February 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

At home with Bistro Joe's Chef Jacques

Jacques Van Staden, executive chef at Bistro Joe's and Papa Joe's in Birmingham, says Pan-Fried Pork Schnitzel with Arugula Salad takes him back to his mother's and grandmother's cooking. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Chef Jacques Van Staden may put in 80 to 90 hours a week as executive chef and managing partner of Bistro Joe’s in Birmingham, but he says he still loves to cook at home for his wife, Lana, and their two children.

“I don’t really plan it in advance,” he says. “I usually just see what’s in the fridge and then make something out of whatever I find.”

He does have some go-to dishes he makes at home, however, including the Pan-Fried Pork Schnitzel with Arugula Salad he shared with us. It’s his wife’s favorite dish, Van Staden says.

“She loves the flavors and the texture of the nice, tender meat with its crispy crust, along with the zesty and refreshing taste of the arugula and lemon emulsion salad,” he says.

The schnitzel recipe also evokes fond memories for Van Staden, who says his grandmother used to make it back home in South Africa, then his mom continued to make it.

“It was always a treat in our household,” he says.

Work and family

Born and raised in South Africa, Van Staden says he first started cooking alongside his Italian grandmother (making spaghetti and meatballs) when he was just 8 years old.

“She was a good cook and a great influence on my life,” the chef says. “And by the time I was 12, I was in charge of making the family meal every Sunday after church.”

At the age of 16, Van Staden managed to get a job at a restaurant in Pretoria. “I worked there secretly, telling my dad that I was playing rugby because in South Africa, being a chef is not considered a serious profession,” he says.

Four years later, to fulfill his dream of coming to America, Van Staden sold his car, used the proceeds to buy an airline ticket and arrived in Washington, D.C., with $50 in his pocket and an invitation to live with a friend.

After mowing lawns for six months, the aspiring chef made enough money to enroll in a one-year course at L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, Md. From there, he worked in a number of restaurants in Washington, D.C. (where he also opened his first restaurant, Cafe Ole), Manhattan and Las Vegas on his way to being hired by Celebrity Cruises.

As the vice president of food and beverage for Celebrity Cruises, starting in 2007, Van Staden managed 10,000 employees and re-developed the cruise ships’ restaurant and bar concepts.

“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “I worked with the best people all around the world and they really empowered me.

“But I was traveling 70 percent of the time, and after five years, I realized I wanted to spend more time with my family.

“My wife, Lana, is from Michigan, so that’s why I decided to move to the Detroit area,” he says.

Recipe evokes memories

In addition to enjoying the flavors and textures of the Pan-Fried Pork Schnitzel with Arugula Salad, his wife, Lana, likes that it reminds her of a dish called chicken cream chops that she knew from her childhood in Iraq, Van Staden says.

The chef says he has tweaked the family recipe over time. For example, he marinates his pork in buttermilk because its enzymes help tenderize the meat. And he also says neither his mother nor grandmother served arugula salad on top of the schnitzel.

“We didn’t even have arugula in South Africa when I was growing up,” he says.

To complete the schnitzel entrée, Van Staden recommends accompanying it with either a German potato salad or Lyonnaise potatoes, along with a glass of an “oaky and buttery” Chardonnay or a good Pinot noir.

And if you’re making it for your own Valentine tomorrow, don’t forget some luscious chocolate-covered strawberries.

About this feature

Today’s story about the schnitzel chef Jacques Van Staden makes for his wife, Lana, is the debut of our new occasional feature, At Home with Chef ...

In these stories, we’ll ask local chefs about what they like to cook when they’re off duty and at home on the range ... in their own kitchen.

Know of a chef — or a restaurant whose chef — you’d like to see featured here? Email the name of the chef and/or the restaurant to mtisdale@detroitnews.com — and stay tuned. Who knows, you may find out what he or she is making at home soon.

Pan Fried Veal or Pork Schnitzel with Arugula Salad, Lemon Emulsion and Shaved Parmesan

For the chops
4 2-inch thick boneless veal or pork chops
3 cups buttermilk
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup clarified butter (see note)
For the emulsion
cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 whole eggs
1 cup whole milk
For the salad
8 cups baby arugula
cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Note: To prepare clarified butter — which can tolerate much hotter temperatures, making it ideal for pan frying — place 1 pound of butter in a medium-sized sauce pot and simmer on medium heat. You will notice the white foam separating from the butter and floating on top; carefully skim that with a ladle until all white foam (which are the milk solids) are removed. Remove what’s remaining (clarified butter) from heat and set aside until ready to use.

Place boneless pork or veal chop on cutting board and with mallet, start pounding one side. Turn over and pound other side and continue to pound chop to flatten to about half inch.

Once meat is a half-inch thick, place between two sheets of plastic wrap. Continue to pound with flat side of mallet until meat is ¼ inch thick, then set aside. Repeat with other chops until all the meat has been pounded to thick, and it should be about 12-14 inches in diameter. Remove from plastic wrap and place in buttermilk to marinate for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the lemon emulsion. In a blender, place lemon juice and mustard, and blend. While blending, slowly add oil until a thick emulsion is formed, season with salt and pepper and remove from blender and place in container. Keep it cold while you prepare the rest of the dish.

When the marinating time is nearly over, combine eggs and milk in container and whisk together to make an egg wash. Remove meat from buttermilk, drain excess buttermilk and dip both sides in flour to coat. Once coated in flour, dip in egg wash to coat both sides, then dip both sides in breadcrumbs to cover entire schnitzel and set aside on sheet tray. Once all schnitzels are coated, place in fridge and keep cool until ready to cook.

Add clarified butter to a large round sauté pan on medium heat, and carefully sauté schnitzel on one side until golden brown and then turn over to cook the other side golden brown, remove from pan and drain excess oil on paper towels. Keep the cooked schnitzels warm in a 300-degrees oven until all schnitzels are cooked.

Using a large oval or round plate, place hot schnitzel on plate. Mix salad with 5 tablespoons of the lemon emulsion, place salad over the schnitzel and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve lemon wedges with dish and serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 2,323 calories; 131 g fat (48 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 191 g carbohydrates; 534 mg cholesterol; 4,246 mg sodium; 92 g protein; 9 g fiber.

Judith Harris Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. judyfreelance@aol.com.

Chef Jacques Van Staden marinates his pork in buttermilk because its ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Jacques Van Staden and his wife, Lana, moved to Michigan so he could spend ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)