Welcome to On Location, where we talk to the coolest cooks and makers around the country about what's inspiring them right now.
Chef Gabriel Kreuther has long been a stateside ambassador for Alsatian cuisine. After stints in Germany, France, and Switzerland and serving as executive chef at some of the most celebrated restaurants in NYC, he opened his own fine-dining restaurant in 2015. Appropriately named Gabriel Kreuther, the restaurant has won numerous accolades, including two Michelin stars, and is known for its carefully-crafted tasting menus.
The next logical step for the celebrated chef was a cookbook. "Once I had my own restaurant with a backbone and history [that] is completely connected to my roots and my upbringing in Alsace, I thought it was a great idea to have a book to complement the restaurant," explained Kreuther. "The Spirit of Alsace" celebrates all things Alsatian while also taking you on a journey through his childhood and culinary career. "[The book] explains a little bit of who I am and where I'm from and how my food has evolved."
What inspired these Alsatian cookie recipes?
The book really touches on my Alsatian background and my heritage. I included the cookie recipes that my mother still makes today—she might make less cookies, but she still makes them. She used to make so many cookies, about 200 kilos of cookies to sell through the season, and people just came. They just kept coming, year after year. We were three boys at home, so you can imagine how that went. We used to eat them at the beginning of the season faster than she could make them. I have very fond memories of later on making them with her. Those are amazing memories for me in childhood and I thought that it was great to share them with the people in the U.S.
How would you describe your cookbook "The Spirit of Alsace"?
It's about 40% about the Alsace and where I come from—there's very traditional recipes from the pretzel to onion tart to floating islands. There's a bit of biography in there about how I grew up on a farm, how I started to cook, and my upbringing and my career. And there's all about the Alsace—a lay of the land—the wine and the traditional food that people are very interested in here. Then it moves through the evolution over the years in restaurants.
What is hard translating modern restaurant recipes into a cookbook?
It's not an easy task. It's figuring out a way of explaining them in a concise way so people feel comfortable making them. Also describing them in a way that, for some of the recipes, you don't have to go full-blown, you can make a part of the recipe. [Co-author] Michael Ruhlman has the experience of writing so many cookbooks now, so it was picking his brain to figure out how to put the recipe into a format where it feels achievable and comfortable but still looks elaborate.
What makes Alsatian cuisine special?
It combines the rustic feel of German cooking and the refinement of French cooking. It also has its own seasonings: nutmeg, quatre épices, ground ginger. You have them in many patés, fillings, other things. Another hallmark of that region of cooking is the level of acidity in the sauces and preparations. No matter what we do, there is always a little vinegar or lemon juice to finish a dish. I'm not in love with the word fusion, but it's kind of like a fusion of those two cuisines.
What are your favorite dishes to make and eat at home?
When I was growing up, I used to look at cookbooks and dream about lobster this and that. You always dream about things you cannot have or don't have around you. Today, doing what I do, those kinds of products are around me much more often than before. So now what I love to do is go back to something simple like a quiche lorraine, onion tart, tarte flambée, liverwurst. Those memories, those flavors growing up with my family—now those things are special to me because I don't have them every day and they remind me of my roots.
- Snack food of choice? Chips and dip. My wife makes that sour cream dip with ranch dressing in it. Or a really nice tin of sardines
- Favorite food city? New York City and Hong Kong
- Favorite after-work drink? Glass of red wine
- Essential kitchen tool? A very good, medium-sized knife
- Top 3 spices? Nutmeg, long pepper, quatre épices
- Last thing you ate? Bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with coconut butter and banana and an egg on the side