Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar executive chef Matt Kraiss (Credit; Jackie Tran)
As a 17-year-old, Ermanos Craft Beer & Wine Bar executive chef Matt Kraiss didn’t think he was anybody’s pick for a future chef until he met former Union Public House executive chef Tucker Hartford.
The two started a hip-hop group writing and recording music while Hartford whipped up dishes in the kitchen. Hartford’s passion and appreciation of different food helped pushed Kraiss out of his comfort zone and into the culinary world.
Later on, Kraiss worked at Lindy’s on 4th with Ernesto Equis, who told him,”I didn’t know shit about food and if I shut the hell up, maybe I would learn something.”
Nowadays, you can catch Kraiss at Ermanos experimenting endlessly with fermentation and smoking.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, a dish that Patrick Malarchik made, also another former executive chef at Union. He has the same birthday as Dr. Seuss, so every year on their birthday he would make a Dr. Seuss dish. Seeing the one he did while I worked there really showed me how creative you could be with food. Having been an artist for years before taking cooking seriously, I was amazed at how many different techniques there were and how many creative possibilities you have with food as your medium.
2) What are you eating these days?
While dining out, it’s my goal to eat as much of a variety of food as possible — but most nights, after my shift ends, I just go to Geronimo’s Revenge for a snack.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy. This was a staple in my house growing up.
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
Fermentation I suppose, I’m not a trend follower, never have been. I didn’t even know kimchi was trendy until someone told me it was after I had it on my menu for a couple months.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
When Travis Peters from the Parish did one of these he said he wants to cook with Buddy and I. That’s a huge compliment, and that is also who I would love to both eat and cook with here in Tucson. That guy is a straight stud. He does weird shit, but he is so talented. People just shove it in their faces and say thank you chef. It’s so great to watch. He just won Iron Chef Tucson and if I had to guess, we have two more years of him in the throne. “Rock on Tucson!”
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
I’m not as well traveled as I would like to be, but I really enjoy the food and culture in Albuquerque. FYI they have a amazing hip-hop scene there as well.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Frozen Thin Mints crushed up in a glass with milk like you’re eating cereal. It’s a childhood favorite. I get it from my father who still buys two cases of Thin Mints every time Girl Scout Cookies come around.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
OBON Sushi Bar Ramen, We all just eat OBON. Paulo Im is one of the most talented chefs I have had the pleasure of calling my friend. Second is Pasco Kitchen & Lounge and Red’s Smokehouse + Tap Room, I really love what Ramiro Scavo and Sam Krajnak are doing over there. I got to help them with the Iron Chef Tucson Meet the Chefs this year and I had a blast cooking with them. Third, DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails — Devon Sanner and Janos Wilder are humble, talented, and I’m really enjoying the Around the World Culinary Tour happening right now. Honorable mention to Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink. That Speck & Egg is to die for.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
My mother’s chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy, I have eaten this more then anything else. With all of the techniques I have learned along the way, pan sauce with meat drippings is still my favorite and the most gratifying thing to make.