(Left) Chef Jake Schmidt with The Swag’s head gardener, Joyce Griffin, who grows three varieties of beets—red, golden, and the candy striped chioggia—at the inn and restaurant’s on-site garden in Waynesville; (Right) Beets are rich in folate, manganese, potassium, and vitamin B2.
“Beets are my favorite,” says Jake Schmidt, Executive Chef at The Swag in Waynesville, a mountaintop resort where he’s worked since 2017. He loves their versatile, earthy flavor whether they’re raw, roasted, pickled, or puréed into a light summer soup.
Beats, not beets, were part of Schmidt’s initial career path. Growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, he originally wanted to be a police officer, but after studying criminal justice in college, he realized it wasn’t for him. So when a friend suggested he try the culinary program at Kendall College in Chicago, Schmidt’s career took off.
Schmidt worked his way to the executive sous chef position at The Signature Room at the 95th in Chicago, then moved to Western North Carolina in 2011 to work at the Omni Grove Park Inn, where he cultivated his appreciation for seasonal food and local sourcing, which he continues at The Swag, where he changes the menu daily.
Schmidt knows that beets sometimes get a bad rap, but that doesn’t deter him from putting this root vegetable on the menu when they’re in season. He says some people think they don’t like beets, perhaps because they’ve never tried them or have only tasted mushy, boiled beets, but he’s on a mission to help people embrace this sweet and savory veggie.
Chef Schmidt has a few recipes to bring out the beet lover in everyone. Try making beet couscous with salmon, or go deep into the earthy flavor of borscht soup served with pink peppercorn crème fraîche and bread and butter pickles. His recipe for roasted beets, which can be enjoyed as a side dish, serves as the base preparation for each of Schmidt’s entrées, including a beet and duck speck salad (recipe online) with peaches and burrata cheese.
Roasted Beets (Serves 2)
3 beets of any color, washed
1 medium shallot, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 thyme sprigs
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, toss beets with shallot, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and add a few ice cubes. Place tossed beets onto a foil-lined baking tray. Top with additional foil, seal into packets, and roast until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. It’s much easier to peel beets while they are still warm. Gloves are recommended, especially for red beets.
Schmidt’s Borscht features pink peppercorn crème fraîche and bread and butter pickles, while his duck speck salad (right) is made with peaches and burrata.
Borscht (Serves 6-8)
2 oz. canola oil
1 onion, rough chopped
3 carrots, peeled & rough chopped
5 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 head red cabbage, rough chopped
3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & rough chopped
3 medium beets, roasted & peeled
2 medium tomatoes, rough chopped
3 qts. beef stock
Salt & Tabasco, to taste
In a heavy-bottom stainless steel pot with canola oil, sauté onion, carrots, and garlic on medium until carrots are tender. Add cabbage, potatoes, beets, and tomatoes. Sauté until the tomatoes release their juices and add the stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and Tabasco. To serve, ladle soup into a bowl. Top with crème fraîche and minced pickles (recipes follow).
Bread and Butter Pickles
5½ cups pickling cucumbers, thin sliced
1½ Tbsp. kosher salt
1 cup sweet onion, thin sliced
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1½ tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. celery seeds
1/8 tsp. ground turmeric
Combine cucumbers and salt in a large, shallow bowl. Cover and chill for one and a half hours. Transfer to a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain well and return to bowl. Add onion and toss.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugars, vinegars, seeds, and ground turmeric. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Pour the mixture over cucumbers and let stand at room temperature for one hour. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Store remaining pickles in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one month.
Pink Peppercorn Crème Fraîche
1 qt. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
4 Tbsp. pink peppercorns
In a bowl, add heavy cream, buttermilk, and salt. Whisk together, cover with cheesecloth, and allow to rest for 24 hours at room temperature. The cream will be slightly soured and thick.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind peppercorns to separate the skins. Discard cores. Stir the peppercorn skins into the cream and cool in the refrigerator until the crème fraîche is below 45 degrees. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Salmon atop Beet Couscous is served alongside Smoked Carrots and Golden Beet Agrodolce.
Salmon & Beet Couscous (Serves 4)
1 cup couscous
1 cup beet juice
Salt, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Place couscous in a shallow pan or bowl. In a separate pan, bring beet juice to a boil and then pour over couscous. Cover with plastic wrap. After 10 minutes, remove plastic and fluff with a fork. Season with salt and a drizzle of olive oil and incorporate. Keep warm until time to serve.
1 lb. baby carrots, peeled
1/2 lb. large carrots peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & chili powder, to taste
Rub all carrots with oil, salt, and chili powder. Cook in a smoker at 250°F or on the grill over indirect heat until tender. Reserve the baby carrots. In a food processor, purée the large carrots into a sauce-like consistency (use water or vegetable stock to adjust). Season with salt and chili powder to taste.
Golden Beet Agrodolce
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 Tbsp. sambal chili paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
10 golden beets, roasted, peeled & small diced
In a small bowl, mix agave nectar, sambal, and red wine vinegar. Add olive oil to finish the marinade, and season with salt and pepper. In a larger bowl, combine the beets with the marinade, tossing well. Marinate beets for about four hours. Check seasoning again and adjust as needed.
2 Tbsp. canola oil
4 six-ounce portions of sockeye salmon
Salt, to taste
Smoked baby beets
Golden beet agrodolce
In a smoking hot nonstick sauté pan, heat canola oil. Season salmon on both sides with salt. Sear the fish on its presentation side. When you see that the fish has cooked around the edges, flip it over, turn off the heat, and allow to finish cooking in the pan.
To serve, spoon beet couscous onto a plate. Place smoked baby carrots around the couscous and drop dollops of smoked puréed carrots around the plate. Place the fish atop the couscous and spoon the agrodolce over the fish.
WEB EXTRA - Beet & Duck Speck Salad recipe
Chef Jake Schmidt, The Swag
Most Challenging Job: Executive Sous Chef for The Signature Room at the 95th in Chicago
Summer Highlight: Teaching cooking classes at The Swag
Beet Tip: Seek out fresh, small beets that roast quickly.
Beet No-no: Don’t boil them!
2300 Swag Rd., Waynesville
2019 Cooking Classes
August 5 & 6
September 30-October 1