Mietta & Friends

Australia's top chefs and food educatorsin words and photographs

Hermann Schneider

Hermann Schneider

Hermann Schnieder concentrates during service.
Photograph ©Tony Knox 1995

With even greater staying power than many of the athletes he accompanied to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympic Games, Hermann Schneider is still turning out wonderful food at his latest restaurant, Arthur's, at Arthur's Seat on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

Hermann's legendary Two Faces restaurant was a constant source of inspiration and a fountain of knowledge for those of us growing up in Melbourne's restaurant industry during the 1970s and 80s. Here we learnt about wine, often from the redoubtable Anders Ousback, about service, and about food. We never left Two Faces without discovering something new, and we went often.

Even in those formative (for us) years, there were two things in particular that stood out about Hermann. The first was his interest in food and wine, and his fascination with the combination of them. And second, his obsession with ingredients and the produce market.

It has become an article of faith that Australian chefs visit the market daily in search of the best available produce. But it is a myth. On a good day at the Victoria or the wholesale markets in Melbourne, you will see only a handful of chefs - among them, Hermann Schneider. For the produce driven young chefs of today, the phone is easier to reach than the market, and that's how they shop.

To visit the Victoria Market with Hermann is an unique experience. First stop is Avison's for fish, where he is served by the sons and grandsons of the first Avison family member that he dealt with. Rabbits come from Chitty's, fungi from the mushroom man - they all know Hermann, and they all have something special to show him. These are the contacts he has developed over 30 years, and everyone in the restaurant industry has reaped the benefits of those associations.

The demands for a particular type of produce, and for a level of quality, which Hermann has placed upon his suppliers has resulted in greater variety and better grading of ingredients. His searching out of previously unavailable products has broadened our eating and cooking repertoire.

Hermann

Hermann Schnieder talks to Miettas at his restaurant, Arthurs. Photograph ©Tony Knox 1995
Herman

Herman Schnieder during service at Mietta's. Photograph ©Tony Knox 1995

And so, too, have Hermann's searches for wines throughout Victoria and Australia. The wine list at Two Faces was a treasure trove; the wines were correctly aged and selected for their intrinsic quality, not their labels.

And while, for some, the marriage of wine and food is an exercise in wine snobbery, for Hermann it is an article of faith. He has always believed in drinking precisely the wine that best matches the food he is eating. He has always known what goes with what - information that can be harder to extract from the average wine waiter than his (or her) back teeth. Wine, Hermann cheerfully admits, is his "deep love".

At Mietta's, Hermann spoke of the need to really look at the flavours and textures of food in the quest for the perfect marriage between food and wine.

"That has always been the overriding element of my cooking. I always look at the ingredients; I really look at how the flavours are matching together, and how the textures match together," he said. "And I worry about the freedom which young chefs enjoy these days, which my generation certainly did not have. We worked with chefs who had very classical upbringings, and you really had to learn a discipline in your working process, and a deep understanding of how a cooking process takes part.

"I find it frustrating, quite often, when I walk into a kitchen, sometimes when I walk into my own kitchen, and I see stocks almost boiling over things, or pans burnt. If a pan is burnt before meat goes into it, you have a smoked, burnt flavour through your food. Alternatively, if something is thrown into a cold pan, then it stews instead of gently frying. And that's all about discipline, and about basic cooking techniques.

"I have discussed the problem with Jacques Pepin, one of our great modern food technicians and writers. And he said: 'It's a bit like me. I have a hobby as a painter, and I am wasting so many canvases and it is frustrating. Because when I put something together to cook, I know exactly my program, my process. But as a painter, I don't know. I don't know how to mix the colours properly. I'm not able to sketch, so I don't do my figures.'

"We concluded that this was precisely the problem with many young chefs. They are very ambitious and have all these wonderful ingredients to work with. And now, particularly with the explosion of interest in Asian foods, they have all the spices and all the flavours from all around the world, and they think that they can mix them all into dishes. Sometimes it works, but more often it fails."

Hermann explained that although he loves to work with Asian vegetables - in fact, he was one of the first European chefs to do so - he likes to do it in his own style, and incorporate them into his own cooking.

Herman

Herman Schnieder at the Victoria Market. Photograph ©Tony Knox 1995
Herman

Herman Schnieder and the Mietta's team 'put it out'.
Photograph ©Tony Knox 1995

He refuses to "grab on to other cooking styles, and just sort of mix them into my food".

"That is my basic philosophy of food, and I have stuck to it for the last 30 years. I am confident it will last me for another few years - after which I would like to simply wind down, and enjoy the quiet country life."

Hermann - who these days derives special pleasure from sharing the workload at Arthur's with his wife, Fay, and his daughter, Madeleine - deserves, at the very least, to be able to do just that.

Herman Schneider's Recipes

Garfish with scallop mousseline
Crepinette of veal sweetbreads with morel jus
Noisettes of roast loin of venison

Mietta O'Donnell
©Mietta's 1996