When we first set foot in John Kraus' kitchen at Patisserie 46, it looked like chaos. His staff was working quickly, baking, mixing, kneading, all in rhythm. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing and where they were in relation to everything in the room, Every movement made with care and intention. At the other end of the room, John was standing calmly at a table overseeing every process, moving smoothly from station to station helping, inspecting and perfecting. The Twin Cities are lucky to have John and his tasty talents. Patisserie 46 is always bustling with people who appreciate his craft and perfectly prepared croissants, chocolates, cakes and more. For a few years now, Patisserie 46 has been our source for baked goods, and we always enjoy when John personally drops off our order and stays for his to his favorite espresso drink. Here's a look into the man that brought classic French pastries to Minnesota.
What got you into baking in the first place?
I actually wanted to be a chef. One night I made my way to the Dorchester in England and I was chopping bones in the basement, they had this huge football field sized kitchen. One day, I started talking to one of the bakers, just because they’re there at ten o’clock at night. It just so happened that he was my age, we started chatting away. All of a sudden it was seven o’clock in the morning and I just started baking bread with this guy. I decided at that point that my idea to be a chef wasn’t fulfilling, I really enjoyed making the bread. After that, because I kept seeing guys like him staying later and later and later in the day, I saw the case at the Dorchester. All the fine pastries, bread and stuff, it was sort of mind blowing. From then on, I never looked back.
So when I came back to the US, every job I applied for said we don’t have any space for line cooks, but we have a spot in the pastry department. This was like twenty years ago when the pastry department consisted of an apple tart and crème brûlée so I just said well...I really want to work here, so I took the job. So after one year, the move to the line never happened and I just stayed in pastry. That’s kind of how it went down.
When I got to the US, not many of people had pastry experience because it wasn’t something widely accepted. There weren’t a lot of people trained to make the pastries the way I did.
I don’t mean to back track, but what did you mean by chopping bones?
Oh, I was literally chopping bones. Doing the menial tasks to make stock. At the time it was cool, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
So what was the path from England to today at Patisseire 46?
So lets see. I came back, worked a couple odd jobs in Houston, Texas. Then, I moved to Florida and worked on a beach resort, which was incredible. Then, I decided I wanted to move up to Kentucky, thats where I’m from, to be closer to home. I moved to Nashville to work at a classic French driven restaurant, with a French chef. He offered me a job, so I stayed there for five years. Then, I got a job in Chicago at the Park Hyatt near the Water Tower for two years. Next, I got a job as a teacher at a French pastry school in Chicago. I worked at the school for eleven years. It was a great job. I also traveled, consulted, I went all over the world. It was pretty cool.
Then I came up here. One day, I was teaching a class at the Art Institute, because part of my role at the school was to travel and teach classes, like weekend classes. So I was teaching a weekend class at the Art Institute and Dawn (wife) had a lot of friends up here because she lived here when she was in high school. When we visited it was May or June, it was spectacularly beautiful. All we did was ride around the lakes, went out, sat on Lake Minnetonka. We had talked about opening up a business, so I was like, maybe we could move to Minneapolis. We saw Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet and we thought this was great. The next thing we knew that economy tanked, so we stayed in Chicago for another few years, then tried to sell our house, finally did and almost over night we came up here. It was somewhat serendipitous.
What is your favorite part of the baking process?
It’s really all encompassing. I really enjoy using my hands, the artisan aspect and teaching something that is one-thousand years old. It’s hard to pin point one specific thing that otherwise I’ll be looking for that one specific thing all day. It’s everything, from start to finish. Just flower in the bowl to the final product. Whatever we’re working on at the time is my favorite.
Do you have any overarching philosophies behind what you do everyday that drives everything?
Don’t settle. Everything has to be perfect, if you come in and want a croissant on Tuesday it has to be just as good as the one on Wednesday or else you’ll stop coming back.
What does a day-in-the-life of John Kraus look like?
I’m usually up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. Then I get on it. Sometimes I run deliveries, sometimes you just do what you gotta do. When we get here we start mixing the doughs, prepping the tarts and cakes, then organize the shop that opens at 7:00 AM. Everything has to be baked fresh everyday. Then, at about 10:00 - 11:00 AM we’re pretty well wrapped up. Then, we start prepping for the next day. So, it’s almost like a train. Then around 2:00 PM, we have specific things we have to feed. At about 6:30 - 7:00 PM I go to bed, maybe eat something. I take Wednesdays off, and I come in a little later in the day on Thursday.
Where are your favorite places to go out to eat and in Minneapolis?
Lets see, I like to change it up. I like the Corner Table, I like Tilia, The Kenwood, Bachelor Farmer is cool, Butcher and the Boar. There are so many great places here. I love Saffron, that place is awesome. It’s easy to find something great to eat around here. Somedays I just want a sandwich. Anywhere with food that has some soul is good for me.
Describe your perfect day in Minneapolis?
My favorite time is right at the end of fall, right when the winter is almost here. It’s cold, you can put your flannel on and pants, but you still have the sun. I like to get up, go for a little run around the lake, take my little guy out for breakfast. I have two boys, four and eight, but one is in school on Wednesdays. Sometimes I’ll pull him out of school. It’s such an easy city to hang out in. Just grab a coffee and chill out.
Speaking of coffee, what’s your drink?
Well, I love the latte that Greg makes, but I will typically drink black coffee. But, at Urban Bean I almost never do. I always get a latte. It’s a little bit of stretch for me because growing up when I’d get coffee, maybe you would get a little sugar, but probably not.
credits: photos by Eliesa Johnson