Pastry chef John Kraus of Patisserie 46: The sweet life, part 2
This week we're profiling pastry guru John Kraus of Patisserie 46. In part 1, we met the chef and his wife (who opened their dream bakery in 2010), and were treated to a behind-the-scenes account of Kraus's win at the Food Network Chocolate Challenge. Now we jump to the early stages of his career, as he crosses paths with two of London's premiere cooking talents. Marco Pierre White looked him up and down. Kraus was just some punk 20something kid clutching a set of knives and begging for a job.
"You're an American?" he asked bluntly. "Yes," answered Kraus. "You guys pussyfoot around a lot in the kitchen," he retorted.
Frankly, Kraus wouldn't know because he hadn't spent much time in one--at least, not one like this. He'd done a few months of buffet duty at a lake lodge in Yellowstone, lured to the park by a budding interest in biology and the rumored reintroduction of the gray wolf. After that, he'd state-hopped a bit and finally ended up in Florida as a line cook at a resort.
But now he'd crossed the Atlantic because somewhere between chopping thousands of onions and realizing that studying the gray wolf meant more paperwork than fieldwork, he'd decided he wanted to be a chef.
So the kid from Kentucky went to London, because that's where food was happening. It was the early '90's: the Roux Brothers (who'd trained White) were already a dynasty, and Gordon Ramsay (whom White had mentored) was on the rise.
Kraus didn't know a soul, so he wandered the streets, knocked on doors, and prayed someone would let him in. And by some miracle, White actually had. A celebrity chef and then-collector of multiple Michelin stars, the fiery White had now decided to teach the foreigner a little something about cooking. So he invited Kraus to come back for dinner service.
For 12 hours, Kraus stood and watched the maestro in action. White stood at the pass--where meat came from the left, veg from the right--and personally architected everything.
The kitchen whirred around him as pans swirled and servers flowed in and out. But it was the tray before him that garnered his complete attention. It fit three plates. Exactly. And when an overzealous server moved it less than a quarter of an inch, White fired him on the spot. "Don't ever come back," he barked.
White was brash and exacting, but it was a poignant tutorial in the pains that must be taken to put out food of that caliber. "It was incredible. He loved every single detail of every single plate," says Kraus. "And he wasn't going to let anything get by him."
After his stage with White, Kraus moved on to London's elegant Dorchester hotel. But while he toiled away in the kitchen, he was beckoned by the intoxicating aroma wafting from the boulangerie.
"There was something about that smell and handling the bread that just blew me away," he recalls. "And that's when I realized what I wanted to do."
Around that same time, Michel Perraud serendipitously entered the picture. Perraud was an acclaimed chef who was about to open his own restaurant in Surrey--about an hour's train ride from the city.
It was to be called Fleur de Sel, and Perraud agreed to take Kraus in as one of his own. Kraus agreed to attend Le Cordon Bleu while working for him at the same time.
Each morning, Kraus reported for duty at 7 a.m., worked til 10 p.m., and grabbed whatever sleep he could during breaks. Perraud's standards were unyielding--here's how you prep a carrot, don't go one peel more. But he was also graceful and delicate. "When he handled a piece of fish, the fish never knew it was touched," Kraus says.
Not only did Perraud teach Kraus the essence of food, he also showed him the art of pastry, schooling him in centuries-old techniques. The deceptively simple basics of breadmaking. Folding dough over a book of butter for the crispiest of croissants.
"You can't get it in a book," Kraus says of learning the craft. "It's like stories and ancient traditions. They're passed down to you. And it's an honor."
Come back tomorrow for part 3 when we find out how Kraus and his wife ended up in Minneapolis, and why Patisserie 46 is so much more than just how they make their living.
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