted: The beautiful softshell crab dish at a(MUSE.) Owner and chef Hari Cameron shares a few of his recipes with Marie Cook.Major changes have taken place in Chef Hari Cameron’s career since I first highlighted him in June 2009. He is still a chef, but now he’s chef/owner of his own restaurant in Rehoboth Beach — a(MUSE.), located at 44 Baltimore Avenue.

On a recent drive to Rehoboth Beach, I stopped at Sue Ryan’s new Good Earth Market at 14 Midway Shopping Center (on Route 1 behind the Pottery Place), and although Hari’s appearance has changed since I last saw him, he’s easily recognizable by the colorful fruits and vegetables tattoos that line his arms.

We enjoyed a big hug, and Sue raved about the meal she had enjoyed on Mother’s Day at a(MUSE.). She said his soft-shell crab was the best she’s ever eaten, and the mustard sauce was fantastic. She also raved over a potted chicken that Hari says is always on the menu, because regular customers insist on it.

“The potted chicken is similar to a dish I enjoyed on a trip to France,” he said. “I’ve redone it Delaware-style, with layers of shredded confit, poached chicken, chicken liver and foie gras mousse and reduced chicken stock (aspic). I serve it with toast points, a pork reduction and Malden flake sea salt, alongside a little jar of pickled vegetables which change with the seasons, as well as three types of mustard.”

Perhaps you think I’ve erred in typing the name of his restaurant. I have not. Hari smiled when he explained how he came up with the name.

“I wanted the name to call out our food philosophy — food-fun, amuse. A ‘muse’ is inspiration. Each dish we prepare is inspired by something — perhaps seasonal spring peas, or summer tomatoes, or even an inspiration from nature. I’m a guy who loves to cook things. I have a general love for people and food — delicious food which pleases people,” he said.

Hari had no trouble defining the cuisine at a(MUSE.).

“It represents modern or progressive Mid-Atlantic cuisine. We try to highlight all the best ingredients of this area — seasonal, regional, American food — but we also use ingredients like bok choy, which some folks consider non-American; but when you get right down to it, bok choy is just another type of cabbage.”

With more than 1,600 cookbooks in his collection, one of his go-to favorites is the classic “Joy of Cooking.” In fact, one entire wall in the dining room is papered with pages from the classic cookbook.

This summer, a(MUSE.) celebrates its third year. I asked Hari about his nomination for the coveted James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Country award.

“It was a great surprise,” he said. “My restaurant had been open for just over a year when I received a note from a friend on social media congratulating me for being nominated. That was how I found out. It was quite an honor.

“Nominations are for chefs 30 years old and younger who are making a significant impact in the culinary world. The majority of those who are nominated are chefs at Michelin Star restaurants who have already published cookbooks, so I was thrilled to be a nominee. In my niche, only 26 people in the entire country were mentioned. For me, just being nominated was a win!”

The nominations process is secretive. Unannounced, judges dine at restaurants, searching for qualified nominees, so you’re clueless that they’ve even been in-house, let alone what they ordered. Hari said that, nationwide, 44,000 chefs “hats” are sent in, so you can see why just being nominated would be such a triumph.

Much closer to home, in a recent issue of Delaware Today magazine, it was announced that the Delaware Restaurant Association (DRA) had awarded Chef Hari Cameron Reader’s Choice Best Chef Down State, Best Small Place and Best Pastries (Hari is also a trained pastry chef).

“I closed the whole restaurant,” he said, “and took my staff to Dover Downs to accept the awards, because we all won these awards; without day-to-day teamwork, we would be nothing. In my acceptance speech, I honored my wife, Stephanie, because she’s the gluten that keeps the bread together,” he said.

When I first interviewed Hari back in 2009, he told me that he had difficulty in high school because of dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He graduated from Georgetown’s Sussex Central High School and tried one semester at Delaware Technical Community College, discovering very quickly that traditional college courses were not for him.

He floated from one job to another, trying to find a home, working at the Rehoboth Outlets and doing landscaping, but he was always drawn to restaurants.

“I didn’t find food,” he said. “Food found me.”

He decided to become a chef and earned his culinary degree from Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pa., graduating at the top of his class.

I asked him about dyslexia and ADD. Did he receive professional help for either, and if not, how does he function with the demands of running a restaurant, including the mathematics needed to develop recipes?

“I did not receive professional help,” he said. “I dealt with dyslexia and ADD by developing a way to retrain my brain. I learned how to focus better through stretching, meditation, finding new coping skills and choosing a career in culinary arts. Through these efforts, I made new neuron connections in my brain, and I continue to look for tools that work for me.

“For instance, I must do math every single day, and because math is not always easy for me, I discovered that by measuring everything in grams, it simplified my life. By measuring in grams, it’s easier for me to double and triple amounts. ... Measuring in grams channels my energy to cope better.

“Because of the demands of running a restaurant six days a week, I try to find the balance I need by spending time in nature. I love the beach and enjoy sitting beside a swimming pool. I also enjoy foraging for wild ingredients, which is a type of meditation for me — just being alone with myself and my thoughts.”

Many online sites exist offering all types of measurement conversions. I often use www.metric-conversions.org when I want to convert gram ingredients into metric. For example, in Hari’s seasoned flour recipe, he calls for 500 grams of Wondra Flour. At the website, you put in 500 grams and it converts to 17.637 ounces. I’m not dyslexic, but math has never been fun for me, so instant conversion sites like this are a blessing. You can specify grams to teaspoons, grams to ounces, etc.

I asked Hari if he has advice for parents or young people today who experience similar difficulties upon high school graduation — unsure of what they want to do, or where they fit in. He admitted to having terrific parents who supported and believed in him in every direction he turned.

“Kids need lots of love and support,” he said. “No matter what, always keep a positive attitude. Not everyone in life will immediately find a job or career that they’re passionate about. But when you choose something you think will work, practice it, study it, immerse yourself in it. Work for free if you have to. Work clean, work smart, work hard, and you’ll do all right.”

Hari was named after the famed Hare Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as simply “The Gita” — a sacred Hindu text. “My first name, Hari, means a person who removes miseries and illusions and delivers from sorrow,” he said. The Gita calls for selfless action and inspired many leaders, such as Mohandas Gandhi, who referred to the Gita as his “spiritual dictionary.”

I asked Hari if his wife, Stephanie, also cooks. He laughed and said, “No, she doesn’t, but she’s a great cleaner, so this works great for us.”

When he cooks at home, Hari keeps things more simple than at the restaurant: basic roasted chicken, grilled steak and vegetables, and pasta. “Pasta is fun,” he said, “like having fun with Play Dough.”

Hari is being touted as gifted, creative, inspired, innovative — skills deserving of a position in a five-star restaurant. “Is that on your horizon?” I asked.

“I’ve already had opportunities to do that,” he said, “but this is my home and, for me, the quality here at the beach is five-star. I compare our cuisine at a(MUSE.) to many five-star restaurants. But we’re not as expensive as they are, and we have no tablecloths or pretense; and you can even walk in our door with sandy feet, right off the beach.”

The restaurant, located at 44 Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth Beach, is open seven days a week, beginning with Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m.; dinner service begins at 5 p.m. You can make reservations for two or more people by calling (302) 227-7107, or online at www.amuse-rehoboth.com.

Hari promised Sue Ryan that he’d provide the recipe for the dry mustard sauce that she raved over. He said that many of his customers ask for the recipe, so he’s more than happy to provide it. Some of the ingredients he uses cannot be found locally, but if you want to reproduce this five-star soft-shell crab entrée, searching out ingredients online will only add to the fun. Otherwise, create your own substitutions.

Cleaning a soft-shell crab is not for the lily-livered. But Hari noted that many quality fishmongers will do the prep work for you. You can bet that I’ll be seeking that fishmonger!

How to clean a soft-shell crab:

(1) Using very sharp scissors, cut the front of the crab, removing eyes and mouth.

(2) Insert scissors into body cavity; making sure crab is dead, feeling no pain.

(3) Lift up sides of crab and remove crab’s lungs (often called “the devil’s fingers”).

(4) Make one more cut, removing the crab’s reproductive pouch.

(5) Set crab on paper towels for about five minutes to allow liquids to drain.

(6) To turn out, flour the crabs in seasoned flour and sauté in light cooking fat. Place mustard sauce on plate. Place potatoes next to mustard sauce. Cut the crab in half; place claw-side up. Add roasted bone marrow (if using), mustard powder, and any leafy garnishes.

Soft Shell Crab

Flour Mixture:

? 500 grams Wondra Flour

? 100 grams corn starch

? 3 grams fine salt

? Pinches of cayenne pepper, black pepper and garlic powder

Blend all dry ingredients. Flour the prepared soft-shell crabs in seasoned flour. Sauté on high heat in light cooking fat until crispy — four minutes per side. Take caution, because soft-shells will pop!

Mustard Sauce:

? 300 grams whole-grain mustard

? 300 grams Dijon mustard

? 200 grams Mirin (sweet cooking wine)

? 50 grams white soy sauce (also known as shoyu)

? 1 gram smoked paprika

Whisk to combine.

Mustard Powder:

? 300 grams mustard oil

? 200 grams tapioca maltodextrin

? 2.5 grams salt

? .3 grams powdered citric acid – just a pinch for a scant amount of extra acidity (Ball makes a good one.)

Whisk all ingredients until homogenous.

Potatoes:

? 500 grams marble potatoes (new potatoes)

? 50 grams rendered bone marrow tallow (bone marrow roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes), or fat of your choice

? 3.5 grams salt

Toss potatoes in rendered bone marrow tallow, or the fat of your choosing. Roast 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. until tender.

Hari’s attention to detail was so much fun to watch. He used tweezers to carefully place several lovely garnishes. And, lucky me, I took home the results. You were right, Sue — delicious!

(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)