IN CONVERSATION CHEFS LAUREN GERRIE AND SARA KRAMER

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Lauren: I’m going to start off with my favorite question, which is about going from Broadway to the kitchen! I’m curious to know how you got your start in the arts and then transitioned to the culinary world.

Sara: So I was a performer when I was young. I went to a bunch of camps, did a few music/theater programs in New York on weekends, and then I was going to go to NYU to a vocal performance program. I had gone to an open call for Mamma Mia at my friend's suggestion though I wasn’t really interested in being a professional actress yet. I was 16 at the time and had no idea what I was doing. So they had me sing a song, and asked me to sing another and I didn’t have one. But they ended up running after me when I was at the elevator and they handed me a packet and called me back the next week....I auditioned six times over the course of a year and then went on tour after I graduated high school. Then I did a year on Broadway—I started as an understudy on tour and worked my way up. I was just really young. It was an intense transition out of high school and into the adult world.

Theater is a really particular, weird, small, dramatic adult world. I think it wasn’t the right fit for me personality-wise and I think I needed a little bit more time...I wasn’t ready for that pressure and attention. So then I went to NYU and started studying a lot of food related things—I was always interested in food—and after NYU I went to the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is less of a true culinary school than a place to learn about the alternative food world. I was vegan at the time and very political about food. From there I did my culinary externship at Blue Hill Stone Barns, which turned into a cook job. I guess that’s the start in a nutshell.

Lauren: When we met you were at Marlow and Sons and Diner and then you went to Marlow and Daughters, the butcher shop, and then you left to travel?

Sara: Yes! I was feeling really antsy and so I went over to the butcher shop. After that, I started thinking about what I really wanted to be doing. I thought of maybe applying to school again...But then I decided to just go to Spain.

Lauren: I think our generation really embraces the fact that you can do anything and change or try out other careers.

Sara: I feel a little bit spoiled to have been able to do that, but I feel like it’s been really important for me even though it's possible I've equally lost out for not staying longer. But I've gotten a much broader experience in a shorter amount of time than most people.

Lauren: I feel like there’s this expectation, especially in New York, that you have to stay in a certain place for a certain time. I know there are reasons for that and I agree with certain standpoints, but I’m not necessarily the type of person who wants to go to the same place day in and day out for years on end, executing virtually the same thing. Even though there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge that’s gained with that, having the versatility of doing different things and being able to travel makes you a well-rounded person and chef.

Lauren: So now both of us run companies with our best friends/female counterparts. What are your thoughts on that? There are wonderful things and trying things, but what are your favorite things about working with your fellow Sarah?

Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson via Bon Appétit
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson via Bon Appétit

Sara: Well Sarah [Hymanson] and I actually met in a work setting, so we weren’t exactly friends ahead of time. Our relationship has always been a professional one. But we’re also very close outside of work. The best part about it is the support. It’s such a demanding thing we’re doing and doing it alone would be so lonely. Also, the camaraderie and commiseration...no one gets it like she does. So it’s like having someone who at any given moment really understands...that’s an amazing resource. And to be able to rely on somebody. Otherwise, I think it’s a bigger picture thing too. We both have a little bit more freedom. Since we’re together, we’re able to take on more and be more ambitious if we want to be.

Lauren: I love that you touch on the fact that partnerships allow for a lot of freedom. I don’t think that’s something we focus on enough. It is really hard to be an individual and to be an entrepreneur. On a professional level, what has been the biggest obstacle from migrating east to west?

Sara: It was a pretty crazy decision. We didn’t have anybody out here doing much of it for us. We met a lot of people who were willing to offer help and a few resources, but no one was giving us money or telling us exactly what to do. We moved to an entirely new place and opened a new business right away. It was a huge learning experience for us, and a great way to learn about the new city we were in. It was an interactive way to get around and feel like we had a purpose.

Lauren: Flannery and I always say, you know we started our company so young and naïve to the industry that we were getting into. And we really contribute a lot of our success to that because had we been in the industry longer we probably would have been more hesitant instead of working harder to prove to ourselves that we could really do it. We were so eager to learn and driven to be a part of this world and push the wheels. Now we look back and we’re like.... What were we doing? I always hate the [talk] of, “Do you feel sexism?” but do you feel as if the lady movement of chefs in LA is there and that there’s a true sense of camaraderie?

Photo via Madcapra.com
Photo via Madcapra.com
Photo via LA Times
Photo via LA Times

Sara: I think it will definitely get there. There are some amazingly strong women working in kitchens here but there needs to be something more concrete, like a support network. I think it’s so important and really rewarding. I do think there’s a big old-school presence of strong lady chefs here. I can’t even express how different this world is than in New York, but there is an older presence of female chefs here - that’s positive.

Lauren: If you could go on a food adventure anywhere and money is no object, where would you go?

Sara: I’m dying to go Vietnam and Thailand. I’ve also never been to Paris or London. But if money is really no object, I’d go to Japan.

Lauren: I would say Japan too. My boyfriend has been on work trips and said that the food experience is incredible. I’ve been to Thailand and Vietnam and it’s insane. I would spend large amounts of time there. Just on a culinary and cultural level, it’s mind blowing. What are your fridge staples?

Sara: I probably have any number of yogurts. Different condiments too, of course. There’s this spice and oil and toasted garlic condiment that’s good on anything... I also always have apples. For some reason I’m a total apple fiend. We always have stuff for making smoothies in the freezer. We hardly make them, but we’re always prepared.

Lauren: If you could have something extravagant in your fridge right now what would it be?

Sara: Sarah and I did an event recently and had about seven ounces of extra caviar. So we went to go meet up with friends in Palm Springs after the event and brought it all with us. It was a dream. I’ve also been staying with my boyfriend at his parent’s house and his mom made a big dinner on Saturday night and had extra duck liver pâté and oysters.... So I’m living the life at the moment.

Lauren: What’s your new go-to spot in LA? And what’s your go-to dish?

Sara: Go Get Em Tiger. It's a coffee place with very solid food. They’re such sticklers. It’s exactly the coffee place I want to go to. The food’s great too—it’s some of the better daytime food I’ve had in LA.

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My go-to dish would probably have to be like a yogurt/rice/porridge thing. It’s something that my boyfriend really likes. I made a version of it at Glasserie with pumpkin seeds and almonds—it was a staple. I usually pair some greens with it, or asparagus, mushrooms, or even some protein. It’s very flexible. I also make chicken soup a ton. Just a really simple, aromatic broth with whatever vegetables I have. If I'm alone, to indulge on occasion, I’ll have like half a pint of ice cream for dinner. I’ve got no problem doing that.

Lauren: Leaving you off with a New York moment... if you had just gotten off a plane in NYC, what restaurant would you go first? 

Sara: If I wanted old school comfort from my childhood, Zabar’s, which we used to eat every week when I was a kid. But now there’s Sadelle’s, Russ & Daughters, and Black Seed, so I might go for that type of Jewish delicatessen mood. The place I’d go to for an exceptional meal is Semilla. They’re doing such a good job—they’re killing it. 

 

For more from our guest editor, read Lauren’s Restaurant Guide here.