Educational event May 24-25 spotlights culinary heroes

May 19, 2023

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Paul Collins, who works with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Delaware. As part of Osher’s adult education programs, Paul has organized UD by the Sea, a culinarily centered event taking place Wednesday and Thursday, May 24 and 25, at the Atlantic Sands Hotel in Rehoboth Beach. Over the two days, there will be four sessions with a few of our local food industry professionals. That group includes, among others, wine maven Paul Cullen; noted chef and restaurateur Hari Cameron, who just joined the Cape Gazette family as a columnist for our new paperzine, The Current; and longtime beach chef and entrepreneur extraordinaire Kevin Reading.

Successful people make a habit of turning adversity into advantage. Reading did that in 2001 when fire damaged his upstate restaurant, Fox Point Grill, inspiring him to bring his leading-edge concept to Rehoboth Beach. And thus was born Espuma. Kevin’s avant-garde menu was slow to take off in our tiny beach town, until he decided to stay open in the off-season. He bought a snow shovel, reined in the menu, turned on the heat, and bingo! Espuma’s numbers skyrocketed 70 percent. The few Rehoboth fine-dining icons that existed in those days were closed for the off-season, so Espuma became the perfect place for locals to warm up on the ocean block.

Riding on Espuma’s success, Kevin and pastry chef Andrew Hooven opened Sweet Dreams Bakery on Coastal Highway, immediately garnering Delaware Today’s Best Bakery award. Again, the unthinkable: Hooven suffered major health problems — so major that he had to be Medevac’d directly to the hospital. Thankfully, he recovered and is back with Kevin in kitchens again. But during that ordeal, Kevin unlocked the bakery every day at 4:30 a.m., worked until mid-morning, then opened Espuma, finally leaving around 1 a.m. Every day. For the entire summer. Something had to give.

He sold Espuma (now long gone) and proceeded to create Nage in the space where the bakery had been. It would take a special cook to help Reading realize his vision for his fledgling Nage, and he finally chose a young and enthusiastic Hari Cameron. By 2007, Nage was earning awards and critical acclaim throughout the state. When former culinary schoolmate (and chef/entrepreneur in his own right) Josh Grapski joined the team, the bistro’s concept was extended to Washington, D.C. Hari went on to garner multiple James Beard nominations for his own a(MUSE.) restaurant. Among so many other things, he now operates the casual Grandpa MAC restaurant on Coastal Highway.

Reading tells me he has “restaurant ADD.” He thrives on developing dining concepts, but doesn’t relate well to the day-to-day operations. To that end, he reduced his involvement in Nage (which eventually became Fork & Flask under Grapski) and opened Abbott’s Grill in Milford. But the unthinkable has a way of sneaking up on Kevin. Abbott’s grand opening in ’09 was just in time for the devastating back-to-back snowstorms that crippled Delaware for a month. He obviously weathered the storm, eventually moving his concept a bit south to the popular Abbott’s on Broad Creek in nearby Laurel. He has since teamed up with Brewmaster Ryan Maloney from Mispillion River Brewing Company, and the two go-getters now operate their successful Brick Works breweries/restaurants in Long Neck and Smyrna. (Hint: Word on the street is that they aren’t finished yet!)

Kevin tells me he’s most proud of a customer comment card left on a table after a particularly hectic dinner rush. It said, “We felt as if we were the only table in the restaurant.” In the food biz, words like that help fuel the endless hours of effort and risk that are an inescapable part of The Business of Eating. Those who attend the upcoming event at the Atlantic Sands will learn that there are no secrets to achievement. It’s all about being ready for anything, and learning from whatever happens: good, bad or indifferent.

There might — or might not — be a few seats left for UD by the Sea. But it can’t hurt to try: Go to to enroll.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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