Chef Gene Cammarota, 2019. Photo courtesy of the Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame.

When Gene Cammarota issued his invitation, “Come on into my kitchen,” he expected everyone to join his culinary passion. He put the phrase to practice when he owned the Brass Grille in the Old Market, with a setup that allowed customers to sit at the bar and watch him cook. He made the invitation formal when he opened his restaurant on 54th and Leavenworth St, Come On Into My Kitchen. As a professor of culinary arts, he welcomed his students at Iowa Western Community College to join him in his kitchen and expand their culinary talents. Cammarota trained and inspired many up-and-coming chefs in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

Cammarota’s beloved neighborhood lunch and brunch spot, Come On Into My Kitchen was located at 5423 Leavenworth St. From the business’s now defunct Facebook page.

His enthusiasm filled the airwaves on Boomer Radio when he invited listeners to explore culinary tips interspersed with personal adventures. He extended his reach as head chef at Stanley’s Snack Shack in Honey Creek, Iowa, where customers listened to his stories and songs. He was a fixture at the Aksarben Farmers Market, where he invited all who passed by to stop for a treat and a story. He loved to entertain in his “kitchen,” however you define the term.

A Queens, N.Y., native, Cammarota’s culinary journey began at the Hilton Las Vegas. Although his mother was his main culinary inspiration, he graduated from the California Culinary Institute. In 2019, he was inducted into the Omaha Culinary Hall of Fame. One of his most memorable experiences was jamming at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to the tune – what else? – Robert Johnson’s blues classic, “Come On in My Kitchen.”

In addition to cooking, his passions included family and friends, horse racing, being a radio DJ and goat farming. All that — and planning his worldwide tour on the release of his first album, already in the works. He was a larger-than-life presence whose legacy will ripple through the local restaurant scene for decades to come.

—Julie Mierau

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