Chef Hans Schweitzer

Barbados' award-winning chef

Photograph by Roxan KinasPhotograph by Roxan Kinas

Hans Schweitzer’s five-by-seven-foot office in the main kitchen of the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados harbours everything from a computer and overstuffed bookshelves to a file cabinet and fridge. A scattering of butcher’s knives, champagne bottles, quail eggs and potato mashers clutter his desk. The phone rings constantly while he adjusts menus and deals with orders.

One call is from a familiar, heavily accented Italian voice. It belongs to Luciano Pavarotti, the celebrated operatic tenor, and it tells Hans, “I’m afraid I am not feeling so well today, I can only order eight pizzas to eat tonight.” Accustomed to all manner of strange requests, Hans chuckles to himself and makes a note. Pavarotti, he says, normally orders 12 char-grilled pizzas.

Hans has prepared banquets for royalty, heads of state, movie stars and all sorts of famous personalities. His etiquette is impeccable, his knowledge of protocol irrefutable and his cuisine loved by all. Dapper, charming and ever the gentleman, he may work devilishly hard and seem studiously earnest, but he never takes himself too seriously.

He decided he must become a chef when he was 15, the first time he saw a tall white hat. He graduated from the prestigious Munich Hotel School and gained the title of Maître de Cuisine from the Heidelberg Hotel School before he was 25. “I went through many phases, from artistic work to saucier. I was very inspired by the silky sauces and stocks of the French Michelin Star chefs, but I also enjoyed working with specialty buffets where you can excel at showpieces. I went to Paris to learn more about patisseries. Then I decided I still didn’t know enough about chocolate so I became a confiseur and chocolatier.” Today, Hans is famous for his chocolate and other centrepiece sculptures.

A free-spirited nature has taken him to the oddest places and activities, from backpacking through India and Nepal and duck farming in England to running his own award-winning restaurant and hosting a television show.

While he was Executive Chef at the Skyline in London, Hans had one of his earliest encounters with famous personalities. “After Muhammad Ali lost his title in 1978, he stayed overnight at the Skyline on his way to Saudi Arabia. At 8 a.m. his bodyguard called and asked, ‘Do you have any fresh Dover Sole?’ I said, ‘Yes, would you like to reserve some for dinner?’ He said, ‘No, but Muhammad Ali would like some for breakfast, and he wants to see them cooked.’ So I went to his room to cook three Dover Sole on the flambeau trolley.

“When I entered his bedroom it was dark, and there was this African-Queen-looking lady sitting on him in the bed in a red negligée. She jumped up and ran into the bathroom, and I said, ‘Sorry, I’ve come to cook three Dover Sole.’ Ali replied, ‘Yes, please come in, they are more important than anything else, I’m hungry.’ It was the first time I cooked Dover Sole for breakfast in someone’s bedroom.”

Hans has prepared meals for Queen Elizabeth, but his most memorable royal dinner was during a visit to Barbados by Princess Margaret many years ago. “It was an official dinner and the waiters all underwent a thorough briefing. I remember them all wearing white cloth gloves, bow ties, it was very elegant. We explained to them the hostess always sits at the head of the table and the first person who must be served is the Princess. Above all else they had to remember that.

“So we prepared for this big function. It was an impeccable spread. That night when dinner was ready to be served, the first waiter enters the room and proudly shouts, ‘Who de Princess here?’ Silence fell. Everybody looked. The manager was very embarrassed. But the Princess took it charmingly and merely chirped back, ‘That’s me’.”

In 1976 Hans first competed in the Chef Olympics (IKA) in his homeland, Germany, winning a Gold medal in cold platter buffet presentation. He competed in three successive IKAs, gaining a different Gold each time.

He led the Barbados team which won the Chef of the Year award, the team Gold and several special awards (including best fish dish and best regional dish) at the 1995 Caribbean Culinary Competition in Puerto Rico. His winning ingredient? “It sounds a bit conceited, but it was my experience as a chef and in competition. It is all in organising and timing, and creating a spirit. I always believe that competition drives the height of the spirit. We used to go out at night and have fun. Other people went to bed. But it didn’t matter. Our spirit was there.”

Since knowing Hans I think I’ve seen him distraught once. A few years ago he spent weeks constructing an elaborate Christmas gingerbread village, complete with river, bridge, moat, buildings, people — it was a masterpiece. Soon after it was unveiled at the hotel I asked him how the display was going. His usual smiling face changed to utter dejection. “Not very well,” he replied. “The children are eating it.”

RECIPE: CLASSIC STRUDEL WITH A WEST INDIES FRUIT FILLING SET ON A LIGHT COULIS OF MANGOES

Strudel dough
1 lb. high gluten flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbs. oil
7 ozs. water
1 whole egg

Combine all ingredients, mix well into a smooth dough. Oil dough, then rest one hour. Stretch dough to paper-thin. Proceed with the filling

Fruit filling

1 lb. mangoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 lb. paw paw, peeled and sliced thin
1 lb. pineapple, peeled, coned and sliced thin
1 lb. cantaloupe, peeled and sliced thin
4 ozs. raisins
1 oz. cinnamon sugar
6 ozs. cake crumbs (dry) or bread crumbs
2 ozs. chopped almonds (or substitute roasted hazelnuts or coconut)
3 ozs. butter (melted)
2 ozs. rum

Combine fruit, raisins, rum and cinnamon sugar. In a separate bowl combine bread crumbs with butter. Sprinkle bread crumbs on stretched dough, then place fruit mixture on top of crumbs. Roll up the dough, place on a baking sheet and brush with butter. Prick the strudel to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 350° oven for 26 minutes. When done, brush with butter. Serve hot on a mango coulis.

RED SNAPPER IN SALT CRUST

Red Snapper is a very moist, excellent-quality fish that should be cooked whole. You can also bake it in a salt crust that is infused with fresh herbs and garlic. This is a recipe for 4 to 6 persons

4 to 5 lbs. Red Snapper (or sea bass)
3 lbs. coarse sea salt
2 whole eggs
1 cup flour
50 grams cornflour
50 grams of butter
Pepper
Fresh herbs: basil, thyme, marjoram, lemon grass, garlic

Chop the herbs and mix half with the soft butter, then fill and rub the tummy with the mixture. Mix the salt with the eggs, flour, cornflour and the remaining herbs and pepper, then roll one third of the salt mixture onto a baking sheet. Place the fish on top, then cover with the remainder of the salt mixture, moulding into the fish shape. Bake for 30 minutes at 380°F and allow to set for 10 minutes. Cut the top off with a saw knife and serve with grilled vegetables or local salad.

Recipes by Hans Schweitzer, Master Chef/Executive Chef, Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados