Shiner chef returns home for book signing
April 29, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2010 at 11:29 p.m.
SHINER - Jennifer Schaertl has come a long way from making mud pies in the backyard.
The 1997 Shiner High School graduate has parlayed that early mixing of dirt and water into a career as a chef, and now as an author with the April publication of "Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens."
Schaertl explained that the book title, as well as her cooking videos (available on YouTube and currently being shopped as a potential television show) and electronic newsletter, came from living in a New York City apartment with limited kitchen space.
"I had the smallest, most useless kitchen space, but there was a wonderful farmer's market two blocks away with the freshest seafood on Canal Street," she said. "I made a really nice meal for one of my friends who said, 'You make the best gourmet meals in that crappy little kitchen.' That phrase just stuck with me."
The 2003 graduate of El Centro College Food and Hospitality Institute in Dallas thinks the concept hits home for a lot of people.
"So many cookbooks have tackled time constraints or budget or health. No one has effectively attacked the spatial problems so many have," she said. "That's why the book became as successful as quickly as it did."
That success has translated into an invitation later this month to the BookExpo America 2010 in New York City where she will have her own booth in the autograph area.
The paperback book includes more than 130 recipes - from appetizers to desserts - for those working in a limited space. One chapter is titled, "One Pot Wonders."
LEARNING TO COOK
Schaertl, who turns 31 in May, said she comes by her cooking talent naturally. Although, she added, her father Chuck Stratman still likes to tell the story of the time she let all the water boil out of the pot and she burned the spaghetti when she was a child.
"My dad makes awesome barbecue and chili. My mom makes awesome casseroles. Granny Dee can make the best egg and cheese dish ever, and Granny Ila makes the very best homemade candy," said Schaertl, whose family originally settled in Shiner in 1908. "What my family did to inspire me was we always put food at the center of all celebrations. If there was something to be happy about, there was also going to be a cookout or a trip out to eat."
Schaertl's mother, Teri Stratman, a retired Shiner Elementary School teacher, said her daughter was a hands-on, curious child.
"I am a limited cook and most of the time took the easy way out, but when I did try something like homemade biscuits, she was right there with me kneading the dough and rolling it out. Then she'd select the cup to cut them for the perfect size. She was very good at giving her younger sisters instructions on how it was done properly."
Schaertl said she always liked cooking.
"I enjoyed it a lot, but never thought it could be a career path," she said.
It almost wasn't.
She earned a degree in management information systems and was an office manager for a small production company in New York City in the early 2000s.
But economic reality hit home.
"When the job market fell apart and I realized I was going to be poor no matter what, I switched to culinary to pursue happiness," she said.
That pursuit has led her to a not so crappy little career.
Starting as a dishwasher and working her way up to sous chef, Schaertl has worked as a chef in several Dallas four-star restaurants including Savory, Taste and The Grape, and as a pastry chef at Suze.
Schaertl is currently the executive chef at the North Central Surgical Center in Dallas, an exclusive 27-bed private orthopedic surgery facility that counts many professional athletes among its patients.
Her favorite thing to cook is fish because it's complicated, yet elegant and simple at the same time, she said.
"A matter of seconds is the difference between overcooked and undercooked," said the former Lady Comanche softball player.
As far as a favorite dish to eat, her choice was easy.
"Thai food because if I am eating it, I know someone else has finally made me dinner," she said.