After a long work day, many of us are apt to fall prey to convenience food—or picking up something at a restaurant. But what if your labors were in a kitchen, as a high-powered chef? For Rainbow Lodge’s executive chef Mark Schmidt, an average day consists of perfecting dishes like lobster-and-asparagus risotto and seared duck breast with foie gras. Hard to cook game meat is on the menu, too, in the form of antelope, elk and venison, to name a few.
Not surprisingly, when Schmidt is done for the day, he likes to keep it simple. Big projects like homemade paneer and long, slow braises are for his days off. On a regular night, you’re more likely to find Schmidt with some quick tacos, easy-drinking beer and pizza in the fridge. We visited him at home, amid his shelves double-stacked with cookbooks, where he assured us the 13 boxes in his dining room were also filled with cookbooks. He's got the skills and inspiration, but we found out how he uses them after a long day.
Houstonia: What dish do you make the most often at home?
Mark Schmidt: I always have tortillas in the fridge for tacos. Usually I just have refried beans and cheese—something quick. You get home from work at the end of the night and you don’t want to mess with anything.
Houstonia: What are some of your favorite local products?
MS: ‘Local products’ for me usually means ‘local produce’ and maybe a little bit of protein from the market. I go to Urban Harvest, and I generally go without a plan. I make a trip around to see if something sparks an idea—if someone has some nice rabbit or they’ve got some nice greens and then things start clicking. I have to eat before I go. I usually stop at La Guadalupana on Dunlavy and eat first. Then it's like, ‘Okay, I’ve had my chilaquiles, I’m ready to shop.'
HM: What specialty stores are among your regular stops?
MS: I hit the Asian markets a lot. There is a little Indian grocery where I buy a lot of my spices, down 59 and Hillcroft. And then Super H Mart—that’s one of my favorite stores. That’s where I usually get seafood and other proteins. They have a good variety, inexpensive and good quality—and you can always stop for the Korean fried chicken, too.
HM: You've got quite a collection of grains and beans. Do you have favorites?
MS: Oh God, where do I begin? I love fregula, which is kind of like pearled couscous. It's Sardinian semolina pasta that’s toasted and handmade—I buy it at Whole Foods. I always have brown rice, farro, maybe some wheat berries. I also keep instant dashi, and then lots of oats and pastas and beans. Tons of beans—I always have several types. I usually make a big pot of them once a week. I love pintos with a nice big chunk of ham hock in there. Tons of hot sauce, too. I get them at Fiesta. There’s one not far from [Rainbow Lodge] so it’s easy for me to pick up a new one.
HM: Are there any cuisines you favor in your home cooking?
MS: Indian. The last time I cooked Indian it was a simple chana dal—curried chickpeas. I like saag or palak paneer, things like that with the spinach or turnip greens, or any other different greens cooked down with spices. And then I’ll usually make the paneer myself. It's one of those all-day projects I can do for fun when I’m not cooking at work. As you can see I’ve got a couple of cookbooks to pull from, not so much the proportions, just to get an idea for mixes and combinations. I usually blend to my own taste.
HM: What's the weirdest thing that's been in your fridge recently?
MS: A whole pig's head, but maybe that’s not as weird nowadays? I was making a pig’s head terrine just to, well, just to make one I guess.
HM: And when there's take-out in the fridge, where did it come from?
MS: Nine times out of ten it’s Coltivare. They’re just a couple blocks away from my place and since I moved less than a month ago I’ve probably been there five or six times because I can always grab a seat at the bar or takeout and it's just so good. I love the oxtail ragú and any of their pizzas are great.
HM: Please excuse the lame question, but what does your fridge say about you?
MS: Probably that I drink too much beer. I like just nice, crisp lagers, especially after work. You know when I get home after 13 or 14 hours in the kitchen, the last thing I want to do is think about hops this or hops that. I like a good beer, but after work it's something crisp and refreshing I’m after. Karbach’s Zee German Pils is really good, and right now I’ve got some Modelo and Session Lager out of the Pacific Northwest.
HM: Is there anything else you want to share?
MS: My tip would be to just have a well-stocked pantry. You know you can go to Whole Foods, you can go to Sprouts, you can go wherever—a lot of the stores get their produce from a lot of the same purveyors and the same companies so just keep your pantry stocked with spices and grains and things that will keep and then you can just shop daily for perishables.
HM: If you were reading about another chef’s fridge is there something you would want me to ask them?
MS: Does it always look like this?