Schaller Challenges For Best Of The Best Trophy

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The recent freeze killed most of the pepper plants in chef Karl Schaller's home garden.

A single jalapeƱo plant survived to spice up the fresh ingredients he always has in his refrigerator for chili.

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Majestic Rim chef Karl Schaller is a late entrant into A Taste of Rim Country 2008.

Fresh vegetables, fish and meats also fill the big, steel refrigerators in his kitchen at Majestic Rim.

"Use fresh ingredients," Schaller said.

It is the secret that everyone who cooks should know and, the kind of food residents at Majestic Rim demand.

Schaller's lips are sealed as to what he is making for A Taste of Rim Country 2008.

People who masticated goodies during the 2002 event may recall Schaller's third place win for grilled shrimp wontons served with mango, papaya and jalapeno salsa. Schaller was working for the hospital then.

One of his competitors, Kevin DeWitt who was part of the Rim Golf Club team, took first place in the appetizer category in 2002.

The two are friendly competitors again this year.

"The challenge is on between Kevin and I," Schaller said.

The winning chef, as judged by the fine folks forking food into their mouths at the library's A Taste of the Rim Country 2008, gets to take the Best of the Best trophy back to their restaurant.

DeWitt carried it to the Zane Grey Steakhouse at Kohl's Ranch Lodge in 2007.

A ticket and a chance to vote costs $30.

Schaller on food and life

Karl, What is your favorite dish to cook? "Paella. It is time consuming to make, it simmers for hours and the taste is to die for," he said.

What do you love to eat?

"Mediterranean or Taiwanese. I love spicy food."

What is the most complicated dish you have ever made?

Mushroom Tureen.

What / who inspired your love of cooking and when did you begin?

His great-aunt was a professional baker. At age 11 she bought him a boys and girls cookbook and he started baking cakes and pies with her.

Do you have formal training?

Military cooking school in the reserves -- six years with the Air Force, 10 years with the Navy and six with the Army. Schaller graduated from the restaurant program at Pima College and earned his BA from the University of Phoenix in 1999.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

"Listen to your customers. You are only as good as your last meal."

What was your worst cooking disaster?

He dropped beef tips and noodles as he was pulling them out of the oven to serve the 275 residents of Fountain View Village.

What is the hardest part of your job?

An executive chef comes in early and stays late to see the meals properly prepared. Schaller's wife teases that he lives at the job, so getting home to cook dinner for his wife and their 14 and 16 year old boys is sometimes difficult.

What is always in your refrigerator at home?

Tuna, salmon, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and chili.

What do you love most about what your do?

"The feeling that comes from the heart when I cook a good meal. I have residents that come into the kitchen as I am cleaning up and say, Karl, that was a good meal."

Do you have advice for someone who wants to starts cooking?

"Do it because you love it. People fall into jobs that are the first thing that comes along, then have an (bad) attitude. You need to come into work with a smile on your face."

Is there a cookbook in your future?

Yes.

What is your ultimate career goal?

Retire in no more than 10 years and make Master Sgt. by the time I retire, then, teach at the college or high school.

A Taste of Rim Country begins at 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23 between the bookshelves at the Payson Public Library.

General admission tickets are available now for purchase at the library.

Fifty percent of the $30 ticket cost is tax-deductible. Funds raised will go toward the $1.4 million library expansion project, designed to fit the growing needs of Payson. The plan calls for a 5,500-square-foot wing stocked with wireless Internet access, 20 computer terminals and extra space.

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