Jeremy Schmid - the chef
The Chef – Jeremy Schmid
Who needs Jamie Oliver, when we have our very own celebrity chef?
He’s Jeremy Schmid.
He’s the star of TV2’s local reality series ‘Hells Kitchen’ but you might also recognise Jermy Schmid from a billboard campaign for the restaurant industry, in which he is pictured stark naked except for a chef’s hat and strategically placed magazine.
Tony Astle, master chef and owner of Antoines Restaurant describes him as dedicated and passionate and “one of the new leading lights in New Zealand cuisine – a chef to watch”.
When you ask Jeremy what he finds best about being a chef, his reply is simply - food. And as for his favourite food, the answer is, anything and everything. Take this sort of response and combine it with considerable charm and talent and you begin to understand the qualities that have led to his success.
We’re sitting in the Palazzo Roma, the Italian inspired restaurant south of Auckland he co-owns. It’s full of pillars and huge round stone tables, with bi-fold side doors that open wide to a courtyard dotted with statues. The only thing missing is a view of the blue Mediterranean.
Born in the German-speaking town of Winterthur in Zurich thirty-one years ago, Jeremy moved to New Zealand with his family at the age of two, giving him the advantage of New Zealand and Swiss citizenship.
School didn’t fire his imagination, but when the time came for work experience day, the fifteen-year-old asked for placement in a restaurant kitchen and discovered what he really wanted to do. His stint at the Windsor Park Hotel (now closed) on Auckland’s North Shore resulted in a part-time night shift job as a kitchen hand and led to a day that is foremost in Jeremy’s mind: 18 December, 1989, the day he started cooking full time.
Formal study at AUT in the early 1990’s followed, combined with an apprenticeship at the Hyatt Hotel’s highly acclaimed ‘Top of the Town’ restaurant, which specialised in fine dining.
Jeremy is full of praise for the tutors who shaped his skills and says, “They probably know more than a lot of the chefs out there”. He went back to AUT as a teacher himself a few months ago, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.
“It’s fun being a tutor, I enjoyed it. I love doing what I do and its worthwhile being there, if I can motivate even one or two people to become chefs”. His flair and dedication earned him AUT’s award for ‘Outstanding First Year student’ and later ‘Apprentice of the Year’, plus a fist full of medals when he represented New Zealand at the ‘Taste for Canada’ culinary competition in Toronto.
Don Brown his tutor at AUT describes Jeremy as being a really, great person, who is good to talk to, good to work with and gets on well with staff. He says, Jeremy cooks with passion and has excellent entrepreneurial skills, which Don considers an important aspect of food preparation. Although he has been teaching for thirteen years, Don says he has only come across two or three students of Jeremy’s calibre. So much so, he even cooks at Jeremy’s restaurant!
Jeremy describes the menu at Palazzo Roma, as European with an Italian influence, steering away from the Asian style that many others are doing. Perhaps it’s his European heritage, but his cooking tends towards the nostalgic, which means plenty of long slow cooking.
Right now he is marinating hare legs before braising them with red wine and vegetables. Once cooked, the meat will be cooled, shredded, mixed with fresh herbs and formed into little patties, then served with a fennel and potato gratin.
“Why go out and have something you always have at home?” he reasons. “Braising and slow cooking is what people in their forties, fifties and sixties used to do but don’t any more because it takes a long time and they can’t be bothered. However, they love to eat those sort of dishes when they go out, because they taste good and bring back fond memories”.
Jeremy thinks he was probably born forty years too late and is concerned that traditional skills and old techniques are disappearing, so he has also learnt to cure his own small meat products. The range includes bacon, pancetta, pastrami and delicious hard little ‘landjager’ (land soldiers), a thin salami type sausage he suggests is ideal to throw in the lunch box. He also makes his own fresh gourmet sausages with exotic mixes like beef, paprika, onions (using eye fillet), three cheeses, and chicken with fennel and apple.
Jeremy certainly knows his stuff. His skills have been honed at the CIA (not the Central Intelligence Agency, but the internationally acclaimed Culinary Institute of America) in the magnificent Nappa Valley, where he won a scholarship to participate in a charcuteri course. He recalls many memorable evenings spent eating in the area’s fabulous restaurants and the night he simply stood and watched as twelve chefs wove their magic at the world acclaimed ‘French Laundry’ restaurant. Gourmets world wide wait months for a reservation to enjoy the traditional nine to twelve courses served at a sitting, eaten over a leisurely three to four hours. Each exquisite course is served with appropriate wine, naturally.
Since qualifying, Jeremy has had his own share of overseas experience. He returned to Switzerland for a working holiday, combining snowboarding with a job in a small hotel at Zermatt ski resort. He remembers it being a bit of a nightmare, as the Portuguese and Austrian staff, hardly spoke any English.
He also worked at the four star Hotel Luzernerhom, but it was his position at the five star Lucerne Palace Hotel that Jeremy really remembers. The standard of the food was fantastic and the young kiwi trained chef was treated to a sight and taste that would affect him forever. He describes a fridge filled with all sorts of luxury ingredients like pots of fois gras, kilo tins of cavier and dishes of big white fresh truffles, plus a head chef who insisted he taste them all, by the tablespoon, not the teaspoon! Heading home via England, he spent a few months working alongside ten other chefs at Axis Restaurant near London’s Covent Garden, preparing classic dishes in a modern way.
Since then Jeremy has been employed at some of Auckland’s most fashionable eating spots, including Gaults on Quay, Euro, Vinnies and Red and admits although he enjoyed cooking when he started, he enjoys it even more now. “The more I cook, the more I enjoy it. I love the service, putting out something new, adding a fresh twist. The joy is to have a customer come up and say they’ve had a great meal. It’s about seeing people happy and enjoying themselves”.
He finds there are a lot of good products available, as well as easy access to great fish, quality meat and fresh produce and he uses this for inspiration rather than turning to cookbooks.
Although he has been a judge (at the Culinary Show), he prefers the challenge of competing. “I enjoy it because it makes you think more and refine your skills by working to a time limit”. It is this challenge that prompted him to take part in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, the programme that follows fifteen able chefs at a boot camp, competing against each other to select a winner. Even though it required 14 to 16 hour days, Jeremy said, “It was fun, like a holiday. It’s no big ask for a few days”.
But when on holiday for real, what does he like to do? “I love biking and cycled the South Island solo for a month last year. Hadn’t been there before, so thought I had better go and have a look. I’ve also just started doing kite boarding. I’m committed as it cost me about $3500 to buy one”.
When someone really enjoys their work, it has to be asked if there is a negative side? Jeremy admits, “It’s the nights. Friends don’t invite me out anymore on Friday and Saturday nights, because I’m always working. When I do have my two days off, I spend most of it going to see friends, who are all in relationships or married. However, I have got plans for about five years from now, that may make a difference. They include all the things I love doing most, put together”.
He adds, “Hopefully, I’ll be a better kite boarder by then too”.
And what about the stress that is usually associated with being a chef? Jeremy is emphatic it’s all about attitude. “You stress yourself or you don’t get stressed. For example you can have 60 people all ordering at the same time but you can only work as fast as you can, while trying to do the best job you can. If someone then drops a plate, you just think, well, I’d better do another one, rather than yell and scream at that person, which will only make them more nervous and upset and then everyone gets upset. Who wants to work in that environment?
“I try to find people to work with who enjoy cooking, are enthusiastic, have a good sense of humour, but also have some ambition and a passion. Then the atmosphere is relaxed and you can have a joke and some fun”.
Jeremy shared this delicious dessert recipe with us. It features a fruit he loves, and a New Zealand favourite: feijoas. He says this tastes extra good served with a cuvee riche (bubbly) and describes it like eating coke and icecream at the same time.
Feijoa Mousse (8 portions)
60gms castor sugar
2tsp lemon juice
500gms peeled and pureed fresh feijoas
2 egg whites
4 sheets gelatine (about 10gms)
Puree feijoas, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl. Leave in fridge. Soften gelatine in cold water. Whip cream to soft peaks (not thick and stiff) and place in fridge. Melt softened gelatine in microwave or over hot water in a bowl. Whisk egg whites until stiff. Add gelatine to feijoa mix, fold in cream then fold in egg whites. Serve when set (2-4 hours in fridge) in filled martini glasses or pour into small moulds and turn out when set.
©2003 Linda Donald
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Appeared in Lifestyle food + wine