We recently caught up with German Jan Semmelhack, current head chef of the destination Mimosa Wines Restaurant, where this determined and ambitious chef is finding his culinary identity.
Jan Semmelhack was born in the large port city of Hamburg, Northern Germany.
Growing up Jan was a very bright, successful student, excelling in science, art and sport, however he didn’t want to continue with higher education. On finishing high school he worked front of house for a catering company.
How did Jan become interested in cooking? “Spending days at home looking after my siblings”, Jan says, “watching all the chef shows on TV, my siblings would come home and say, ‘What’s for lunch?’ So I was watching all these cooking shows, preparing lunch and I became really interested.
“The chefs at the catering company advised me to train in a hotel, so I secured the job at a five-star hotel in Bonn where I could see all the parts (of cooking), like banquet, restaurant, breakfast etc, with really good apprenticeship programs and conditions.”
Once in Bonn Jan spent hours of his free time hanging out with the pastry chef, perfecting techniques like quenelling, (a presentation technique) and observing the exactness of patisserie, or dessert, the stream of cooking of which he says that is “where the real science, the physics of cooking comes in”.
During his three years in Bonn, this determined young cook was participating in culinary competitions, signing up for a dessert competition in his first year.
“I got third place, and the following year I won first place. It was really cool, the comps were sponsored by a chocolate company, so I did a chocolate dessert, with flavours I loved (think chocolate, liquorice, pear, caramel, avocado, thyme).”
Throughout his apprenticeship Jan took part in many competitions through the culinary school, winning the school competition, and then winning the local area comp. He then advanced to state and finally the national competitions.
These competitions were extremely important to the highly ambitious Jan, who at this time treated cooking as a sport. “I didn’t yet know squash existed so I did the cooking,” the now regular squash player jokes.
Then his captain from the national culinary team contacted Jan about a position available in the pastry (dessert) section of the restaurant he worked in at the five star Adlon Hotel, Berlin.
Here, in his first job after his apprenticeship, Jan found himself as the only pastry chef in a restaurant that allowed him the run of the dessert section.
“I studied flavour combinations, combinations proven by science, not what you would have thought of, and it was so interesting. Also the top pastry chefs in Germany were beginning to put desserts in a better, unique light, with a wow factor.”
Jan cooked, experimented and honed his craft, describing himself as a “young, wild, ambitious chef at the restaurant, given a blank canvas to project onto those plates.”
At The Adlon, renowned executive chef Tim Raue was impressed with Jan.
“Raue came to me and said, ‘I want you as head pastry chef at my two-Michelin-starred restaurant’! So, I quit immediately and was there for two and a half years.”
Jan then cooked at Berlin’s unique dessert restaurant CODA for one and a half years giving, as he says, “110 per cent”.
After this intense period, Jan came to Australia, feeling he was done with cooking for a while.
While looking for backpacker jobs in Brisbane, he came across a position at Mimosa Restaurant. Jan liked the look of Mimosa saying, “I had to really push for it as they said I was overqualified. I started working just before the time of the fires.”
The 2020 bushfires and the COVID-19 lockdowns meant Jan did some fencing with Blaze-Aid and returned to Sydney for a while, however he kept in touch with Aymeric Grand, the incoming owner of Mimosa.
“Aymeric has really sparked my passion again; I left Germany not really wanting to be a chef and he has sparked the fire again.”
Jan feels he now has a solid foundation to launch from as well as a great, happy team to work with.
“I am finding my style, my identity. How to describe it? Modern food exploring flavours and techniques? Flavour is definitely the number one thing. Every time I add something to a dish I ask, ‘What is the point of adding this? What does this add?’”
Recently the Australian Good Food Guide awarded Mimosa Wines Restaurant two chef hats and three symbols, with a score of 14.
Of the award Jan says, “It means a lot to me, and it means someone appreciates what we are doing and that they are aware of what we are doing, and something is happening, so that’s good.”
Of Mimosa he says, “It is amazing. It is just magnificent. You just sit and it speaks for itself. I’ve landed in paradise.”
Mimosa Wines is located in the Mimosa Rocks National Park region between Tathra and Bermagui.
Open Thursday to Sunday for lunch. Set six-course dinner Friday and Saturday nights. To book visit here.
Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on About Regional.