Chef Dave Schmit has been cooking professionally for almost 15 years in restaurants and hotels, both in his native Minnesota and the Los Angeles area.
In L.A., his experience included such prestigious properties as the Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel, as well as opening Sadie Kitchen & Lounge in Hollywood as executive chef.
He and his wife, Dana, were married in San Luis Obispo in 2010, and they “jumped at the chance” to return here when she received a local job offer.
Though Schmit began working as a private chef, he also added a rather unique aspect to his résumé in 2012 when he answered a Craigslist ad looking for a chef to provide food for the Maxine Lewis Shelter. The four-days-a-week part-time job involves “shopping” at the Oceano Food Bank warehouse for donated, gleaned and/or rescued fresh produce, then prepping and cooking everything, and taking all the finished fare to the shelter.
“What makes this job special for me is addressing the nutritional aspect,” said Schmit, who makes it a point to prepare nutrient-dense food as opposed to calorie-laden. “Unfortunately, many of our needy are just plain malnourished.”
What is one of your favorite local/seasonal ingredients that you’ve been able to source, and why is it your favorite?
Butternut squash — it just reminds me of this time of the year. I recently did a party for the University of California Cooperative Extension’s 100-year celebration and made roasted butternut squash soup. So many people asked me for the recipe, so I thought this would be a good time to share it.
How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
I think a simple soup is a good representation of my style — letting the vegetables stand on their own while balancing it with the refinements of herbs, acid, vinegar, and salt to make a simple dish great. Regardless of if I am cooking at local events, for top celebrities, or for the needy, the food should and can be great!
How would home cooks approach this ingredient in their own kitchens?
Butternut can be kind of hard to cut, but for this recipe cutting it once only in half then roasting should take some pain out of it. Also, be sure to cut the stem off first, because your knife does not like to go through that! And, if you look for smaller, juvenile squash, their skin will be thinner and easier to get through.
You can also add additional veggies to this soup or even use it as a sauce. As a soup, it’s generally even better the second day!
What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?
Not to be redundant, but probably soup because my wife loves almost any kind, and/or cooking anything outside in our beautiful weather. I also love packing up a cheese and goodies plate and exploring local wineries. There is no better way to try so many combinations in such a beautiful setting.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Makes: 6-8 servings
• 4 pounds whole butternut squash (about 2 medium), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
• 1 medium Granny Smith apple (about 8 ounces)
• 1/2 medium yellow onion
• 2 sticks of celery
• 2 carrots
• 8 fresh sage leaves
• 2-1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
• 2-1/2 cups water
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
• 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
Heat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange a rack in the middle.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 50 minutes, remove from oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, peel, core and cut the apple into medium dice. Cut the onion, celery and carrot into medium dice. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, onion and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
When the squash is cool enough to handle. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into the saucepan with the sautéed apples and veggies and discard the skins.
Add the broth, water and spices, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.
Using a blender, carefully purée the soup in batches until smooth. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender, but soup may not be as smooth.) Make sure to taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.