Meet the chef: Christian Kruse from Vergennes Laundry CK
When you imagine a meal in a Laundromat it’s not glamorous. Maybe you have a candy bar and a bottle of warm soda as you watch your clothes spin around, or perhaps a smashed hamburger from a fast food joint down the road. Either way, it’s not awesome.
That is, it wasn’t awesome until 2010, when Didier and Julianne Murat transformed the original Vergennes Laundromat at 7 Main St. into a French-inspired bakery.
A wood fired oven replaced the laundry machines and the old, soapy smells were cleansed by freshly baked breads and pastries. OK, so it wasn’t really a Laundromat anymore, but the name stuck.
The Murats ran Vergennes Laundry until October 2017 when Chef Christian Kruse (aka Chef Chris) took the reigns.
“I have a lot of respect for what Didier and Julianne did here,” the 33-year-old said in an interview last month. “I kept a little of what they did and added a lot of who I am … It’s Vergennes Laundry CK because now it has my touch.”
That “touch” also earned Kruse an invitation to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City in 2016, won him the “Chef of the Year” award from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Culinary Cup at the annual Culinary Classic event at the University of Vermont.
But Kruse doesn’t let that recognition go to his head.
“I was mentored by a chef who didn’t deal with fame,” Kruse said of David Merrill, who he worked with at Basin Harbor. “It’s better to put your head down and do your job … once you get into the fame and celebrity of cooking you loose focus.
“Plus,” Kruse added, “I’m a little shy anyway.”
Originally from Westford, Kruse attended Essex High School and then graduated from Rice High School in 2002. He attempted a year at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, but wasn’t ready to take it seriously. He transferred to the University of Vermont, but didn’t do so well there either.
“I was living near the top of Church Street where all the (New England Culinary Institute) students used to park to go to class,” Kruse said. That was back when NECI had a restaurant at the top of Church Street.
Kruse got inspired and enrolled in the NECI program in 2005.
“As a kid trying to find my way, culinary school was so inspiring,” said Kruse, who grew up with two parents who loved to cook. “I remember telling my dad, ‘I’m gonna do it!’ Now I don’t know if there’s anything else I could do!?”
The quote behind Chef Christian Kruse is one he’s taken with him through all of his culinary experiences. It reads: “A chef, must think like a scientist, organize like and accountant, inspire like a warrior, move like a trackstar, plate like an artist and cook like a grandma.”
After graduating from the two-year NECI program, Kruse worked in Seattle and Salt Lake City and began his 13-year stint at Basin Harbor in Ferrisburgh.
Basin Harbor is where Kruse met Chef Juan Carlos Brenes, Pastry Chef Rebecca Chamberland and front of house manager Julio Beltran; they all now work with Kruse at Vergennes Laundry CK.
“When the previous owners were ready to sell Vergennes Laundry, the Harbor wanted to go in one direction and I was going in another … I couldn’t pass on the opportunity,” Kruse said. But there were a few hurdles to taking over a French bakery.
“Like, I’m a savory chef by heart,” he said. “Baking was scary.”
Especially in a wood fired oven. It’s not just a button you push to set the oven, you have to learn how to adjust the fire to control the heat and timing.
Thankfully Chamberland was interested in mastering her wood-fired baking skills. “I’m very blessed every day she walks in the door,” Kruse said.
Chef Brenes is the master of soup, and Kruse’s right hand man.
“I throw in a lot of love and let it simmer,” Brenes said. “The flavors do the rest.”
Even with three new cooks, new decor and a new menu, Kruse said the biggest challenge is being compared to the old Vergennes Laundry.
“I didn’t open this restaurant to carry someone else’s dreams,” explained Kruse, a father of two. “I did it for my dreams and making space for my cooks’ dreams and creativity.
“We don’t want to come off as pretentious and only fancy food,” he said. “We’re a local bakery serving brunch items, small plate tapas, seasonal dinners and good comfort food… It’s contemporary American food with New England influences.”
With his dynamic team and a supportive community, Kruse walks happily into his restaurant every day.
“We all support each other,” he said of his staff and the larger Vergennes restaurant network. “We want this place to do well and we’d love for Vergennes to be a culinary destination.”
But most of all Kruse believes cooking should be fun every day. “The day cooking becomes too serious is the day I should stop,” Kruse said with a smile. Thank goodness, it doesn’t look like that day will come anytime soon.
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