Interview with Chef James Tracey of Craft – New York, NY

August 2010

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to begin cooking professionally?
James Tracey: I had a job in high school, just for extra money, at a bakery. After school, I played basketball and went to the bakery. I had my own little room with dry ingredients, mixer recipes. I really loved working with my hands. It was really peaceful by myself. I got into it. I was going into forestry but decided not to because George Bush started making cuts in the national parks.

AB: Who are the chefs that have influenced you the most?
JT: Tom [Colicchio] because I worked with him the longest—at Gramercy Tavern for three years. Also Jeffrey Buben at Vidalia.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JT: It’s all developed around the product. A dish is developed around the animal; how they raise it, produce it, how they get it to us, and how we handle it. We utilize all the parts. It’s all on the dish: the tongue, the gizzard, the leg, the breast, and on the charcuterie board.

AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
JT: The restaurant does charity events; children, issues with food, Autism Speaks, Children of Bellevue, we do a lot of that. Jenny [McCoy] and I are getting involved with local school lunch programs. We go a couple times a year to a school in Bushwick through Bill Telepan's Wellness in the Schools program. At Thanksgiving Craft, Craftsteak, and Craftbar prepared dinner food for families in need, and an HIV-positive outpatient unit. Everyone came and had Thanksgiving at Craftbar. We all came here and cooked—we do a lot of that stuff.

AB: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
JT: Tonight? The heat and the humidity! Try doing charcuterie when it's this hot. Other than that, I'd say trying to keep it interesting doing à la carte.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
JT: Firing people, I would say, is probably hardest.

AB: What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
JT: Probably when I came back here and became chef de cuisine originally.

AB: What’s next for you? Where will you be in five years?
JT: Probably at a certain point I'll open my own space. I love New York but part of me loves the outdoors. I would like to check out the Northwest—Seattle or Portland maybe. I would love to go fly fishing for salmon and forage for mushrooms in the Northwest.