We're chatting in this week's Chef Chat with Jeff Kraus, owner and chef of Truckin' Good Food. Although the mobile version of TGF no longer roams the streets of Phoenix bringing Parisian-inspired delicacies to Valley residents, Kraus' new endeavors are making our mouths water. We're talking new menus and even a cookbook!
What is your culinary background?
I grew up peeling potatoes and shucking corn for our family suppers since I was a child. So, it made sense that I had the skills and the know how to be a Michelin Star chef. I thought that all I had to do was move to Chicago and breeze through culinary school - I already had the in, right?! Nope! A full-time program wasn't for me. I dropped out and traveled a little bit around the Mid West and East Coast. I've worked in the back at a few QS restaurants, in catering operations, and at casual eateries ever since I left Chicago. Even though I had a non-culinary related corporate job for about five years I never stopped wanting a star (A Michelin Star doesn't symbolize for me now what it did in the late 90's - I'm just using it as a reference). I've taken formal baking, pastry, and cooking classes all over the states and in France. Most of what I do now stems from my own self-tutelage. I couldn't have done it as easily without the foundation that is learned in a professional setting.
Get Jeff's take on modern French cuisine and hear what he was to say about being named one of the most influential food trucks by Huffington Post...after the jump.
I know you went to France and were inspired to start these concepts. What was/is it about French cuisine that makes you so passionate?
My concepts are inspired by my adventures, dreams, and ambition. The type of cuisine I choose for t'gf, specifically crêpes & frites, was definitely inspired by France. I admire their cuisine because of the influence they've had in the world of culinary arts. I'm passionate about their uncompromising respect that they have for their cuisine, ingredients, history, and techniques. I aspire to this level of greatness with my own cuisine.
A lot of people think they "know" what French cuisine is--how do you like to put your own spin on it?
I've worked and studied under French chefs, in the U.S. and in France - I feel like I know more than most about their cuisine, but I'm not sure I can say I really know it - because I haven't lived it. I draw inspiration from French cuisine just as much as I do from other cuisines in the world.
Going back to what I said before, I never want to classify my cuisine as anything but mindful. I want people to approach my cuisine with an open mind. I guess "my spin" on French cuisine is that I maintain their same commitment towards quality ingredients and proper execution, while making the dishes my own creation.
Having been to France, I remember a certain simplicity and loyalty to great ingredients about the street food there that people don't get here. Do you agree?
Up until the past few years the French were probably the most loyal--maybe the Italians, I'm not sure--to great ingredients. America on the whole is just kind of getting started in this area. It's not to the extent of everyday life like it is in France, but with effort it is an accessible option.
Ever since the French started integrating global flavors into their cuisine it isn't as cut and dry, simple, as it used to be. I'm not sure if they could be classified as just a French cuisine anymore. The loyalty to great ingredients hasn't changed but what they are doing with them is making their cuisine a lot more diverse. We are seeing the same thing happen pretty much everywhere in the industry, street food included - people expect great ingredients.
Huffington Post named you one of the most influential food trucks. What were you or do you do that set you apart and makes you a role model in the industry?
How awesome is that! There's no way it would have happened if Dee, Sam, and the AZ Farmers Market circle, didn't open the door for us. Nor would it have happened without all the adventurous diners that tried us and who were enthusiastic to share with others their experience and our story. So, I think it's a combination of being one of the first street food vendors dedicated to using quality local ingredients, along with my obsession and passion for creating innovative flavors that made eating from our truck something kind of exciting.
Tomorrow we've got the details about the brick and mortal location of TGF and we'll
Ask Kraus more about his other concept, "Experience."
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