Jean-Philippe Schmitt has two passions: cooking and travel. Very quickly, he hit the road with a CAP in his pocket until he realized his dream in the United States where he was appointed chef in a major institution. This Alsatian with a faithful heart tells us about his adventure.
As his name suggests, Jean-Philippe Schmitt is of Alsatian origin. 23 years ago, he moved to the United States to make his life there. His accent has become significantly Americanized but his attachment to his native land has not changed. The photo of his Messenger profile, on which I am supposed to call him, can testify to this. Tall as three apples, he poses in shorts in his parents’ garden in Mundolsheim.
It was in this corner of Alsace that he was born, grew up and discovered a passion for cooking very early on. A few decades later, at 51, that passion has remained intact. It was she who took him ever further on his many travels.
“I cut my teeth in Strasbourg, as an apprentice, then as a clerk and finally as a sous-chef. It was my boss at the time in 1991 who gave me travel fever, listening to his stories“. Jean-Philippe, with this curriculum vitae, is hired at Club Med as a cook after his military service. He then begins a world tour which, as he says, makes him discover 33 countries in 6 years. “I learned a lot, it made me grow“.
It’s 11 a.m. on this side of the Atlantic and Jean-Philippe, alias Jips for those close to him, is getting ready to return to his place of work. On the way, he takes the opportunity to tell me his story. “I am in free hand“, he wants to reassure me by leaving behind him the green hills of this corner of Indiana where he has taken up residence with his wife. “This green, these woods, this space, it reminds me of Alsace“.
In the distance stand out the buildings of Louisville, the big city of Kentucky. This is where he will take his service, at the restaurant of the very select Pendennis Club. A venerable institution founded in 1881 and one of the oldest private clubs in the United States. “It brings together the greatest lawyers in Louisville. They can eat there but also play squash, relax in the sauna and even dance in the large ballroom.“. The famous Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail was invented at the Pendennis Club, or so its Wikipedia page claims.
I started again at the bottom of the ladder as a clerk but in six months I became a chef again
“In Florida, I met my wife, an American national. At that time I was still working at Club Med, between Orlando and Miami. Then I had the choice of returning to France or staying on condition that I resign from my position as chef at Club Med. I stayed, we got married and settled in Louisville. I started again at the bottom of the ladder as a clerk but in six months I became a chef again“.
Jips, still driving his car – I think he must be driving very slowly – remembers those times. That was before the Pendennis Club. The restaurant, a gasthaus, was run by a German. “There, I found the kitchen of my childhood since with the spätzle, all that, I grew up with. For 13 years I worked at the gasthaus as a chef”. Once a week, Jean-Philippe brings his French touch to the German restaurant, a petit bourguignon in winter, a few pastries and hearty Alsatian dishes from time to time.
Ruled like clockwork, Jips, once a week, calls his brothers and sisters. “On the phone, we speak Alsatian, it’s a language that I maintain, that I don’t want to lose. You know, when you’re Alsatian it’s from the beginning to the end”, he said with good humor and in this accent with American curves. Does he find his Alsatian accent when he speaks the dialect? Maybe not, but what is certain is that here in the United States, we find that he has a French accent. A real expatriate between two cultures. He also has dual nationality, French and American. But above all Alsatian. Sure. Besides at home he hoisted the burp a wiss.
It’s the American dream: you start from nothing but you can get there if you put your mind to itJips, French-American Alsatian
“I miss some things from my home country, but there are a lot more facilities in the United States. A determined person in his professional life will succeed but if you wait in your chair you will not achieve anything here. When I decided to stay in the United States, I had nothing. I married a beautiful woman, now I have a house, a car, a very good professional situation”.
Arrived in 2013 at the Pendennis Club, he quickly rose in rank thanks to the general manager who trusted him. “We must recognize this quality in the Americans. When they see that you are a good person, they will reach out to you, they will help you succeed. It’s the American dream: you start with nothing but you can get there if you put your mind to it.”
Within a year, Jean-Philippe will be appointed executive chef, according to the term consecrated in kitchens across the Atlantic. “It’s the top, we can’t go higher, it’s the dream come true. I often think of my father, up there, and I see him say to my wife: ‘have you seen what the little one has become’, that’s what he called me. Voila, the little one has arrived“.
Jips’ conversation and car ride ends with these words. He just has time to add “Travel, travel. This is my advice to anyone who wants to open their minds.“. Bye Jips.