Smiles & Lemon Tarts

You might say he started out in life as a birthday present. He was born on his brother Tom’s ninth birthday. Not surprisingly Tom has been a strong influence and inspiration in his life. Meet Chris Froese, a baker who has elevated his work to an art form.

Chris was the youngest of six children. His father was an engineer, his mother worked in an office and while not in the arts themselves, they were supportive of all creative endeavors. As a child Chris drew and painted all the time, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life except that it had to be creative. “We’re all born with some kind of passion,” Chris explains.

Chris’ grandmother was responsible for stirring his enthusiasm for cooking. “She was always baking,” he beams. “She enjoyed bringing people together, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere and cooking for them,” he pauses savoring her memory. “She wasn’t the life of the party, she took pleasure from her guests’ enjoyment of the food. Her ability to put smiles on their faces just by cooking amazed me.”

Young Chris became fascinated with baking. He spent hours at the library reading, “Baking is chemistry, it’s scientific and challenging.”

Chris has no professional training; he’s self-taught. He went off to San Diego after school and worked as a waiter, eventually finding his way into the kitchen where his natural gift was revealed. He worked in a variety of hotels and restaurants. After four years he made a discovery, “I asked myself what’s important and the answer was family.” So he headed back east.

He wound up in Boston working for a ten-restaurant chain. There were no kitchen positions open so he managed their catering operation. “The mass production element of large scale catering was good training,” he tells me. He even considered remaining in the corporate management field, but his inner creative passion, his need to grow creatively took precedence.

While Chris was in Boston, brother Tom moved to Columbia County to paint. Chris came for a visit, fell in love with the place and stayed. He noticed a shortage of great desserts for sale here so he filled a niche. “Random Harvest started selling my pies and before long I was baking eighty to ninety pies a week. The baked goods began taking over the kitchen and the rest of the house. I realized I couldn’t continue this in my brother’s home.”

They began looking in Hudson and found a building on Warren Street. It was love at first sight and a lot of hard work. Two years ago last October Chris and Tom opened Brandow’s & Company.
“The true inspiration for Brandow’s was to get him out of my house,” Tom jokes in passing.

“A day doesn’t pass when I’m not grateful to have a place and the freedom to create. My brother has given me that,” Chris quietly admits.

Now if you are one of the few who haven’t discovered the pastries Chris creates; they are as good as it gets, a sight to behold, pure delight to taste. Chris continues researching, exploring and experimenting, “When you feel you know everything about your art, then you’ve stopped learning, stopped growing.”

“How do you stay so trim?”

“Moderation,” he answers. “Balance is important in life. Don’t withhold enjoyment worrying about what comes next, but have concern for moderation.” Chris smiles then tells me his motto, “Life is short. Eat dessert first.”

The impact of his grandmother’s influence remains an indelible mark. “I create things people will be excited about.” He talks about the need for consistency and for experimentation, the need for opening possibilities and an openness of the imagination.

Chris has a dream to do something for kids, sort of a Willie Wonka place where kids learn the process of cooking and creating. He also has an idea for a cookbook that goes beyond just baking. A book of values and recipes, the world of pastry both practical and inspirational, “So the reader will be moved to create pastry, too.”

Chris talks about timing. “People walk in and need something to fill their soul and I’ve just created what they need. Food has an impact on the senses; it can take people back to some special place in their life. It’s more than just delicious.”

Chris’s mother always loved one dessert in particular, his lemon tart, “She couldn’t believe how good it was,” he smiles. When she became seriously ill and lapsed into a coma, Chris brought a lemon tart to the hospital every day. Everyone told him it was useless, but Chris persisted, he waited and hoped. Every day he baked a fresh lemon tart and took it to the hospital, standing vigil at his mother’s bedside. One day she opened her eyes. Chris fed her a bit of the lemon tart. She smiled and ate it, then closed her eyes. A few days later she died, never regaining consciousness. The need to bring a smile to someone’s face is a divine family tradition that Chris continues daily.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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