Executive chef and proprietor of Cru Catering and Cru Cafe John Zucker got here into the Charleston culinary panorama round 2000, when he opened Cru Catering, turning into one of many metropolis’s prime caterers in City Paper’s Best of Charleston awards since 2001.
Then, in 2002, following the swift success of Cru Catering, Zucker opened Cru Cafe on 18 Pinckney St. Twenty years later, the cafe has turn into a Charleston culinary landmark, serving revolutionary and international-inspired delicacies that, in its preliminary inception, was new to Charlestonian style buds.
Before he got here to Charleston, Zucker graduated prime of his class at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, adopted by a profession working with superstar chef Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Las Vegas, then he turned the sous chef at Canoe in Atlanta, which was nominated as Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 1996.
In honor of the cafe’s milestone, City Paper caught up with Zucker for Cru Cafe’s twentieth anniversary to replicate on the twenty years of being one in all Charleston’s prime institutions and the modifications within the metropolis’s evolving culinary scene since opening Cru.
“I always felt lucky that what I like to eat is typically what a larger percentage of what the public likes to eat, so I just followed my personal likes and put those things on the menu,” Zucker stated about Cru Cafe’s key to longevity. “Typically, we get an incredible response as a result of what you’re actually attempting to do is get on the market and hit as many individuals as you may and make as many individuals proud of the meals you’re placing out and never limiting your self.
“And back then, [Charleston cuisine] was very limited,” he added. “I helped open up a restaurant called Sonoma … and that restaurant had a really eclectic menu. Then when we opened up [Cru Cafe], my background was this mix of French and Californian cuisine, and I carried that theme from Sonoma over to the cafe, and there was really nothing in town like that at all, nothing that was eclectic or bringing additional flavors to the table that I felt Charleston really needed.”
With an ongoing staffing disaster within the meals and beverage business, tacked on with the COVID-19 pandemic the previous two years, Cru Cafe has managed to climate the storms to succeed in its two-decade milestone. And it’s all due to the dedication of its employees, Zucker stated.
“I feel like if any one of my employees were to leave, it would be very difficult to replace them,” he added. “I’m fortunate that I’ve had people with me for over 10 years. I know other restaurants say this, but we truly take care of our employees because they’re the key to our success. If one were to leave, it would just change everything in a heartbeat.”
With over twenty years of being a part of the Charleston culinary group, Zucker has witnessed the altering panorama of town’s eating places, consulting with some like McCrady’s and 39 Rue de Jean, and experiencing firsthand the rising improve in several worldwide cuisines.
According to Zucker, it was initially onerous to coach Charlestonian diners to the brand new forms of ethnic cuisines he delivered to their tables when he first opened Cru Cafe. Nevertheless, with locations like Johnson & Wales University within the early 2000s (JWU closed its Charleston campus in 2006), Zucker observed a rising improve in cooks who had been hungry for extra. The want for training was there, simply hidden amongst the younger cooks.
“There was a level of people who were wanting to learn, and we had a bunch of people come through that really wanted to learn to eventually open their own restaurant and that was kind of a rare scene,” he stated.
In the previous 20 years, that inhabitants has boomed, altering town’s once-limited culinary panorama.
“Now, you’re seeing all these people who went by way of that strategy of studying they usually’re all so proficient. You can’t identify one which’s not. Back then, it was only a handful of individuals attempting to do issues as a household. The decisions had been simply not there.
“And now, how do you even decide where to go?”
Even with town’s ever-changing scope, Cru Cafe nonetheless provides some “day one” menu gadgets, showcasing the restaurant’s timeless meals with gadgets like its Four Cheese Macaroni, Thai Seafood Risotto, Chicken Club and Chinese Chicken Salad. And although Zucker needs he could make modifications to the menu, Cru Cafe’s loyal buyer base makes it troublesome.
“It’s great that we’re able to keep some dishes on there for so long,” he stated. “I’ve a man who is available in 3 times per week for that rooster membership and he’s been coming for 15 years. I noticed him the opposite day and requested, ‘Hey, what if I took this sandwich off the menu? What would you do?’
“He laughed and said, ‘Better not have been ordering that for 15 years for you to take it off.’”