Interview with L’Auberge de Sedona’s Chef David Schmidt
When Amy and I were planning our Bitecation to Sedona, we had no idea that we would meet so many amazing people. One such person was the consummate professional and gentleman, Executive Chef David Schmidt. With a long history in the culinary field (including Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak, T.Cooks, Orange Tree Golf Resort, Michael’s at the Citadel and Olive & Ivy) and a knack for telling a great story, we thought it best to let him do the telling. Make sure that you take time to go see him at L’Auberge in Sedona. He, as all of the staff there, will treat you to a 5 star meal each and every time, whether it’s a relaxing creekside lunch with a good friend or a romantic dinner with your partner. L’Auberge is an experience you don’t want to go without.
Phoenix, meet Chef David Schmidt
What made you decide to become a professional chef?
Chef David Schmidt: My older siblings had been in college at the Universities for years, so I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to college. She suggested culinary school because I truly enjoyed cooking and had been working at a country club in Wisconsin for four years. My family researched culinary schools and found one right in Scottsdale, Arizona (Scottsdale Culinary Institute-prior to Le Cordon Bleu purchase). My parents were moving to Arizona and my brother and sister had already resided there. After working at a few top notch places such as the Royal Palms, I found my niche…I wanted to be a professional chef at a great place!
Did you cook when you were growing up?
Chef David: I did enjoy cooking at a young age. Spending a lot of time watching my family cook and learning with my grandmother was what really soaked in. I was always really passionate about seasoning foods and adding multiple layers to the food. I often was experimenting new flavors and combinations on family and friends.
What is the best piece of advice that you could give to a home enthusiast?
Chef David: Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and ingredients; keep experimenting and take risks.
Favorite ingredient to cook with?
Chef David: If there were one ingredient that I was to say that is my favorite…I would have to say PIG! Pigs are so versatile and you can do so much from snout to tail! My grandmother and grandfather owned a pig farm, which is where I spent hours and hours with the pigs. Foie Gras a close second and seasonal produce somewhere in there…You need great produce to produce an awesome dish.
What is a typical day in the kitchen?
Chef David: No day is the same in the kitchen. Days go from pushing my cooks to do better everyday, making a beautiful stock, creating a fabulous special, connecting with people on social media and planning in meetings to make things better than they were yesterday. We would have to write a book for this one.
Do you have a favorite cookbook or reference guide?
Chef David: I like many cook books and my favorite reference guides are Culinary Artistry and Larousse Gastronomique.
Do you have a signature dish, something that your friends or family have come to expect from you at gatherings?
Chef David: Typically, I am doing all the cooking…I like to switch it up all the time. Keep it fresh and interesting!
How do you think you would be described by those you lead in the kitchen?
Chef David: They would say passionate, gracious, nurturing, patient, inspiring and charming and very down to earth.
Who do you think that you have learned the most from as far as cooking goes? Personally and professionally?
Chef David: I learned a great deal from Michael DeMaria who was the chef/owner of Michael’s at the Citadel. Five years of my career were as his Executive Chef where he “handed me the keys to the car”. I learned a great deal of the business and PR part of the business from he and his business partners, as well as, working for an Olympic Gold Medal culinary perfectionist. It paved the way to today’s DO’s and DON’Ts.
Is there a specific ingredient or food that you tend to steer away from in your own kitchen at home?
Chef David: I try to steer away from anything in a box.
Is there a specific dish that you have found difficult to master?
Chef David: Not off the top of my head…simplicity is the hardest thing to master!
Best meal you have ever had?
Chef David: I’ve had quite a few great dining experiences. I can’t pinpoint one in particular. There are so many different styles and levels, from the best dive to the highest end. A few to mention would have to be:
Terra, St. Helena, CA, Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone
Mavro’s, Honolulu, HI, George Mavrothalassitis
Aureole, Las Vegas, NV, Charlie Palmer
Blackbird, Chicago, IL, Paul Kahan
My mother-in-law’s cooking has to rank up at the top! She cooks traditional Mexican Cuisine that is to die for! And many, many more that I would love to mention!
If you had the option of orchestrating your last meal, what would you want it to consist of?
Chef David: I would get on a plane with my family and head to Spain or Italy, source the best meats, cheeses, breads and produce available and sit over looking the ocean.
Is there one lesson that perhaps you learned early on in your career that has stuck with you?
Chef David: Save the scrap and save the juice! Slow and low that is the tempo…
We learned that you grew up on your grandmother’s pig farm and learned to cook throughout your childhood experiences there. Any ‘tried and true’ recipes she passed down to you?
Chef David: There are a few of her recipes that are ‘tried and true’ that I keep close to my heart. One of those would be her bread, a smell I will never forget.
At the beginning of your career, who were some of your major influences?
Chef David: I worked with a man by the name of Gunther Skaletz (Holocaust Survivor)…look him up, an amazing man. He inspired me to be passionate and made me realize I could make a career out of cooking.
If you could have unlimited supply of any ingredient, perhaps a protein or produce from one of your purveyors, which would it be?
Chef David: I would like an unlimited supply of Carl Seacat growing my produce.
Favorite kitchen gadget?
Chef David: I would have to say my knives and the sous vide circulator.
Can you tell us about one of your worst kitchen “disasters”?
Chef David: Early in my career, I was a dishwasher and was very meticulous about cleaning, so I filled up a mop bucket with every chemical that I could find and started to react. Needless to say, I coughed and spit up for an hour and a half…could have been fatal!
A few years later, I was softening butter in a pan by sitting it on top of a salamander. As I went to grab the pan without protection, I tipped over the ‘melted’ butter and started a fire!
Most recently, I was straining a chicken stock into 5 gallon cambros, and all of a sudden scalding hot stock started gushing into my shoe and soaking my leg. The most painful thing ever! I was on crutches for weeks, as it felt as though my whole leg was broken from the severe burns.
When you’re off the clock, what is your favorite comfort food?
Chef David: Pizza, traditional Mexican Food or Braised meats with mashed potatoes.
Chef hours can be gruesome. Since you spend a good portion of your days in the kitchen, how often do you cook at home with your family?
Chef David: I personally cook at least three to four times per week for my family.
I tend to think that behind every good man is a great woman. Does your wife enjoy cooking as well? Is there one dish that stands out in your mind, that she outshines you at?
Chef David: I do have a great wife at home and I would have to say her Tacos de Lengua is where she outshines me.
Being a dad of three young girls, do you find it challenging to make one dish that satisfies them all? Are there any picky-eaters in the family?
Chef David: I don’t find this challenging, the girls eat very well, however three girls can be a bit picky at times. I make them try everything; they have great food at their mercy.
5 ingredients that are always in your home kitchen/pantry?
Chef David: Bacon Fat, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt (many varieties), Black Pepper in a mill, Garlic.
What is the best compliment someone could give you after dining at the restaurant?
Chef David: For the customer to tell me that they just had one of the best all around dining experiences in their life. Food, service, ambience, overall from when they walk in the door until they get in their car to go home.
Do you have any big plans for the future?
Chef David: I DO have BIG plans for the future…stay tuned!
Care to share any kitchen tips or recipes with our readers?
To learn more about L’Auberge and its creekside dining, visit lauberge.com.