There's something special about feeling empowered just by talking to and getting to know someone for the first time. One cannot help feeling motivated to push for their goals and think with an entrepreneurial mindset after sitting down and hearing Franny Krushinsky's story. Franny is the Director of Catering at Gateway City Arts and she was an instrumental voice in the development of The Bistro at GCA. She started her culinary career at age 27 and wasted no time in making her mark within the food and dining world. In addition to the work she does here at GCA, Franny is a chef, wellness coach, public speaker, mom, and a soon to be author! A couple of weeks ago, we sat down and she told me about her experience, her businesses, and her goals for the future.
C: I’m here with Franny, If you want to just tell me a bit about yourself and what led you to Gateway City Arts we can start there.
F: What led me to GCA? Well, I came to GCA as a consultant in October of 2016, so I have been here for a year and a half. I am still supporting Gateway as a consultant, but I feel I should start at the beginning of my story...it's a long one!
C: Okay! We can do that! I know you went to the Culinary Institute of America, if you want to start at the beginning of your culinary journey.
F: Yeah, I did! I was actually a business and projects financial analyst with an English/Spanish degree, before heading to the CIA, so go figure.
C: Wow! That’s cool.
F: (laughs) Yeah, I was working in a cubicle and I really didn’t want to do that anymore. I was 27 when I decided I wanted to go to The Culinary Institute of America. I had just built a brand new home and then I sold everything and moved into a triple dorm room at the CIA where I got the top bunk. It was the best decision I ever made. It’s a wonderful school and a wonderful opportunity, I got to work with and for many celebrity chefs which gave me a lot of exposure & experience.
C: I read about that, could you tell me more about that experience?
F: Sure! While at the Culinary you do tastings and events with crafts people who bring their products into the school. For example, breweries, vineyards or some or visiting Chefs will share their story. Also, chefs will come in who have gone to the school or not and have succeeded, such as Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman...Jean-Georges Vongerichten- his son went there. So you really get connected. Then after culinary school, one of the chefs that I worked for and who was my teacher ended up going on to be the Executive Chef at Morimoto NYC;still in school, I'd go to class in the morning from 6-2, then on the train to Manhattan at 3 for dinner service beginning at 5pm, back on the train at midnight and back home around 2am…
C: And then do it again?
F: Absolutely, it was a great learning experience. I worked in the office with Morimoto & I was able to use my financial background as well as my culinary. I came in earlier in the day to assist with inventory and invoicing. I would work with him on certain projects and interviews. It was very interesting & intimidating! Usually, it would just be Morimoto and I in the office all day.
C: You would get to know the whole business.
F: Yeah! I mean, just to see how many millions of dollars they have of tuna frozen in reserve- it’s insane.
F: Then at night,I would work the line. We would do about 500 covers a night. That was normal. It was a really busy place and I learned a lot, but being a line cook was not what I was looking for. I originally went to culinary school to be a food writer, that’s what I wanted to do. So I think going in with that hope and coming out with a totally different indoctrinated mindset; The CIA tends to breed the celebrity chef culture. But it was a great experience, I was just looking for more. Morimoto was a well oiled machine that ran well, I just wasn’t looking to move up the ranks as a line cook in that type of kitchen. So, I ended up leaving that position and because of Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I landed an opportunity to open a cafe. It was called The Simple Kitchen, it was an organic local market and cafe. I walked into the interview carrying the book and she had the book on her desk and we just started connecting.
F: So the concept started with a sparkling beverage that we produced, then the sparkling beverage morphed into the cafe concept. The cafe was a retail space at that point, so we had to do the entire kitchen build out. I developed hyper seasonal & local menus. We sourced all our meat, dairy, produce, bread from within 100 miles. We worked with a lot of farmers at the Union Square Farmers Market. We also had the Simple Gardens, our farm, in Litchfield, CT which supported the cafe.
C: I read that you like to eat with the seasons and cook with the seasons, was that part of the foundation for that?
F: It was and is! I think the foundation was, and this is going way back, when I was 6 years old my mom took me to my first farmer’s market and I walked in to the area where the farmers were and I turned around and looked at my mom and I said, “This is what I want to do, this is what I want to do.” So I think that I have always been food-centric, I mean ALWAYS been food-centric. I’ve always appreciate seasonality and fresh food, because that is how we grew up. So, The Simple Kitchen was just my opportunity to showcase that. It was at the point where, well 2007 to 2010 I was there, It was the cusp of farm to table dining. Chefs were switching from micro greens to heirloom vegetables. So, it was an exciting learning curve and opportunity. I had the support of many Chefs who were willing to teach me and help me out, and we even ended up in the New York Times.
C: That’s awesome. So the NYT was an article on you and your business?
F: Yes, it was on The Simple Kitchen and me and how we started. We hadn’t even opened yet and Florence Fabricant was the NYT food writer at the time, and she had walked in and I was just there cleaning up stuff. We hadn’t even opened yet, we were just organizing. She asked me what the concept was going to be, so I was explaining everything to her and showing her all of the beverages and she asked if I was the owner so I told her I was the chef and she said, “That’s not a bad person to be.” She asked what the plan was and I started telling her about it, and at this point I still don’t know who she is, so she said “Let me give you my card, I’d really like to continue this conversation.” And so she handed me her card and it says “Florence Fabricant; New York Times Food Critic” and I was like “Oh My Mother of God”...
C: I just got chills.
F: So, they did the interview and they brought their camera crew out. They did a whole photo layout.
C: This is before you were even open?
F: Yeah, so it was really cool. I got to work with Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali. I was like pinch me, am I really here?
C: It sounds like this was really, I don’t know if genuine or innovative is the right word, but it was before the health food trend was popping up, it is clear this was something you were very invested in from the beginning.
F: I was. I was very invested in seasonality. I follow and love Alice Waters. I love David Tanis. I love Ottolenghi- I love people who just take the food and don’t manipulate it so much. It is what it is what it is. You can present these wonderful, beautiful flavors in a very simple way that are incredibly delicious. That’s my thing and that’s what I support.
F: And then after The Simple Kitchen, I was 6 months pregnant during that time, I couldn’t do the whole baby carriage on the subway thing. We ended up moving to the Pioneer Valley and I took care of my daughter Elodia.
C: You then had two other businesses that you created and owned right?
F: Right! I have an entrepreneurial spirit. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you learn from the experience. I had a baby food company when my daughter Elodia was little, and that was Bad Apple Baby Food Company. It was a micro batch renegade baby food company and I had a stand at the farmer’s market. The menu was based on what was in season. It was real food with real spices and grass-fed butter...like hakurei turnip with maple butter for the Spring.
C: So as a parent you know exactly what you’re giving your child.
F: Right. And it was real sweet potatoes, and maple, and butter, and then I would put spices in. I would use cumin, I wasn’t afraid to challenge & elevate the pallet of children Elodia’s first meal was pureed lamb and celeriac.
F: So what other businesses do I have? Right now I’m doing For Good Measure Catering and Consulting, I also do public speaking and I am a wellness coach.
C: I didn’t know you are a wellness coach.
F: I am a certified health coach via the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan. Their health coach program focuses on holistic nutrition & bio-individuality. Not one thing fits everyone. They call it fitting out instead of fitting in. It is trying to look at every aspect of your life- your job, your home life, do you have community connections, do you have friends, dietary sensitive? It looks at everything.
C: Wow, so that affects everything.
F: I continued supporting the local, sustainable foods front by accepting a grant position at Smith College from the Henry P Kendall Foundation out of Boston. The foundation strategically placed 6 grant recipients up & down the the 91corridor. Smith being one of them. UMASS had two, the processing center in Greenfield had one, Chicopee Public Schools had one. As I am not from New England, that is how I got to explore the Pioneer Valley and develop relationships with the local farmers- which was awesome. And you know, farmer’s markets are great, but many farmers want more bang for their buck. They are really looking for wholesale clients and there is nothing better than a large institution that needs food constantly and values the produce and local foods. So we were able to really help out some farmers that were just beginning to grow their businesses and to be able to give them certain outlets at Smith and other colleges.
C: Do you find that working with farmers in the Pioneer Valley versus when you were in the city is a different experience out here because there is such a stress on agriculture and it is so prevalent. We talked yesterday about local farmer’s markets people often are just walking through and grabbing lunch.
F: Yeah, I think in New York City they are valued more because there isn’t the same access to the farms themselves.
C: Mmm, you have to go to the Farmer’s Market.
F: Yes, head to the farmers market or pick up your CSA share. In the Pioneer Valley, we have incredible access to farms, and the Pioneer Valley did truly pioneer. Massachusetts created the CSA farm share program. Massachusetts also has a food plan covering production, sourcing,distribution and other aspects of food production & access.
C: I didn’t know that.
F: Massachusetts is extremely progressive. I had the opportunity to contribute to the 2015 Massachusetts Food Plan. Many initiatives were Massachusetts born and grown. I think we do have quite a focus on it and I think when you look at the educational systems in Massachusetts, The Stockbridge School at UMASS, and Hampshire; they really are agriculturally focused. I think that breeds farmers. I think there is a new wave of farming. It’s not necessarily working harder, it’s working smarter. When you look at these farms- like Red Fire Farm, Mountain View Farm, and Easthampton- it’s a business. They are doing CSA drops into Manhattan. I think instead of being a ‘build it and they will come,’ it is an intentional business. You look at Crimson and Clover and the father of farming in Hadley, Joe Czajkowski, he is supporting these farmers because he has a lot of the production materials. For institutions and schools and things of that nature, he is able to process butternut squash. So they’re going into the schools and it’s already diced, but it’s local!
C: I did know that UMASS had one of the oldest programs involving agriculture, but that’s really interesting. What after Smith led you to Gateway?
F: As I may have mentioned, I have an entrepreneurial spirit...so I keep wanting to work for myself. In 2016, I started For Good Measure Catering and then catering ended up in consulting, and that’s how I ended up at Gateway. I came and the Bistro was just being built and they needed some help opening. I gave them a proposal and they accepted it. I was supposed to be here for three months from October to December, and that was about fifteen months ago.
F: Yeah! We have had much transition in the past year, but I think that we have a solid team. This is a wonderful opportunity with a great mission & very unique space. I think that within the next year, we are really trying to define ourself within the community.
C: I know you have talked about wanting to be involved with more places in this community and whatnot, do you have any visions on what you would personally like to see here in terms of growth?
F: Of course,I think there’s a whole giving back portion. Gateway is developing a non-profit sector named Gateway Live Org. The non-profit will focus on making art in all its forms accessible to everyone. For me, I have always wanted to see culinary arts used as an educational tool. I have had discussions with Girls Inc as well as some other non-profits in the area, trying to provide/increase food access and culinary training. For me, it all goes back to the importance of health and wellness. If you teach people how to cook and what to eat then their health is going to improve, their family relations will improve, their outlook and opportunities will improve. I believe that cooking is an integral life skill.
C: Outward healthy living can affect everything, I mean that affects your mental health.
F: Yes, it’s everything. Food is thy medicine...it's really true. You are what you eat.
C: I really appreciate you talking to me, you’ve given me really great insight. Is there anything else you want to tell me about yourself?
F: I could go on....
C: I know you talked a little bit about Elodia, has she influenced your work at all? I know that she inspired your baby food company.
F: She definitely has in many ways. From my cooking to my other aspirations as well...she and my father, the original chef, have inspired me to write a a children's book series about discovering global cuisines. That is what my focus is presently.
C: Wow, I got chills twice when we were talking today. You’re already working on that?
F: Yes. I am working on the voice, the outlines and building the formula of the work. Oh, and research, lots of research!
To learn more about our catering services and booking your special events with Gateway City Arts, contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 413-420-8010. We are proud to offer a wide variety of dining and catering options as well as a number of event spaces on site to suite your needs! Visit our website to see what event spaces and features we offer to make any event special!
Learn more about Franny by visiting her website.
Read about Franny in the New York Times.