South County Beat

Once a chef to the stars, now a cook for SLO's homeless

Special to The TribuneAugust 13, 2013 

Native Minnesotan Dave Schmit cooked for Nancy Reagan, Michael Jackson, Stephen Spielberg, Robert De Niro and other famous people at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles for two years. He was also chef for the Brentwood Country Club, the Buffalo Club in Santa Monica, and for the prince of Saudi Arabia’s wedding. He spent 10 years honing his chef skills.

But now he has a different clientele.

Schmit, 35, and his wife, Dana Schmit, who discovered the Central Coast and were married here in 2010, moved to San Luis Obispo in May 2012 so that Dana could take a good job at Rosetta. “We really loved the area … and saw it as a great opportunity,” Schmit said. “I don’t need celebrity — it’s a burden.”

Schmit found a local job as shelter cook for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County. He drives to the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County's Oceano warehouse to pick up donated foods and takes it to the Shell Beach veterans hall, where he cooks and prepares it for the Maxine Lewis homeless shelter in SLO. Finally, he takes the prepared food to the shelter.

He uses fresh veggies and fruits donated by stores like Trader Joe’s, which contributes 100 pounds of usable food a week. Other big donors are Talley Farms, Albertsons, Target, Ed Silva and Sons Farms in Santa Maria, and other large and small local farms.

Schmit enjoys being “able to operate on the other side of the table of the food paradigm for the Food Bank and homeless” people. He cooks for 100 to 150 people. “I feel the energy and the need of the people at the shelter.” He feels good getting a “healthy meal with fiber and vitamins ... raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and mint” from the garden for them.

He is now using his talent in a “purposeful, compassionate way that helps other people.” It feels good “to be connected with real things — like vegetables — and sharing it with other people.”

Schmit said his former work in L.A. was stressful. He had just opened a restaurant as executive chef, a huge project taking two and a half years to get started.

He enjoys working with “purposeful people who use (their) hands and live more closely to the earth than folks in large cities. I feel kind of honored and blessed to be able to live here and use my skills and take advantage of the beauty here.”

He is impressed with the volunteers at the Food Bank's Oceano warehouse. “It takes special people to do the hard work. It takes care, dedication and knowledge,” he said.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last year,” Schmit continued, adding that he couldn’t have done it without his wife’s help.

Schmit is starting to cater some wine events and weddings. He enjoys cooking outdoors for people. He says, “A real chef needs to integrate into the community. I’d much rather be on the side of humbleness.”

Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.

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