Chef Jeff Kraus cooks with instinct, using food to bring people together
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- It’s hard to find someone as passionate about their profession and the positive effect it can have on people as Chef Jeff Kraus.
Kraus, owner of the Crêpe Bar in Tempe, has been serving up food creatively around the Valley since 2010, back when he operated a food truck, Truckin’ Good Food. And not just any food truck; according to Kraus, it was the first food truck to hit the streets of Phoenix at the time. Two years later, Kraus and his team parked the truck for good and opened Crêpe Bar in July of 2012. Whether it’s food served on the street or the tables of his vibrant and art-themed eatery, Kraus’s style has always been about keeping food fun, accessible for all, and resourcefully used so that there’s no waste.
It just so happens that Kraus’s style coincides with that of a local nonprofit, whose goal is to fight poverty in Phoenix. NourishPHX’s mission since 1984 has been supporting more than 21,000 Phoenix-area families with its food pantry, clothing bank, and workforce development programming. This past October, Kraus teamed up with NourishPHX for its second annual Beyond the Pantry event, which is aimed at raising donations for mission-critical funding.
“It was basically to raise awareness and help raise money to provide the community with food boxes and awareness for community outreach that NourishPHX does,” Kraus explained.
At the Beyond the Pantry event, Kraus was given a big pantry box that’s typically provided to families and filled with vegetables and various foods. Kraus, who was also ironically featured in the Food Network series Chopped, utilized those very same skills to demonstrate to families how to create a tasty and nutritious meal from a NourishPHX pantry box. Kraus attributed NourishPHX’s Executive Director, Beth Fiorenza, to being the inspirational drive that fueled his fire to participate.
“Beth’s drive and fire for providing and contributing to a bigger wheel to make the community healthier and better just kind of fueled my fire,” Kraus explained.
Kraus says his playful and whimsical approach to food and cooking helped influence the dishes he made with the pantry box ingredients. With pro-Tetris-like food abilities, Kraus wasted no time in deciphering the ingredients and whipping up several colorful and eye-catching meals.
“Basically, I looked in and pulled out my ingredients, and I was thinking about the families that get these boxes, and in a lot of ways, they don’t have as many resources. So I was thinking about how can we make this fun and so that they use everything in the box - because the boxes are full. I mean, you talk about full; they’re full!” Kraus said. “And I was like, what can I do to make it a one-pot, easy clean. Make it fun but also educational, and make it something where they could carry into the next day or the next day, have leftovers.”
Kraus’s heart of gold doesn’t stop there. He says one of the reasons why he loves his job is actually being able to help educate people about cooking. Kraus indulges in the science of cooking techniques, elements of fire, and helping newcomers to the cooking scene. Regardless of one’s cooking background or level, it’s apparent Kraus wants others to experience the same joys he does when it comes to cooking.
“In all reality, you don’t have to be an expert chef, or even a foodie expert, or anything like that to cook out of these boxes. It’s just a matter of looking in it, organizing your proteins, your vegetables, your dry goods, and just kind of sorting it out,” Kraus said. “And then from there, this is where I think it’s kind of exciting what Nourish does, they’re bringing families together. For me, the calling of what I do is hospitality, and that’s getting people together.”
Even after all these years of being a chef, Kraus says he still thinks about what his profession means to him on a daily basis. Things like family time and being together during dinner were important to Kraus growing up, who says he applies a lot of those principles he learned to everything he does today.
“Make sense of what you have -- being generous, being authentic, being respectful to the ingredients if you will, no waste. Just bringing people together, cook, and have fun,” Kraus said. “Chef, now for me, means more about doing the business. Being a better leader, being a mentor. It’s less about cooking, and it’s more about education.”
Running more behind-the-scenes now gives Kraus more opportunities to set up collaborations with groups like NourishPHX and to contribute to something bigger than himself. And although he’s kept busy 24/7, Kraus couldn’t speak higher of his staff and the members of his team that keep the crêpes coming. Kraus, and the team he’s surrounded himself with over the years, embody a clear message.
“For me, what it’s all about is bringing people together, being able to spread and collaborate, like what I’m doing with Nourish. Just being able to tell other people’s stories while staying true to my story, and that’s speaking the language that we all speak, and that’s food, that’s community, that’s gathering, coming together. So altogether, I’m pretty blessed,” Kraus said.
The partnership between Kraus and NourishPHX is just getting started, with Kraus saying he’s looking forward to more cooking demos and campaigns to raise funds and awareness. Kraus also said he has a couple of upcoming projects, a chef collaboration with True Salt and another with a development company in Mesa.
Whether it’s through partnerships and collaborations or just serving up smiles through the foods he creates, this is a chef dedicated to his craft in a way that benefits everyone. Kraus’s community focus and desire to raise awareness for groups like NourishPHX are amicable. Consider checking out the experience that Kraus has built at Crêpe Bar sometime; it’s a vibe! And for more information on NourishPHX or to donate, click here.
This is the ninth segment in a breakout series on chefs in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is sitting down with chefs around the Valley to tell their stories of triumphs, perseverance, and dedication to their crafts. There is a sizeable amount of work, research, and experimentation that culminates into what gets placed in front of you on a plate or in a drink. These are the stories of the creative minds behind those delicious meals or cocktails, and how their passions for food and beverage bring us joy and closer together.
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