The (culinary) road less traveled

A career in business consulting and management may be an unorthodox route to a culinary career, but it worked for Harry Crane, executive chef & culinary manager of Kraft Foodservice.

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By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

It's not often that a career in business consulting and management leads one to a passionate calling for the culinary world, but that's what happened to Harry Crane, executive chef & culinary manager, Kraft Foodservice, Northfield, Ill.

Crane’s dual expertise in management and culinary arts made him the perfect candidate for his position. After spending time as a head chef, he joined Kraft Foodservice to support the company’s foodservice efforts. He leads a three-member team of full-time chefs, who also tap into external consultants as needed.

"As head chefs go, I'm fairly tolerant and easygoing," says Crane. "My basic management theory is that everyone wants to do and tries to do a good job. As a manager, my job is to give people the tools and direction they need and let them do their job without too much interference."
Top of his toque

Chef Harry Crane took the long way around to culinary arts, with side trips on teaching and management consulting tracks.

FC: What is your personal formula, vision on food and lifestyle?

HC: I might fit into the flexitarian category. When I'm working or trying a new restaurant, I eat foods containing quite a bit of fat. At home, I try to eat a low-fat, vegetarian diet -- with lots of vegetables, fruits and fish -- my attempt at a balanced diet. My wife Andrea is a good cook. Her specialty is stir frys and vegetarian pasta dishes, but she complains that I monopolize the kitchen.

FC: What's your specialty?

HC: Asian, Thai, Chinese or French Provencal. I also enjoy making Mediterranean recipes that use olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes.

FC: What ingredients do you always keep in your refrigerator?

HC: A1 Sauce, Grey Poupon, Thai fish sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Oyster Sauce, imported olives, eggs and Catalina dressing. It's great on a salad and as an ingredient for a good Asian dressing or marinade. My wife loves Cherry Jell-O, so we always have a supply along with Cool Whip; that's dessert most nights.

FC: What are some of your favorite foods (when others are cooking for you)?

HC: When we go out, I like to eat something I don’t cook -- Japanese, for example. I don't have the time or equipment at home to make it. I also like to try ethnic foods -- Greek, authentic Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern.

FC: If you couldn’t be a chef, what would you do for a living?

HC: I started out to be a college professor, so I would probably be a teacher. It's rewarding to help people open their minds and expand their horizons. I still teach weekend classes for consumers at Kendall. And I get to teach in my job -- living both dreams, so to speak.

Kraft to the core: “My wife loves Cherry Jell-O. Along with Cool Whip, that’s dessert most nights.”

 


Crane's group is focused on the company’s foodservice customers, primarily restaurants, hotels, university cafeterias and business and industry outlets. While they work in conjunction with their peers in the Kraft Food Ingredients and Research and Development divisions, their work is quite separate.

"We integrate products," he explains. "For instance, while my Ingredients colleagues may use an A1 or Grey Poupon flavor or a cheese powder for a customer, we use the actual product that we sell into our foodservice accounts.” The group is also separate from Kraft’s R&D Division. “The chef there comes up with the next type of new pizza,” says Crane, “while we work with outside customers to customize DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza for their establishments."

Chef Crane took the road less traveled to follow his dream for cuisine. With plans of teaching upper mind, he attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Northwestern University School of Management in Chicago. He went into management consulting and along with his wife, Andrea, built a thriving consulting practice. But his culinary yearnings led him astray, so to speak, to Paris to study at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, followed by his return to the U.S. to continue his education at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and Kendall College in Evanston, Ill.

Putting his global training to good use, Crane returned to the Midwest to don his chef's toque at the famed French restaurant Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he earned accolades from the country's most discerning restaurant critics. He also embarked on a teaching career at The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, where he still shares his expertise.

Today, Crane interacts with Kraft brand managers to integrate their products into foodservice applications, while he develops recipes for customers and provides top-notch culinary advice. He says his culinary style and philosophy are partly due to the mentoring he received by French Master chef Pierre Pollin.

"He taught me to use the highest-quality seasonal ingredients, apply the appropriate method and technique and serve the foods in a simple, uncomplicated manner," Crane says. "His theory was to just do what is required to bring out the natural flavors in ingredients."

Simple but delicious is still his mantra. "We most often work with products that are commercialized," explains Crane. "That includes almost anything we sell in the foodservice channel, which covers much of our retail portfolio. We're a leading coffee company, so we've worked on matching desserts with coffee flavors and developed unique seasonal drinks. Louis Rich Turkey, which is naturally lower in fat, is an excellent ingredient in sandwiches. Most recently, our focus is salads. Many customers want salads with certain characteristics -- low-fat, low-carb or seasonal -- so we incorporate our flavor enhancing products, like A.I. or Grey Poupon, or Kraft BBQ Sauce. Customers interested in health and wellness have asked us to develop many desserts this year. A great solution is to incorporate our Crystal Light Soft Drink Mix or our sugar-free Jell-O Gelatin to add great fruit flavors without added fat or calories."
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