We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Grayson Schmitz recently to talk about how she got into cooking, what ingredients inspire her and favorite spots to eat in NYC.
How did you get started cooking initially?
My mom sat me down when I was 15 and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. She guided me through my talents; I’ve always been good with my hands, and wanted to do something physical. I looked up and Sarah Moulton was on TV and I said “What about being a chef?” It was either that or a masseuse. (Laughs)
Then she took it into her hands and researched culinary schools. I knew I wanted the best, so we visited the CIA. In high school I worked at a Cooking School, for home cooks in Kohler, WI as the chef’s assistant. I learned how to talk to groups, how to make pasta and how to make all the mother sauces perfectly. My Chef took me to Paris for the first time. I also worked at a supper club down the road from my house. Before I had my driver’s license I’d drive my 4-Wheeler to work, real Sconnie style:)
What was your experience like at the CIA?
I was really focused on being the best. I called Jean George and started trailing there. I worked on weekends for months until I got an externship. I loved everything about it.
I feel certain restaurants are a match for people and Jean Georges was my perfect match. It was fun, professional, calm, militant. I worked there 4 years and gained a solid foundation on every station.
How important do you think a formal culinary education is?
I think it’s different for every person. For me, it was incredibly important. I came out of high school and didn’t know what grape-seed oil was. I needed that platform to excel off it. And at 18, I think it was invaluable to come to New York and have some sort of college experience.
That said, deep restaurant experience is essential for young cooks to build off what they learn in school.
How would you describe your culinary style?
My style is heavily influenced by where I’ve worked. I took in French/Asian from my time at Jean Georges, I spent time in Italy and worked for Fabbio Trabocchi, and then did Austrian with Kurt Gutenbrunner at Wallse. My foundation is definitely European, not super – light, just umami delicious food.
What ingredients excite you right now?
I fucking love peas. Fresh English peas. When I was young, my friend’s family owned a hog farm and I have such happy memories of sitting in a field eating peas off the vine until we felt sick.
I’m also into all kinds of melons and heirloom tomatoes can’t be beat. A little Banyul’s vinegar, olive oil, salt. That’s all it needs.
Tell us a little bit about where you grew up.
New Holstein, Wisconsin is a little town of 2,000 people. I loved it. My sister always wanted to leave, but I never wanted to get out. It was idyllic, we spent our summers on Lake Winnebago in a house my great grandfather built. My aunt and uncle were next door, and my grandparents were on the other side. It’s a small town, Schmitz-Pauly family paradise. Home is my favorite place on earth.
What’s the first thing you want to eat when you go back there?
Hands down, a Johnsonville Brat. I had no idea how German I was until I left there.
I know you’re a fan, but is there anything you want to say about Japanese knives?
I absolutely love them. When I was in school, it was all Wusthoff. That’s all I knew. When I went to Jean Georges, if you didn’t have a Japanese knife you were a loser. I remember the moment I got one. I took photos of it. Wrote about it in my extern book. In the kitchen we’d have contests to see who could get their knife the sharpest. Japanese knives really put the professionalism into our craft.
Favorite restaurants in NYC?
I always say ABC Kitchen, but I really love it and all of Jean Georges’ restaurants for that matter.
I also really like Mission Chinese. It’s a lot of fun and you can go with a group. It’s just a fun gathering spot that numbs your mouth.
I constantly go to Luke’s Lobster Roll too.
Are you tired of talking about what it’s like to be a woman in this industry?
Not at all. I think it’s really important for girls coming up to fully understand how stressful it is. Being on your feet 16 hours a day is incredibly taxing. Personally, I had to give it my all to stay in the game on top. If you don’t, you’re not respected and you can’t be the chef if you’re not respected. As a woman you have to work twice as hard, but once you’ve proven yourself, you’re all good.