q & a with kris kreiger

While Kris Kreiger may not be a household name, his store, Chef’s Choice Meats, is quickly becoming part of our vocabulary. Up until a few months ago, I wasn’t aware that a pretty impressive offering of cured meats, similar to Seattle’s Salumi, was nestled in Berea. But there is much more than a lengthy (and tasty) offering of all things cured. On any given day, expect to find a wide selection of cheese, seafood, pork, beef and chicken, most of which is from local farmers.

1. You have a lot of passion for your craft. How did you get started? I’m a chef by trade and have made sausage at home for a long time. My experience of living in Germany and learning and eating the many regional cookery has also led me to what I do now. I was close to opening a restaurant a couple of times but timing just didn’t work out. I chose the butcher shop then because I thought the hours would be better – ha.

2. Artisan-cured meats are growing in popularity. Why? That’s a good question. I’m not sure other than perhaps some people are concerned with what they are putting in their bodies. As a result, the products I make are authentic clean products which older folks remember them to taste like, and the younger folks realize the taste is down right yummy.

3. What’s the secret to curing meat? The right know-how and environment.

4. Who else is doing a good job of curing in Cleveland? The most interesting one I have tried is from MS [Michael Symon] and that’s his saffron salami. I don’t know if he still makes it but it was very interesting. Other than Mike, I know guys are trying to do it but I don’t know their products.

5. How would someone start curing meats themselves? Take my class on dry curing.

6. Are you currently experimenting with any new flavor combinations? In these couple of slow months I am trying a few test batches of new products. First, I’m trying a cold-smoked dry-cured Polish sausage. Second, I’m trying two new salamis: a Polish salami with cardomon and a Hungarian. The sausage will be ready in a month and the salamis in three months; however, I just made a killer batch of liverwurst and smoked braunschweiger. And in time for Mardi-Gras, I’ve made tasso ham. Also, I am going to resurrect two old ones, both dry-cured: Cuban-style chorizo and Chinese sausage.

7. If someone is coming to your store for the first time, what is a must-try item? That’s like asking which child is best. The most complex is my smoked andouille. Lately, my dried apple breakfast sausage has been very popular. On the dry side, my sopresseta, Genoa or linguisa are all excellent.

8. How does your selection of beef, chicken, veal, fish, pork, etc. differ from a traditional grocery store? Completely. I am a proud supporter of as many Ohio farms and businesses as possible. My beef is awesome. It’s Ohio Signature Beef (chemical-free beef). It is source verifiable and I can call the farmer. I get it by the side – my product has bones in it! Grocery store meat cutters, for the most part, wouldn’t know which end of the cattle to grab. Thus I can dry age product for better tasting steaks. I also get a series of what has come to be called Bistro Steaks: skirt, flank, flat iron and sirloin tri tip. But the stew meat and roasts are equally better. My poultry is free-range natural chicken and turkeys. Gerber in Kidron, Ohio for chicken, Albright in Dayton for turkey and Daisyfield in Sandusky for pork. And my seafood is almost always wild – Texas gulf shrimp as big as your finger.

9. What farmer’s do you regularly support and why? As mentioned above, I support as many Ohio producers as possible. I’ve just put a program together to start carrying an array of Ohio produced dry goods by small to medium producers. As for the why, I just think it’s smart business. The big box stores have all the advantages, but do we know where the products come from and how they are handled? With me and my small place, I know all the products and how long they have been kept and how they are handled. I’m also making more contacts by participating in the North Union Farmers Market at Crocker Park in the summertime. It’s been fun getting to know the other vendors, farmers and customers. I’m looking forward to participating again this year.

10. What’s your favorite way to prepare a steak? Better question is what’s my favorite steak. It’s my 2.5 inch Cowboy steak (our signature steak) which is a frenched down rib steak with a handle. It’s dry aged to perfection then allowed to come to room temperature. It’s seasoned with just Kosher salt, fresh garlic and of course black pepper, then thrown on a medium hot charcoal fire and grilled to medium rare (about 20 minutes – I said it was thick). It’s absolutely kick *ss! You could add sauteed button mushrooms in butter and sherry wine on the side and one of our twice baked potatoes with honey, maple bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, onions and chives. Why go out to dinner for a steak? Yum.

11. Why should a vegetarian visit your store? Provided they are not vegan, we have a killer cold-smoked salmon, fresh organic/wild salmon, cod, perch, lobster tails, king crab legs and shrimp. We do a host of prepared heat n’ eat foods like eggplant, rolotini, spinach, artichoke and a gruyerer quiche, plus a great boutique wine selection and beers from around the world.

12. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland? LiWah in Asia Town.

13. What restaurants carry your products? Sokolowski’s University Inn, Buckeye Beer Engine, Mikes Bar & Grill, Donti’s Pizza and Cornerstone Brewery (I’m making Scottish Haggis for the Robert Burns Night this week) just to name a few.

14. What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? Our ethnic pool – so much to choose from; however, we do little to celebrate it. Like instead of doing the Oktoberfest (lame) at the fairgrounds, why not have a sausage and dumpling festival? Each ethnic group has both. We could give awards for the best. Milwaukee does it. What really drives me crazy is our shitty economy and that the area’s leaders (that’s a joke) can’t seem to come up with a plan or even small steps to improve it.

15. If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I’m not sure but I’d bet it would be connected with food.

16. Would you ever consider opening your own restaurant? Yes, under the right circumstances. I’d like to do a German restaurant with a traditional beer garden attached serving wurst, schnitzel and sauerbraten. For all the krauts in Cleveland, the only descent German joint is Der Braumeister [on Lorain / 216.671.6220].

9 Comments

  1. rockandroller
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Great interview. I’m not sure why he mentioned all the fish with regards to vegetarians, they don’t eat fish or any animals. Vegans also don’t eat products of animals which can be obtained without harm, like cheese or milk or eggs. Most vegetarians eat those items. But neither group eats fish. Pescatarians are vegetarians-plus-fish.

  2. michelle v
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Honestly, I get all the definitions and who eats what confused, too. And it doesn’t help that I have several family members and friends that call themselves vegetarians but they all eat fish. So they don’t help matters, either. It’s such a loose term anymore, but I think most people assume vegetarians eat fish. At any rate, thanks for clearing it up.

  3. Jennnnnnn
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    When my parents lived in Berea, they picked up steaks there on occasion. I always thought they were excellent steaks, but didn’t know Chef’s Choice was getting such a following! Will have to stop by again next time I’m in the area to try a couple of new things.

  4. rockandroller
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I think it depends on why the person is a vegetarian. While there are a variety of reasons, most vegetarians seem to lean heavily toward EITHER making the choice for dietary reasons OR for “humane/animal rights” reasons. The latter category would never eat fish and are fond of responding to the question “Do you eat X/Y/Z” with phrases like “Nothing with a face.” Which I think is inflammatory and irritating, but that’s another topic. I think those who have gone to a veg. diet because they think it’s more healthful might also naturally include fish as it’s branded as a healthy protein.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I have stopped in various times and have been disappointed that they offer no Lamb,I’m hoping maybee for Easter he’ll have some.The Italian Chicken sausage is GREAT!!!

  6. Michael Walsh
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Kris is the most straight talking person in the food business that i’ve meet in this city. He talkes straight and know his shit. I trust Kris more than any other meat purveyor/chef in town. If he says he made it, or it’s local then that is the truth! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ll spare you the bull crap i’ve seen other places, as long as you believe me, Kris is the real deal!

  7. michelle v
    Posted January 30, 2008 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Michael for sharing your thoughts. I’ve learned he is very well-respected among local chefs.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted April 23, 2008 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    The owner interviewed here is very rude to customers and I would be careful ordering his meat. Many of us tried it and found it unpalatable.

    I don’t know what locals respect him. I lived near here for 30 years and I haven’t heard any good remarks about him (the business is relatively new in the neighborhood). We have witnessed his rudeness to customers.

  9. Oscar Torales
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    I would like to contact with this great chef. References about his products are excellent. Please send me his e-mail address.
    From a far away country, Paraguay, South America.

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