The third generation in his family to work as a baker, Stefan Schmith is excited about passing on the secrets of his age-old trade to would-be bakers in Hawke’s Bay.
German-born and trained, Stefan – probably best known for the wood-fired pizzas he makes at the Hastings’ Farmers Market – is to head a new baking programme launching at EIT in early March. He will be supported by Korey Field, a chef tutor equally well known for his patisserie skills.
Stefan’s grandfather was a master baker and his father also ran a bakery in the home village near the Black Forest. With the locale close to the border, French boulangeries exerted an influence on the breads and other baked goods – the staff of life in Germany as in other European cultures.
“Germans take their baking seriously,” Stefan points out. “It’s an old trade.”
His time in Germany included seven years of self-employment working in his father’s bakery. Stefan also trained bakers, strongly believing in handing on the skills he has perfected.
The move to New Zealand was prompted by health problems – doctors suggested a different climate might help his asthma. “I come from the Rhine Valley where there is too much pollution,” he explains. “The climate was not good for me.”
Graham Heaven was Stefan’s first contact in New Zealand and he says the Napier bakery owner helped him settle in. He worked at Heavens Bakery for a short time, and since moving to Hawke’s Bay he’s not suffered any further asthma attacks.
Stefan met his Korean-born wife in Hawke’s Bay – Sunny came to New Zealand to buff up her English language skills. The couple have developed their 17-acre property on Roys Hill as an organic farm. Free range chickens, cattle and sheep supply home-kill meat, an orchard and greenhouse grow the fruit and vegetables and grape vines are harvested to make their own wine.
While Stefan’s 19-year-old son has left home to pursue his studies, the three other Schmidt children aged 10 to 13 assist with the running of the property. And, of course, Stefan continues to make the bread the family share around the table.
“I like the traditional way of baking,” he says, “doing it from scratch without artificial additives or a set recipe, using a spelt flour and a free mix of grains.”
Soon after settling into life in Hawke’s Bay, Stefan set up his own pizza business. He was among the first traders at the Farmers Market and he and Sunny also cater birthdays, weddings and events that have included Art Deco Weekend and the Mission Concert.
He believes there is a growing awareness of the wide range of baking products now available and, reflecting this, the Level 4 New Zealand Certificate in Bakery (Generalist) programme will encompass commercial as well as artisanal baking methods. “You have to be realistic and consider what customers want to buy.”
With its early morning starts, bakery, he admits, can be a challenging career. “However, it’s also a wonderful trade to be in if you enjoy it.”
Stefan suggests would-be students apply promptly to EIT as only 15 places are available on the programme.