Interview with Pastry Chef Kat Craddock of Tremont 647 Boston, MA

April 2010

Katherine Martinelli: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Kat Craddock: I always really enjoyed cooking, but I didn’t think of it as a career path until I was in college. I had an English degree. At school I was working at a cheese shop in Wellesley [Massachusetts] and a lot of food nerds would come in, and we would always talk. I moved to Chicago and went to culinary school there. I didn’t start thinking about pastry specifically until I had an externship with Mindy Segal at Hot Chocolate and I loved it.

KM: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
KC: I think it depends on the individual. In retrospect, if I had worked in restaurants, I wouldn’t have gone to culinary school. But I hadn’t worked in restaurants before so I didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to walk into a restaurant. I’ve learned a lot more on the job.

KM: Where have you worked professionally as a pastry chef?
KC: [At] Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate [I worked] production [and as a] line cook. When I moved back to Boston I was pastry sous chef at Excelsior and then [I was] promoted to head pastry chef. I was there until they closed, and now I’m here [at Tremont 647].

KM: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
KC: Mindy Segal. What haven’t I learned from Mindy Segal? I had a basic culinary training—I only took two basic pastry classes in school—so everything I know is from Mindy. I worked with Molly Hanson at Excelsior and learned a lot from her. She had lived and worked in the San Francisco-Bay Area so we shared the same obsession with seasonal, sustainable agriculture.

KM: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
KC: Work for the toughest kitchen that you can and don’t ever—particularly when you’re just getting started—work for somewhere who’s easier and isn’t going to push you or help you to develop any sense of discipline or creativity. Mindy is notoriously hard to work for, but she’s amazingly creative and puts a lot of faith into the chefs. I was able to learn so much just because she expected it of us.

KM: What is your pastry philosophy?
KC: I generally try to keep my desserts fairly simple and straightforward and really highlight the ingredients I’m using as much as possible. I try to source out ingredients from producers I’m ethically in accordance with and who are making a good product without negatively impacting the environment. And I try to emphasize those ingredients as much as possible without overworking them.

KM: Where do you fit into your local culinary community?
KC: I work in it. Boston has a fairly tight-knit culinary community. It’s a pretty small town for a big city. We use as much local stuff as we can, like Taza chocolate and produce, which is being delivered by Metroped which is all by bike. I try to get to the farmers markets as much as possible.

KM: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
KC: Middle Eastern and Indian flavor combinations are becoming a little more mainstream. Effort towards using sustainable and local is finally becoming mainstream. I usually try to ignore trends but that’s a pretty good one. I’m glad people are more interested in farmers markets.

KM: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
KC: Probably what they’re favorite thing to make is.

KM: Is there an ingredient that you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
KC: Prunes. I have to sneak prunes in [to my desserts]. I think they’re great and they’re very underappreciated. They’re lovely with chocolate.

KM: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KC: I really like Persian desserts. I’ve been using a lot of rosewater and honey flower water and super traditional Persian flavors like cultured dairy products and yogurts.

KM: What are your most essential tools?
KC: My Kitchenaid [stand mixer] and my French rolling pin.

KM: What are your favorite cookbooks?
KC: For classics probably mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. Elizabeth Faulkner’s Demolition Desserts. And Sherry Yard’s cookbooks are both really solid.

KM: What is your best pastry resource?
KC: The King Arthur Flour website is a wealth of information. Even apart from recipes, their techniques are really great. Bob’s Red Mill is a similar resource. They’re kind of like a hippy grain company.

KM: Tell me about a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed that you’re very proud of.
KC: I am especially proud of my crust in my pâte brisée. When I was living in Chicago I was in the neighborhood pie contest a few years in a row. I was determined to win and put a lot of time into my pie crusts. I won third place.

KM: If you could go anywhere in the world for culinary travel, where would you go?
KC: I’ve been to France and would really like to spend more time there. I was there for three weeks with friends from culinary school. I would also love to go to Mumbai if I could get time off.

KM: What are your favorite restaurants off the beaten path in your city?
KC: Canto 6 Bakery. Santarpio’s is a pizza joint that’s been there for 100 years, out by the airport. They just do pizza and grilled house-made sausage.

KM: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KC: I actually considered going to library school. One of my other jobs was fixing rare and damaged books in my school library. There’s a lot of similarity. It was very craft-based, very precise work, and I really enjoyed that. But that particular type of library science is dying out and there were very few programs and I didn’t want to move to Texas to do it, so I went to culinary school.

KM: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
KC: Success is being in a position where you’re doing something worthwhile with your time that brings pleasure or beauty into somebody else’s life, does as little damage as possible to the environment, and [doesn’t] consume so much time that you don’t have any other life. It’s very important to me to have time for my friends, my family, and my pets. Money is essential, but it’s not a priority.

KM: What’s next? Where will we find you in five years?
KC: I don’t really know. I live in an artists co-op right now so my community is very much a part of where I am. We’re building our space out now so I’ll definitely be in Boston for a while. I’d like to go back to France for a little while; it would be nice to spend a year there working. Like I said, my community and my work is not the entirety of my life. I hesitate to want to open a business one day because I know unless I opened a business with my family it would be too consuming.