The pressure is almost indescribable.
You’ll receive notification that someone will be by, all the way from Europe, to inspect your businesses in 48 hours. If those pass muster, you’ll be invited to France for further analysis.
Plan to present your best cake to the 100 best pastry chefs in the world. (Not 100 of the best, mind you. The 100 best.) Also, present a specialty that represents your geographical region.
And just for kicks, bring a life-sized chocolate sculpture to present the cake. And just for an extra added bit of fun, put together a Power Point presentation. In French.
So yeah, brush up on that French. Good luck.
That’s the condensed version of Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie’s John Kraus’ initiation into Relais Desserts, an association that comprises the world’s top 100 pastry chefs.
There’s actually much more to it, little mind-blowing details, including several hours of TSA-inspired hell, convincing airport personnel that the 116-pound cabinet on wheels is in fact a hand-carved white chocolate sculpture, and it does in fact need to arrive in Lyon, France, intact if at all possible. No, it’s not cocaine. Bring out the dogs if you like.
Once in Lyon, drive it all to the small town of Yssingeux, wake up at 3 a.m. to travel to a pastry school in a castle, and make that cake for the 96 (four chefs were being inducted, along with Kraus) top savants in your field.
For context: If you were a guitar player, you’d be doing a lick while Clapton and Prince gaze down upon you. If you were a painter, Picasso would be judging your brush strokes.
Kraus passed. He's the first American to ever receive the honor. He got choked up. He went back to his room, drank a big bourbon, and went to bed for some of the best sleep he’d had in months.
It’s difficult to emphasize the prominence that John Kraus, world-class pastry chef and owner of the two finest bakeries in the Twin Cities (and one of the humblest chefs I’ve ever met), has on the world stage.
Pastry work in America doesn’t enjoy the acclaim or significance that it does in other parts of the world, especially France, where eating well is a birthright.
“Everybody eats a croissant in the morning. Everybody eats cake all the time, and not because it’s a special occasion, everybody sends their kid down to the bakery at four to buy a baguette,” explains Kraus. The daily fact of eating well in France means beautiful pastry is not just a birthright, but a true art form for everybody. And Kraus is one of the maestros of that art. One of the top 100 to be exact.
In south Minneapolis, he could easily seem like just a guy hauling bags of flour and sugar to the kitchen over his shoulder, his hands gnarled from the work. Here, he doesn’t wear a tall toque or his credentials from placing in the Coupe du Monde last year, the equivalent of the pastry Olympics.
But in between hauling those sacks, and running the two bakeries, and being a dedicated family man, Kraus spent his Sundays leading up to the test baking cakes. Fifty, to be exact, until he could be sure he had it right.
Then, he spent another 100 hours carving the sculpture with jeweler’s tools. Then having a transport cabinet custom-made. Then taking three hours of French each week.
But more than any of that, the honor represents his entire career, 25 years of concentrated effort. All so that you and I can dine like they do in France (and now, south Minneapolis) for about five dollars.
The true spirit of the association is not about marketing (at the bakery you’ll see nothing except a tiny tag on the Tristan (the name of the cake in question) reading “Relais Desserts" but rather to keep the art of pastry alive. To pass trade secrets on to one another, to elevate the art, and to make excellent eating everyone’s birthright.
The Tristan is now available at Patisserie 46, under the glass along with all of Kraus’ other divine pastry work.
The laminous wonder begins with vanilla mousse, which Kraus chose because he wanted to make sure not to overwhelm the tasters’ palates. Then passion fruit-mango gelee for acidic balance, macadamia praline crunch, hazelnut sponge cake, and “exotic cream,” a blend of pineapple, lime, passion fruit, mango, coconut, and lychee.
The whole of it is a tropical dream. Like eating Caribbean clouds. And you get yours for $5.75 at Rose Street Patisserie.
How could you not? Don’t let the French have all the fun. This is your birthright, too.
Rose Street Patisserie
2811 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis