2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Cameron Hanin of Tavern Law

2015 Seattle Rising Star Chef Cameron Hanin of Tavern Law
November 2015

His journey was unpredictable, but for Cameron Hanin it led to the right place. Hanin’s foundational education was in the arts: he attendend a magnet program in middle school and high school that specialized in theater, writing, dance, and the visual arts. When he moved to Seattle, Hanin enrolled at Cornish College of the Arts but dropped out after a year. He began washing dishes at a restaurant where the chef gave him prep duties. Hanin helped make desserts and prepare for the pantry station. He stayed there for a year, washing dishes for six months and cooking for the remainder.

A momentous moment at a bus stop pushed Hanin along in his journey. He happened to be wearing his chefs pants when Chef Liam Spence (who would become Hanin’s close friend) asked him where he worked. That landed Hanin a job at Lola, where he stayed for almost four years as sous chef. Then, Hanin was ready for New York.

He sent a résumé to nearly every top restaurant group and finally heard back from Craft. Hanin did a trail, got hired, and absorbed the restaurant’s energy and precision before moving on to Marco Canora’s Hearth. Now at the head of Tavern Law in Seattle, Hanin’s cuisine marries luxury and approachability with the determination that brought him from dishwasher to bus stop to the helm of a restaurant. 

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Chef Cameron Hanin of Tavern Law

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Cameron Hanin:
I went to an art school in Seattle but dropped out after a year and started washing dishes at a restaurant. The chef there gave me prep duties, and I helped make desserts. So, I would make this cheesecake and then wash dishes the rest of the night. Then I started to train on the pantry station, and when the pantry cook was fired, I took over. I was there for a year. Then one day I was standing at a bus stop in chef pants and some guy asked me where I cooked. He said they were looking for a sous chef at a Tom Douglas restaurant, Lola. I worked there for three and a half years, and then moved to New York.

SK: How did that work out?
I went to New York with just a duffel bag. I stayed up for 48 hours and sent résumés to every restaurant group. The first one that got back to me was Craft. I did a trail there and got hired. James Tracey was the executive chef and Chris Levy was the chef de cuisine at the time. Tom [Colicchio] gave me The Craft of Cooking book, and that simply prepared but well executed food really resonated with me. That type of attention to detail was something I had never experienced before. I was there when the restaurant got its second three-star review.

SK: How is working in New York different from Seattle?
Working over there, in New York City, was a very special experience for me. New York was this mythical beast that I could see but not touch, and I wanted to be there. You have to work in the city to really know what it’s like. It can be very jarring at first, but there’s a reason why it’s up there in the food world.

The greatest thing about New York though is that there is a community of chefs, a band of brothers, and some bravado. The competition makes you better, but the camaraderie is very real. It’s a bit more isolated and challenging to share ideas with other cookes here, in Seattle. Some aren’t as humble and can’t admit mistakes. I think criticism is important. Good comments don’t make me better. I’d like to change that about this place.

SK: Would you say you've had a mentor in your career so far?
My friend Liam Smith, who was actually that guy that found me at the bus stop and jump started my whole career. He said I’d be a chef one day. He’s still my best friend today. Of all the chefs I worked with in New York, I still learned a shit ton from him.

SK: What’s your five year plan?
Oyster farming. Just kidding! I’d just like to keep getting better and better ever day. I’m a big believer in positive visualization. You’re what you say you are, but you have to work, put the hours in, research, fail, and move forward. Become better versions of yourself. After all that, I’ll be successful.


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