Springfontein Eats Q&A – Chef Jurgen Schneider

Germany’s loss is South Africa’s gain as Michelin-star chef “retires” to the Overberg and serves up a storm of local and foraged produce.

We sat down and had a chat with chef Jurgen Schneider.

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Favourite food as a child
I made Wiener Schnitzel for my father and brother but also Zigeunerschnitzel (Gypsy Schnitzel) with lots of red, green and yellow peppers, onion and garlic. That was my favourite thing. I had a big success making this for my brother and father – first praise – and it sticks with you!

Do you have a cookbook bible?
I think I have over 100 books in my library of cookbooks. I wouldn’t say there is one specific book but the biggest impact came from the form of cooking of Escoffier. Then there was Bocuse, and his nouvelle cuisine. Also Peter Barhem with Heston Blumenthal, wrote a book called The Science of Cooking, on the chemical and molecular side of things in the kitchen. This was very interesting, the basic chemical reactions, why is starch binding, when it is binding, what temperature etc etc.

Favourite restaurant?
I like Chris Erasmus at Foliage. He has a clear style. He’s not playing around so much. He’s got a focus on the taste.

Local ingredients you love?
The Smiley marrons from Limpopo. A super product, much bigger than the marrons from Germany. All the meat we get from our special supplier from Knysna is very good. All forms of venison too are of super quality. It’s really because that’s nature (game meat) and it talks to me as a butcher.

Foraging South Africa vs Germany
Each country has its special things and time. In South Africa summer is not good for foraging because it’s too hot. Spring is good. In Germany you have more mushrooms in the forest whereas here close to the coast it’s not that good for mushrooms.

What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
I go out to eat. If we eat at home we make simple things. Sausage, cheese, a glass of wine. Cooking at home is horror for me. Where’s the walk-in fridge, the agar-agar?

Do you have any signature dishes?
The fake truffle we make here. It’s made with mushrooms. It’s complicated to make but quite nice. There’s also the wild herb salad.

Your fantasy food holiday?
We often go to the north of Spain to the Basque side, near San Sebastian because there’s a culinary movement going on there. We would like to visit South America, Peru and Bolivia, where there’s a lot going on. They have different climate zones, from sea level to the mountains, with unusual herbs and plants to collect, cook with and integrate into the culinary scene.

Any accidental successes?
Not that comes to mind, but the most important lesson comes from, ‘Oops the lemon tart is falling down,’ a dish from Osteria Franscescana. It’s on Chef’s Table on Netflix, where the Japanese sous chef drops a lemon tart and wants to make harikiri. Massimo (Bottura, the owner) says, ‘just wait, it’s not a problem.’ It’s actually the better way to serve a lemon tart because the dough underneath is often soggy so if you have it on top it is crunchy and the moisture part is underneath – it’s a better way to serve a lemon tart. That’s the problem with all tarts – you want a moisture filling but it makes the dough soggy.

Favourite Springfontein wine?
You shouldn’t have a favourite child but in the reds I love the petit verdot, chenin in the whites and the sauvignon blanc.

Other wine you’re enjoying at the moment?
Dalla Cia. We recently had his red wine blend of Italian varietals. This was quite impressive.

What would your last supper be?
I would go to Alain Ducasse in Monaco and eat their 10-course menu with Susanne. Even his crudité, is so good. Good veg, good sauces, the quality, simple, the flavour – super. They make things you cannot believe. If you order a tea, a trolley comes in and it looks like the gardener got lost. It was all fresh teas and herbs – 50 of them that he cuts with the scissors and makes the tea with hot water in front of the guests. It’s the same with the sweeties, they come in with a whole pastry shop. Unbelievable!

To drink, we will start with the Montrachet, a white wine from Burgundy and then have the Chateau Petrus, because on your last day, money takes a backseat.

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