Chef Gavin Schmidt Corrals the Kitchen at Corners
Charcuterie, pig trotters, and headcheese--oh my!
Gavin Schmidt with something sheepish he had in his walk-in
Photo by Mackenzie Roth
Gavin Schmidt is the new Executive Chef at Walnut Creek’s cool and cozy Corners Tavern. But he’s no stranger to this landmark restaurant that moved into the old Bing’s space about two years ago. After stints at Coi and Campton Place, high-profile restaurants in San Francisco, Schmidt “opened” the Corners’ kitchen in 2012 and he’s been playing with the menu ever since. With summer in full bloom, Schmidt will be taking a dynamic approach to the Corners’ menu, one driven by ingredients, whether it’s the freshest vegetable at the farmers’ market or the whole lamb he has in the walk-in. (Yes, whole animal butchery is his thing.)
We started our talk with a favorite food quiz:
Cheese or chocolate? Cheese.
Peas or pork? Pork.
Bread or risotto? Gotta be bread.
Beer or wine? (Shakes his head) Both.
Q: Okay, now for more fun: What did you have for dinner last night?
A: Went to Trou Normand in the city and had their “super mega” charcuterie
Q: What would you say triggered your love for cooking?
A: My love for eating! I started as a dishwasher in high school and cooked all through college and it kept me fed. Being in the kitchen and asking questions helped me learn a lot about cooking and ultimately made me realize I wanted to be a chef. I was always someone who asked a lot of questions and as a 22-year-old kid the more answers you learn the more they feed you!
Q: We all love a good summer evening BBQ; what is your favorite thing to throw on the grill this season?
A: Well, the great thing about summertime is everything goes great on the grill. Obviously some form of meat, but one of my favorite things are Nardello peppers, they’re kind of a sweeter pepper and are just awesome on the grill. I love veggies, my food is very vegetable driven, and Nardellos are something that goes great with a big piece of meat.
Q: Which farmers’ markets do you go to? Do you have a favorite?
A: I used to go to the Ferry Building when I was working in the city, the Saturday market is a great one for chefs, but my favorite one is probably the Thursday San Rafael market in Marin. It’s got a great collection of farms and for chef purposes it’s great because it’s right before the weekend. Full Belly Farms and Tomatero are there and right now those are my favorite farms for the summertime. The Walnut Creek market here on Sundays is great as well, but sometimes that’s my third market of the day! I like going to farmers’ markets for things I want to handpick myself. Pretty much every single tomato at the restaurant I got by going through twenty crates and picking out the ones that meet our needs.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing you have in your fridge right now?
A: Bonito flakes. The only thing that’s weird about them is you don’t really need to refrigerate them, but my cat learned how to open the cabinet and Bonito flakes and a cat is kind of a crazy combination.
Q: When you’re not in the kitchen, what are you doing?
A: Eating! I like cooking at home but I also like to combine it with eating out, trying new restaurants. Tasting new beers and wines, and I like playing around outside as much as possible because I’m trapped inside the kitchen all day. I try to go hiking and biking and explore what kind of outdoor adventures there are here.
Q: I’ve heard you’re an avid butcher; tell me what that means to you.
A: The thing I like about butchery is that the closer I can get to the most natural, most raw ingredients, it gives me a lot more options with what I am able to do with them. When you buy premade or pre-butchered ingredients you’re kind of a slave to something someone else did. There’s probably fifteen different things I’m doing with all the parts of an animal. We make our own sausage, we make our own head cheese, that way I’m putting more of my stamp on every single ingredient, rather than just buying premade components..
Q: Do you have a recipe you’d like to share with us?
Spicy Albacore Tuna Ceviche with Grilled Peaches
Courtesy of Gavin Schmidt, executive chef, Corners Tavern
1 lb. fresh albacore tuna, diced
2-3 lemons, juiced
pinch kosher salt
2 lbs. ripe peaches
4 fresno chiles, whole
1 small habanero, very fine dice, seeds removed
5 leaves mint, cut into chiffonade
pinch kosher salt
2 avocados, diced
½ bunch green onions, thinly sliced
For the fish:
Dice the tuna into bite sized pieces, sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt and marinate in enough lemon juice to cover. Refrigerate for up to 1 hour.
For the Grilled Peach Salsa:
Cut peaches in half and take out the pit. Grill over a hot grill until they are soft and have a nice char to them. Allow them to cool. Grill the fresno chiles until they are lightly charred.
Chop the peaches and fresnos into small dice then add in the mint and the habaneros. Rather then chopping the fruit, you can also use a food processor and pulse together all the ingredients until the salsa has a slightly chunk consistency.
In a large mixing bowl dice up the 2 avocados into bite sized pieces. Add the salsa along with green onions. Remove fish from the lemon juice and add. Mix gently and season with salt.
Serve with tortilla chips.