Q&A: Greg Kuzia-Carmel of Camper

Words by Andrea Gemmet

The chef-owner behind Menlo Park’s Camper and Canteen restaurants dishes about his strangest meal, celebrity encounters and the real reason he got into cooking.

What drew you to the culinary world?
I started working in restaurants when I was 14 as a means
to buy a car and fund a snowboarding hobby.

Tell us about the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten.
Ants, at Noma in Copenhagen, while 10 feet away from Jamie Lee Curtis.

When you’re not at one of your own restaurants, where do you usually go?
Our family likes to load up the car and head to Dad’s Luncheonette in Half Moon Bay for burgers from our buddy Scott Clark. The menu is small and you can (and rightfully should) be tempted to order one of everything.

Most memorable night at your restaurant?
We’ve had our fair share of interesting celebrities, but nothing will top the night Conan O’Brien traipsed through our dining room, chatting it up with guests and staff alike.

What is the dumbest way you’ve been hurt?
I threw out my back carrying a Caja China (suckling pig oven) at one of our staff holiday parties. Take note: If your age begins with a number three or higher, ask for a hand when lifting stuff.

What’s your favorite pasta shape?
Hand-rolled pasta from Liguria called trofie. My wife and I stayed in a portside town called Camogli, where we had these made by grandmothers in a rustic, seaside family restaurant.

What are people always surprised to learn about you?
I grew up snowboarding and narrowly missed pursuing a life in that industry.

Is there a dish that has a fond memory attached to it?
In the summer, we feature a sweet corn-filled agnolotti pasta that’s a bit of a retrospective to my times working at Per Se and Quince. Ours features corn from Webb Ranch in Portola Valley.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
Sold all of my belongings, packed a duffel bag and moved to Spain.

What do you collect?
Analog, mechanical things. I like watches, cameras and old Porsches—so mostly things I cannot afford! But I appreciate their craftsmanship.

Do you have a favorite food-related film?
Big Night. One of my mentors, Gianni Scappin, was the film’s culinary consultant and we had the opportunity to cook with its star, Stanley Tucci.

How do you recharge your batteries after a long day?
Walking our geriatric shelter dog Heath while listening to a podcast. (Shout-out to Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway from Pivot. Free meal on me if you are ever in town.)

Do you have a personal motto?
The journey is the reward. It’s been printed on every one of our menus at Camper since Day One.