A Mississippi chef who specializes in Italian cuisine spent time training in Italy and working in New York City before returning to the state to dish with customers at two Oxford restaurants near the Square.
Cameron Bryant is the executive chef of The Sipp on South Lamar, at 400 S. Lamar Blvd. a2, and YŪGŌ Oxford, at 1001 E. Jackson Ave.
The Kosciusko native attended Kosciusko High School before enrolling in the University of Mississippi, but quickly dropped out. His parents were adamant that he earn a college degree, so he enrolled in Holmes Community College in Goodman and started his first restaurant job in Jackson.
After leaving Holmes, Bryant returned to UM and dropped out again, deciding that he did not want a traditional college education. Instead, he began applying to multiple jobs in different states and eventually received a call from a company in Winter Park, Colorado, where he was hired as a lift operator at a ski resort.
“My mom hates this part of the story because I always tell it like this,” Bryant said. “The reason I started cooking was because I was going to get a tattoo.”
While waiting to get a tattoo one day, Bryant stopped in a local taco shop and began mingling with the workers and owner. He filled out an application to become a server, but the restaurant needed a cook. Bryant was up for the task even though he had never cooked before, and he fell in love with it.
In 2007, after leaving his job in Colorado, Bryant’s parents continued to encourage him to earn his degree. He returned to Oxford to study hospitality management and worked at L&M’s Kitchen, where Lenora’s restaurant is now. It’s where Bryant got his first taste of fine dining.
He loved the knife precision, organization, and thrill of providing an exquisite guest experience. While earning his degree, he said he also helped open Rooster’s Blues House on the Square.
Bryant graduated from UM in May of 2009 and moved to New York City to attend the French Culinary Institute, now known as the International Culinary Center, studying the Italian culinary experience.
“Italian food is just my thing,” he said.
The intensive program included three months of cooking classes in New York City, followed by three more months of cooking classes in Italy. The program also prepared Bryant for the language barrier. After finishing, he began an unpaid internship at a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Alba, Italy.
But Bryant knew he wanted to return to Mississippi.
“I wanted to be close to my parents,” he said, “and Mississippi is just home.”
Working 60-hour weeks in New York City was tough, and Bryant began feeling burned out. He returned to Mississippi in 2010 and stayed in his parent’s condo while trying to make a name for himself in Oxford, where he has remained the past 12 years.
“In New York, there are so many different types of people,” Bryant said. “In some ways, it’s easier, and sometimes it’s harder.”
He said you can take creative liberties with cuisine in New York City and always find customers. In Mississippi and Oxford, you are trying to appeal to a certain demographic, including college students.
South Lamar Caviar is a dish of black-eyed peas, chickpeas and corn tossed in a creamy herb citronette.
One of the entrees that may have Bryant’s Italian cuisine influence is Rigitoni in a Pork and Sausage Ragu. The slow-cooked pork butt and Italian sausage in a red wine and tomato sauce are finished with pecorino romano.
The restaurant also offers specialty cocktails with regional influences, such as the Boo Radley (a literary reference), made with Cathead Honeysuckle, St. Germain, lemon and honey; the Saint Sipp – St. Germain and strawberry; and the Butterfly Martini, made with Butterfly Flower Infused Vodka and rosemary syrup.
YŪGŌ is described as a fusion of modern flavors and global cuisines from the same creative forces behind The Sipp on South Lamar. It’s a “contemporary, Eastern-inspired dining concept that pushes modern cooking to vibrant new bounds,” according to the website.
Bailey Klink, an assistant manager for The Sipp on South Lamar, said Bryant is passionate about his work.
“He is very particular about how his dishes come out,” Klink said. “He also always wants to make sure his customers get the experience they expected.”
Bryant may leave the restaurant industry one day, but not anytime soon. He has also thought about returning to college, earning a master’s degree and teaching food history, but he still gets a thrill from working at The Sipp and YŪGŌ.
“The day that Chef Cam Bryant leaves the restaurant world will be a day of mourning,” said Klink.