Caribbean Beat Magazine

Hans Schweitzer: a man for all tastes

Hans Schweitzer is whetting palates in Barbados

  • Photograph by Eric Young
  • Photograph by Eric Young

Wherever Hans Schweitzer travels, from backpacking in Nepal to traipsing through Paris, he always winds up in the kitchen — hotel kitchens, the kitchens of five-star restaurants, café kitchens, people’s kitchens, any kitchen. He just can’t stay away. Probably the only kitchen he hasn’t been in is the big outdoor fish fry in Oistins, Barbados. And that’s only because they don’t have one. This master chef loves to soak up everything new, to challenge himself and to share his expertise. As Hans cooks his way into the hearts of all he meets, his culinary skills, flamboyant personality and exquisite attention to detail make him one of the region’s finest chefs.

Trained at the prestigious German Munich Hotel and Heidelberg Hotel Schools, Hans gained the distinguished title of Maître de Cuisine (Master Chef). By age 25 he was Executive Chef at the Tehran Sheraton in Iran, where he headed a brigade of some 70 chefs, often preparing extravagant banquets for the Shah and other notables, who entertained upwards of 2,500 guests at a time.

Hans has amassed an impressive medley of skills. “I went through all sorts of phases, from artistic work to fine sauciers. I was very inspired by the beautiful silky sauces and stocks of the French master chefs, but I also enjoyed working with large specialty buffets, where you could excel at showpieces. And I was very unhappy with pâtisseries in general. So I studied more about pastries and pâtisserie in Paris, and then I decided I still didn’t know enough about chocolate, so I became a chocolate maker.”

Hans has run five-star kitchens around the world, owned restaurants in England and Germany, had his own television show in England, and led culinary competition teams to victory. By age 35, he was running his own restaurant, but he tired of the day-to-day tedium and sold it. “I was looking for a new challenge, so I opened Confiserie Schweitzer-Continental Confiserie, in Cambridge.” It was a big hit, and Hans flourished. But “I got so bored working those 9 to 5 hours every day that when the offer came along to buy a restaurant in Cambridge, I took it.”

Together with his partner, Hans turned an old Victorian home into Midsummer House, a small, 65-seat restaurant. It was an immediate success. “We were voted best restaurant in South England our first year, and we gained three stars from the Auto Association. A few years later we also received the Robert Mondavi award for best wine list in England.”

Perhaps his insatiable hunger for knowledge explains why Hans is a four-time Gold Medallist in the international Chef Olympics (Germany), winning each of the four medals in a different culinary specialty. Today, he again operates his own restaurant, this time at the exclusive Port St Charles marina in Barbados. La Mer is an intimate, fine restaurant, with a Caribbean-influenced cosmopolitan menu. It opened in December 1999; Hans designed the restaurant, together with architect Ian Morrison. “I wanted to create a marina atmosphere without the stereotypical design.”

The restaurant wraps around a section of the marina in a covered, open-air setting. Filled with cozy booths and tables, it has many little touches that capture the eye. From the bar, topped with faux marble lit from beneath, patrons are served drinks in amusing translucent blue glasses that lean like the Tower of Pisa. Orchids splash the ledges, and huge copper-tiled columns add a grandiose feel to the setting. The late afternoon light dances and plays off the restaurant’s metallic elements, providing an almost Romanesque mood as the sun sets in the background. It is Caribbean elegance at its finest, with a casual, unpretentious atmosphere.

It is hardly surprising that the 100-seat restaurant is always fully booked. The menu is replete with Hans’s creations, with the emphasis on freshness (“my signature,” he says), flavour and presentation. “We use as little frozen product as possible. We’re strong in seafood, with scallops, local fish, salmon, lobster, shrimp, all fresh, everyday.” And, Hans beams, “beautiful desserts”. As a pâtissier and chocolatier, his tantalizing desserts are renowned.

Many of the items are freshly made, and as the cart passes by with a tempting variety of fresh-made breads, anticipation of the first course is piqued. With such starter creations as chilled papaya and lime soup, grilled shrimp on sugar cane with tamarind rum glaze, and Vietnamese rice paper rolls with vegetables and sweet chillies, Hans is truly in his element. The entrées include dishes such as sharp-seared king scallops with Jabugo ham, foie gras and black truffle sauce.

Recently, Hans joined with the half-century old spice firm, Ecaf, to produce his own special blends of spices for consumers. “My idea was to come up with a product we could export that would be recognised as Caribbean, so we chose the name Calypso, which is nothing new, but everyone associates it with the Caribbean.” Five spice blends have been developed: Neptune’s Secret, Bajan Cajun, Spice Island Treasure, Caribbean Passion and Tropical Seasoning. “Each is a special blend of my own creation, and I am developing recipes for each blend. These unusual blends were created to enhance and add flavour to everything from seafood and poultry to sauces and dressings.”

Like Hans himself, these spices now travel the world, from cruise ship shops to Japan and Europe. After all that Hans has done, and all he may still do, one wonders what drives him to such heights of excellence. Hans leans forward, a serious demeanour replacing his normal light-hearted style, and says, “I have to do something that satisfies my soul. If I am doing something, I want to have professional satisfaction. It is more important for me than just having a job.”

 

Hans’s Lemongrass Curry Chicken Breast

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

1 lime

salt

1 tbsp vegetable oil

Spice Island Treasure Mix for seasoning

Lemongrass Curry Sauce

1 tbsp butter or ghee

1 diced onion

1 minced clove of garlic

1 tsp finely chopped lemongrass

1 tsp finely chopped ginger

1 twig fresh coriander

2 tbsp Spice Island Treasure Mix

1 tsp curry paste

1 tbsp Vietnam fish sauce

1 tin 250 ml coconut milk

1 cup of chicken stock or water

Method     

Melt butter or ghee in a wide and heavy- based pan; fry onion, garlic, lemongrass, ginger and coriander over moderate heat until fragrant.

Stir in the Spice Island Treasure Mix, curry paste, fish sauce, coconut milk and the chicken stock or water. Bring to the boil.

Wash the chicken breast with lime and salt water.  Dry off on a paper towel.

Season the chicken breast with Spice Island Treasure Mix and sauté in a pan with the tablespoon of vegetable oil until golden brown.

Add the chicken to the sauce and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice and papaya chutney.

Serves four.