Let us introduce you to Grayson Schmitz. You may remember her saucy commentary on Bravo's hit show Top Chef: Texas. She began working in professional kitchens at 15 and hasn't looked back. Grayson's food is replete with complex flavors and rustic preparation techniques.
Grayson is now making a home in Chicago, and talked to us about her career and her new home.
How did you get into food? Is food something your family has always been passionate about or is this something that developed for you later on?
My family has always been really into food, we LOVE to eat! My Mom and Dad always cooked and baked a lot growing up, but it wasn't really until high school that I fell in love with the idea of being a Chef. I knew that I wasn't the type of person that was going to sit at a desk everyday. I'm a very physical person and to tell you the truth... I can't sit still, these are all traits of a chef!
I started working at a culinary school (for the home chef) when I was in high school and completely fell in love with the culinary industry and food in general. I new at that point I wanted to attend The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and learn more about this industry I had become so curious about. The rest is history. I'm passionate about the career path I have chosen and would encourage kids to follow their dreams no matter how glamorous it may be, it always pays off in the long run.
What was the first recipe you mastered?
Pretty sure it was chocolate chip cookies. I love my sweets. :)
We all make mistakes in the kitchen. What is one of your kitchen accidents that stands out most?
I once started a 20 gallon stockpot on fire at Jean Georges, NYC. The worst part about that day is that the fire marshal was in the restaurant checking the tags on our fire extinguishers- let's just say he got to use one too! Oops!
My Chef took me into the office, partially kidding, and said, "Next time you feel like setting something on fire... lets not do it while the fire marshal is inspecting." Then he laughed. Not a good day, but a memorable one for sure. :)
Tell us a bit about "Top Chef: Texas." How did you get to be on the show and what was it like?
TORNADO! Wow, never in a million years would I have thought about being on a television show like "Top Chef" but I must say, I don't regret it for the world. I went into the competition VERY confident! I wanted to go in, cook my food, WIN, collect my money and be gone.
I was rudely awakened. In no way did I expect to compete against the caliber of chefs that were presented that first day of taping. Being on Top Chef was one of the hardest things I have ever endured, and I've worked in very militant European kitchens. The competition was not only stiff, it took a toll on our mental and physical states. We were exhausted and every challenge felt like we were jumping through hoops... while cooking!
It's one thing to think up an amazing new dish, but its another thing to think up an amazing dish in 20 minutes and execute it perfectly for extremely picky judges. I can now say, only because it's all over, that I "had fun" on Top Chef. I came out of the competition with amazing new friends and a broader view on food. I pushed myself to the limit on that show and because of that I have grown and become a more confident chef.
What is one of your favorite memories of working on the show?
Meeting Charlize Theron, hands down! She's amazing and now I can cross that off my list of things to do in life. Meet Charlize Theron... CHECK!
You were in charge of recipe development at Olivier Cheng, right? How does the recipe development process work in the professional food world and why is that an important position at a catering company?
While working at Olivier Cheng in NYC it was very clear that each and every event was very uniquely put together. Most events were "custom made", so my job was a crucial part of the creative process of planning a catered event. The Executive Chef, Jenny Glasgow, would come to me and say, "We have a MAC (makeup company) canapé event and the theme is nautical with a white/silver color scheme." I would then in turn think of passed canapés that were whitish in color and seemed sort of nautical. For instance, polenta fried oysters served in the half shell with a mushroom infused tapioca and a silver dusted piece of tarragon for garnish. People that booked us for events knew exactly what they wanted and our job was to make it all happen. Let's just say I was always busy inventing new dishes. High-end catering is definitely an art and Olivier Cheng has conquered it!
We hear you want to teach cooking classes. How's that progressing? What sorts of classes would you like to teach?
I feel that the one of the most important aspects of being a chef is teaching, whether someone who wants to learn more about cooking at home, or in a professional kitchen teaching a line cook a new technique. One of my favorite demos is pasta making because you are able to teach about the love of ingredients and the appreciation of the process.
What's next for you?
I am enjoying Chicago's summer and eating out as much as possible- including everything from hotdogs at Weiner Circle to my birthday dinner at Goosefoot. One of the reasons I made the move from NYC to Chicago is because I feel that the Chicago food scene is booming and I can't wait to dive in and be part of the tight-knit culinary crew!