Just to be clear, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is not your name, correct?
Correct, this is not my name; however, whenever I go out, the people always shout, Paul Holzheimer, dada dada dadada!
Do you wish it were your name? You'd be really popular.
I’m already popular.
Does popularity mean anything in the 21st century? To me, it seems like it
means everything. Which means it
Interesting question. Of course, I think it means a lot. In the culinary world people tend to follow the newest and "most popular" trend, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because it allows those trends to evolve into something much bigger than what they were. This often leads us to the next popular thing. For instance, farm to table was a small breakthrough trend that very few restaurants were tackling, but as it gained popularity its demand created a very different way of looking at food and our relationship with where it comes from and who is creating it. This made dining and even shopping a much more intimate affair. Not to mention it promotes better health and sustains small businesses.
OK. But popularity feels like the goal of all things mediocre. I'm much more interested in integrity. Do you think that word has any resonance with today's youth?
I strongly feel that whatever gains momentum and strong popular demand starts with integrity. The mediocre tends to lose respect rather quickly and lacks longevity. Integrity seems to be a learned behavior in my opinion. If you surround yourself with good people, good things should come of it. I can't speak for today's youth: I don't know many of them.
Are we as Americans blind to the integrity (or lack thereof) in our food?
Unfortunately, I think most Americans are blind to what they’re putting into their bodies. However, I see a slow change in that trend and it seems to be more popular to educate yourself in leading a healthy lifestyle.
Do you feel Europe has a better understanding of their food system? I feel like I've bought into that stereotype out of sheer intellectual laziness, but I don't necessarily believe it.
It's give and take. I'm sure Europe falls into some of the mass produced, chemical- ridden, antibiotic and hormone pumped foods like Americans do. However, I do know that Europe has a much larger population of grass-fed beef, free range animals, and tends to shop at farmers’ markets more regularly than Americans. This has huge benefits on the quality and nutrition in their diets. For instance, grass- fed beef contains a lot more omega-3's, which equals healthier and tastier meat, milk, butter, and cheese. I'm pretty sure that's a fact, but you're a fact finder, do the research.
I’m working on it. One of the reasons I became a vegan was because I felt like I couldn't find quality meat anywhere. Like the whole industry was churning out an unsustainable, unethical product. Of course, I know there are quality purveyors out there, but they seem few and far between. Where does Porta get its meat from? Is there a deeper commitment to its quality beyond the restaurant's bottom line?
I love this question for many reasons. It’s hard to find humanely raised meats. We use Green Tree (Packing Company) at Porta, but it's still a struggle to get exactly the kind and cut of meat we want. It's important to insist on using these products but frustrating as well. After all this is America and they capitalize on every monetary opportunity. These products are in high demand but not always readily available, especially when we’re not exactly living in an area where we have farms that are practicing these wonderful habits. Sometimes they’re just too expensive, but I'm confident we find the right purveyors and design the menu around what they have to offer. People need to know where their food is coming from so they know from the very beginning every aspect of their meal was handled with care and passion. I want people to rely on Porta for this.
Speaking of meat, what are your thoughts on sausage parties?
Sausage parties? I love them.
Are most kitchens sausage parties? Porta feels like an anomaly to the typical back of house.
It is an anomaly for many reasons. But I love it. Don't get me wrong, the kitchen has a long way to go, but the staff does an incredible job: they want to be there and they care about what Porta stands for. I'm very honored to work with them everyday. It's a relief from the status quo. I hope we can pave the way for other kitchens and show them it's not all about stress and anxiety. Although sometimes you can't escape that.
You can’t really escape anything wearing Crocs. Did they corner the market on kitchen footwear? And is Mario Batali to blame? Should we call him Wario?
Stay away from Crocs: my feet stink and I can't get rid of it. (My girlfriend) Ashley really loves me.
Favorite Mario game. Go.
Easy. Mario Kart for Wii and the original Nintendo Super Mario Brothers One, specifically level three. Oh, and also Zelda, if you want to know. Oh, and Mike Tyson's Punchout.
Mine is a toss-up between Super Mario Kart and Mario Tennis. I usually played as Toad in both of them, and I'm six foot four. Does that say anything about me as a person? Do I have a subconscious desire to be shorter than I am?
Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows you have a subconscious desire to be a toad.
But Toad wasn’t actually a toad. He was a mushroom. Do you wish this interview were shorter?
Sorry. I’ll keep moving. Did coming to Porta require a leap of faith on your part? Where were you before Porta?
It did. I was scared to take the position, but that's what drew me to it, it was a dream come true and I know I have a very long way to go and an incredible amount to learn, but I accept the fact that the career I chose is constantly evolving and you can never know enough and there will always be others doing more or better things. Although sometimes I lose sight of this, ultimately it's what keeps me passionate about cooking.
Do you think leaps of faith are necessary components to a fulfilled life? Is trying to stay safe part of what it means to be human?
Stepping out of your comfort zone is probably the best thing someone can do. I came from a very safe career before going to culinary school. I could've lived a very safe life, but somehow it wasn't enough, there was no excitement, whether bad or good. I wanted a challenge. I still struggle with forcing myself to break my mold, but I do and it always leads me to a better place.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to the future of the human race? We keep killing each other but we also keep loving each other. Does one win out in the long run?
I think for mankind, it’s unnatural to be one or the other; we have that Manichaean struggle to overcome our intrinsic evil and good tendencies everyday. But I'm an optimist and hope for the majority of the time we choose the good. Listen to that little angel on your shoulder: it's nice.
And what's the future of food? Is there room for science at the genetic level?
Can you be more specific?
I felt like that was pretty specific.
Next question then.
Do you see the role of the chef as an artist or as a scientist? I apologize for the black and whiteness of this question. Feel free to answer in gray.
I'll take the gray. Compare Ferran Adria and Marco Pierre White. (Mr. Adria is) A complete genius of molecular gastronomy who can evoke nostalgia in a single bite while making it seem too beautiful to eat, he challenges the way you approach food and turns it on its head in an unfamiliar but very familiar way. But Mr. White is a master of his nation's heritage and takes you back to what England was known for by recreating authentic dishes using what his land offers him. Both artists. Both geniuses. One more scientific than the other. In the end, they have their places in the culinary arts for a reason: a dedication to a passionate and intimate relationship with food through their respective countries.
And what's Porta's role in this country? In the world? Can a restaurant be a change agent?
I think Porta has no other choice than to be a catalyst for change. I believe it's very possible. Take, for instance, Blue Hill Farm or Blackberry Farm in Tennessee: they're basically what Porta’s on the way to becoming, but unlike them, we reside in a community. When we follow through with our plans, we won't be just a restaurant, we’ll be a gathering place for a community to do much more than eat and be merry. I can't make any predictions, I can just say, "Get back to me in five years."
Thanks, John Jacob. Sorry. Paul.
You're welcome, Toad.