CHEF JOSHUA GRAVES
Classically trained at California School of Culinary Arts, Joshua Graves didn't find his calling for bread and pastries until he worked for David Myers at Boule in Los Angeles in 2006. He went on to work at Mani’s on Fairfax, where he continued to deepen his love of bread and pastries. In 2009, Josh met Kris Morningstar and they opened Mercantile and District in Hollywood, in 2001 they opened Ray’s and Stark Bar inside LACMA. It was there that Graves received recognition from Angeleno Magazine for Best New Pastry Chef and Zagat LA’s 30 under 30. After leaving Ray’s and Stark Bar, Graves went on to become the Head Pastry Chef at Faith and Flower in DTLA.
As the Head Pastry Chef at The Rose Venice, Graves is excited to work alongside Chef Jason Neroni to grow and expand the market while keeping the Americana feel. Graves is French-trained but was raised in Burbank, so the local flavors have a huge influence on his baking. He likes to let local and seasonal ingredients speak for themselves. He lives by the philosophy of ‘if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong’, and that shines through in his desserts which are light and playful takes on classics.
Valrhona: What inspired you to enter the world of pastry?
I was either going to go to school for music or for cooking. I went to culinary school, I kind of took a chance. I liked cooking, but I had never worked in a professional kitchen before. I had only cooked at home making food with my mom – whatever she made for dinner – trying different things and trying to challenge myself. My mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother – everyone baked growing up. So, I took a chance on cooking and I really liked it. I fell into it and it’s worked out for me.
For me, baking and pastry is a very fine balance between art and science. Science has always been one of my favorite things. Chemistry and math were my favorite subjects in school, and I always loved music and art. So for me, pastry is the culmination of all of that. It’s where I really fit in.
Valrhona: From where do your inspirations for new creations come?
I try to use as many seasonal ingredients as possible, I go to the farmers market every week. I work with a forager that visits farms up and down California and sources the best ingredients possible. I really try to support small family farms as much as possible. I use heritage grains from farms that are bringing back heirloom older grains that people are not really using. I was amazed the first time I smelled the aroma from freshly milled flours. I didn't realize that four could ave so many aromas. It's cool to use something that has been looked over for so long and extract so much flavor from that. Just by toasting oat for instance, you bring new flavors, it tastes completely different.
I am passionate about bread and loved the book, "Modernist Bread" because it breaks down the science of bread. I love science.
Valrhona: Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
I wouldn’t say there is one person specifically, but there have been a lot of people along the way to help me. I try and learn something from everyone. I’ve worked with a lot of savory chefs that have taught me a lot about creating big, bold flavors and how to get the most out of your ingredients. I’ve worked with pastry chefs who have taught me the finesse of the pastry realm. And I’ve had a lot of sous chefs whip me into shape on keeping my station clean and how to actually work in a kitchen.
When I was in culinary school, I got a job at a bakery called Boule. We cooked in the restaurant and we sold everything at the bakery while the restaurant was closed during the day. It was cool. I really fell in love there. The pastry chef there was great, and I learned a lot. It really set me on the path of being a pastry chef. I thought it was fun to be more thoughtful in what you were doing, measuring precisely, the chemistry of how everything works.
Someone I really look up to and that I know personally is Lincoln Carson. He is a great guy. An amazingly talented pastry chef and so humble. Everything he created is amazing. Every component goes so well together.
Valrhona: What is your style as a manager? How do you think your team thinks of you?
I try to treat people with the utmost respect. I don’t yell at people, I’m not a yeller. If you’re messing up, if you’re not getting it, I’m a very patient person. I’m going to try to teach you. I’m going to try to do everything I can, and as long as you’re trying your hardest and you’re putting in your effort, I will continue to put my effort into you. I believe that anyone can do what we do. Anyone can cook, anyone can bake. It’s what you put into it. It’s a matter of wanting to do it. If you want to learn, you’ll learn. If you want to do it right, you’ll do it right,
Valrhona: What is your favorite part about working in the pastry world?
My favorite part of being a pastry chef is being creative. It's my artistic expression. I don't have time to play music anymore. Pastry is my output to being creative. [I love to] break down the science of things. I want to understand the ingredients. I went to the school in Tain L’Hermitage last year in May, and I took a class. And the teacher, Franck Wenz really broke down the science of dairy. He had taken a lot of classes with [inaudible], and he learned a lot. He passed on a lot of knowledge about dairy, about how butter works, how you can crystalize butter for viennoiserie. So, they manipulated it to where you can have flexible butter that’s cold, but still high fat. It’s really cool. I love understanding the ingredient. I love understanding how the chocolate works and the different spots [at which] it crystalizes and what it looks like when it’s in this stage or that stage.
Valrhona: Speaking of butter, have you had to add into the menu more options for people who have dietary restrictions?
Here in Venice, we have a lot of people who are vegan, a lot of people who are gluten-free. My wife has Celiac Disease, so I’m very familiar with the gluten-free baking realm. I always try to keep that in mind, but I want to do it with integrity. I don’t want to make something gluten-free just to make it gluten-free. I don’t want to make something vegan when it could be better with the butter. I want something to be just as good as if it were to have dairy. I want you to be able to eat it and not know that it’s gluten-free or dairy-free. I have a dish on the menu right now that’s a vegan dish that I use the ALMOND INSPIRATION for, and I have people try it and they have no idea that it’s a vegan dish at all.
Valrhona: What is your most famous dish?
I did a little mignardises board. I made a mold out of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, and I filled it with chocolate, and we made little Millennium Falcons. I ended up making Star Wars themed mignardises boards. So, we made little lightsabers out of sugar, I made little Darth Vader heads that were little marshmallow-filled bonbons, and it got a lot of attention. There were so many articles written about it. It’s not the thing I’m proudest of because I was just having fun and it kind of blew up. It got a ton of press. You can’t let that go to your head. You just have to remain humble and stick to doing work. Celebrate yourself and your achievements, but don’t let it go to your head.
Valrhona: What is important for you in the desserts you serve?
For me, one of my earliest food memories is the smell of being in my great grandma’s house and her making these sticky buns. It’s a very specific smell that I remember – being at her house and her always making these rolls. I make cinnamon rolls that remind me of that. Every time I smell them, it brings me back there. I see my great grandma’s house, and I remember being a kid and eating them there, the great time it was, spent with family. To me, that’s the best thing you can do. People really connect with the food more.
A lot of things I do are based on nostalgic flavors. One of my favorite things to do is have someone eat a dish and it reminds them of something from their past or brings up a memory from their childhood. To me, that’s really important, making that connection. That’s something I always try to do with the pastries I make.
Valrhona: If you could pass one bit of insight down to another chef, what would it be?
My advice is to be patient and to take your time. Make sure you work for people who are going to teach you things. There are a lot of people out there who are going to leave you alone to figure it out, and it’s very important to have mentors and people who are teaching you things to come up in the kitchen to really learn. A lot of people become chefs really quickly nowadays. I feel like I became a pastry chef too quickly, and it took me a long time to catch up. But once you take that step, it’s hard to go back. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. The long road is always the best path. Pay attention. Take notes. Don't rush it. Make sure you understand what you do so you have the tools. Remain humble. Celebrate your achievements but don't let it go to your head.
Valrhona: What is your favorite Valrhona Chocolate?
It’s always changing for me. Right now, I’m kind of stuck on TAÏNORI 64%. For me, it’s the perfect chocolate chip cookie chocolate. It’s really well balanced, it’s not too acidic, it’s not too dark. It’s very nice, very even. That’s my favorite right now.
Valrhona: What is the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative you’ve implemented and are the proudest of?
I try to support small, family farms as much as possible. I go to the farmer’s market every week. We work with a forager that goes to farms up and down California to source the best ingredients we can get.
I save all my cartons from farmers markets and boxes that I get from people and give them back to the farmers so they can reuse them. You know, we go to the farmers market to get produce every day, and everything comes in a box, and then it goes in the trash. It drives me crazy.
I also support small family farms as much as possible. I go to the farmer's market every week.
Equal rights are also very important to me.
Valrhona: What is your favorite, unexpected ingredient to work with?
I always try to utilize heritage grains. There’s the Tehachapi [Heritage] Grain Project – they grow heirloom grains. This lady, Sherri – they call her the Fairy Grain Mother – she introduced me to the world of these heirloom grains and freshly milled flours. I was amazed the first time I smelled the aroma from freshly milled rye flour. I didn’t realize that flour could have such an aroma or such a huge flavor. I always thought of it as just an ingredient, you know? It’s wheat. But, something I think is really cool is utilizing something that has been looked over for so long as just a powder that sits on a shelf that you use to make bread. But really utilizing it to be fresh, and to extract flavor, and manipulating it too. We have a toasted oat baguette that we do right now. We take the oats and we toast them, and we cook them into a porridge, and then we mix it into the bread. So just by toasting it, you bring about new flavors. It tastes completely different.
Valrhona: Who do you follow on social media?
I follow a lot of people. As far as pastry chefs, I follow Kriss Harvey. One of my favorites to see is Yann Couvreur in France. One of my favorite bakeries to follow is Du Pain et des Idées in Paris. Oh man, that is my favorite bakery over there. It’s so good. But I try not to go on [Instagram] too much.
Valrhona: What is your favorite perk of the CercleV program?
I don't know, they’re all so great. I got to go to France last year. I don’t know if it can get better than that.
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
I use both, depending on what I’m using. I bake in Fahrenheit, but if I’m tempering chocolate or cooking with sugar cooking anglaise, I use Celsius.
Cake or Tart?
Tart, for sure.
Fruit or chocolate tart?
Fruit. I love pie.
I don’t think I have one right now. That’s too much pressure.
I guess I would say a chocolate chip cookie. I have a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast every day.
Wine or Cheese?
Coffee or Tea?
Favorite kitchen tool?
Either the palette knife or the bowl scraper.
Craziest delicious flavor combination?
I don’t think I have one.