Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one.
Today: Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar makes the First Time Crepe.
See also: - Jeff Kraus Explains What's Cool About Food Trucks, Waxes Nostalgic for S.O.S. and Names Four Over-Hyped Food Terms He Wishes Would Go Away - The Final Celebrity Line-Up for Pie Social 2012!
We're still groggy at 6 a.m., but when we pull up to Crepe Bar, owner Jeff Kraus is shockingly energized. Then again, judging from experience, this guy is always energized. We asked to meet in his "home kitchen" and it seems he wasn't kidding about this place being his de facto home. While we're still trying to assemble our camera equipment without breaking anything, Kraus prepares a couple of cups of Crepe Bar's seasonally harvested coffee, ambling about the restaurant the way we wander through our own house in the morning hours.
If you've heard of or tasted Kraus' work, you may already have an idea of what it's like to hang out in the kitchen with this chef. One look at the Crepe Bar Twitter or Facebook and it's like you can feel Kraus and his high-energy seeping through the screen. He's chipper and happy and chatty and making us feel much better about getting up so damn early. Making small talk with Kraus we can't help but like his natural good humor and quirkiness (if you don't believe us, check out his Nutella tattoo, pictured below).
Before opening Crepe Bar, located on the northwest corner of Elliot and Rural Road in Tempe, Kraus made quite a name for himself on the road, via his mobile creperie Truckin' Good Food. Kraus then pulled off the streets for good and moved on to his second venture, ++experience++ gastro, but not before Huffington Post named TGF one of the 10 Most Influential Food trucks in 2010. In 2011 Kraus also earned and honorable mention on America's Top 20 Mobile Concepts list in QSR Magazine. He's become known for using local ingredients to turn out creative, playful cuisine - and almost always with a French twist.
As employees arrive, it becomes apparent we're not the only ones that genuinely enjoy spending time in this kitchen. Kraus jokes and banters with the others and we get a sense this commercial kitchen feels a lot like home to more than just Kraus. The conversation turns to team bowling night, evidence of Kraus' past working for AMF Lanes and bowling on the regional level.
After some usual morning duties making crepe batter and espresso butter -- wait, espresso butter? We have to do a double take and Kraus stoops down to proudly show off his vacuum-packed baggie full of espresso beans and butter. It's these tiny, creative and kind-of-weird details that endear Kraus and his food to so many in the Valley.
"Smell it!" he encourages with a smile, and we can't help but abide.
He then sets off making the First Time crepe, which was inspired by the first crepe Kraus ate in France.
"The first time I had it, that was my first European, France, French crepe," Kraus says in his signature, fragmented but always-honest speech. "It was Nutella and banana, wrapped on a street corner in foil -- handed to me pipin' hot, just gooey, messy. My version of that is the First Time. It's bruleed bananas...it's a bruleed crepe that's slightly sweetened. There's Nutella on the plate...vacuum-packed strawberries...a little bit of elderflower and vinegar, just to kind of cut through the richness. And then spiced walnuts."
A pause and a smile.
"So it's the first time. My version of the first time," he finishes.
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The Nutella and banana crepe gets carefully assembled and then torched right before our eyes and while we're all ready to dig in, Kraus meticulously arranges the crepe on a plate. First a dash of decorative Nutella and then he stacks and assembles the pieces like a beautiful and delicious piece of art.
Being only 7 a.m., we can only manage a taste of the uber sweet dish, but it's more than enough to transport us back to the streets of Paris. Tres bien.
Want to read about the other competitors? Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding