Ed Kammerer, exec chef-owner of Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar, on clams, Coastal cuisine and his career
This is part one of my interview with Ed Kammerer, exec chef-owner of Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar; part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
If your kid is a picky eater, Ed Kammerer is here to give you hope. The exec chef-owner of Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar wouldn't touch anything that came from the sea when he was a kid. In fact, when he tried a fresh clam for the first time, he couldn't stomach it, spewing the flesh and hanging his head in embarrassment. And it wasn't until much later in his career, while he was working the line at a restaurant in Carmel, California, that he faced an even bigger demon: the oyster. "I remember just staring at the oysters, wondering what to do, and being egged on by someone in the kitchen to try one," says Kammerer. But when he finally mustered up the courage, it was a revelation: "I ate it and my whole world changed, and then I just dived into seafood after that. My whole world just opened up."
Born in New Jersey and raised in Connecticut, Kammerer moved around quite a bit -- but he didn't begin to explore food possibilities (seafood aside) until his late teens. "I'd put stuff in my mouth, and everything just tasted so strong, so intense, but once I started working in a kitchen, things started to change," he says. That's when he was working on the line of an Italian restaurant, scraping burnt sauce from pots. But since pasta was one of the few things he'd eat, it worked out well, he says, and so did the gig, which convinced him that he had a natural talent for cooking.
After an early interest in architecture, he eventually got a degree in hotel and restaurant management and then enrolled in the accelerated culinary program at Johnson & Wales when the university still had a campus in Vail; Kammerer spent several years there in various kitchens, including Picasso, the highly acclaimed restaurant in the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera -- the same resort where Kobe Bryant ran into a bit of trouble. "Yeah, I was there when the whole Kobe Bryant thing went down," he says. "I got a phone call saying that I had to stay till midnight because a high-profile guest was coming in, and it turned out to be Kobe Bryant, who never did come in that night to eat dinner...." Bryant was otherwise engaged, as we know, and Kammerer says the resort went from a "secluded restaurant where you could get away from it all to a complete shit show of tabloid reporters and paparazzi, and everything just spiraled out of control." And that just wasn't his cup of java.
But while he never cooked for Bryant, he did cook for several celebrity chefs while working in a renowned restaurant in Carmel, where, along with discovering oysters, he shared space with French Laundry alums and had the opportunity to strut his skills at the 2000 Masters of Food and Wine event, which hosts some of the best chefs in the country. "The job was actually a bit of a demotion for me -- I was hired as a line cook -- but it was the best move I ever made, and when the Masters came, just watching all the chefs walking through the door was so amazing," he recollects, adding that he was Jacques Pépin's personal assistant for two days.