16
May
2021
0

Last week we farewelled

Hermann Schneider, on Friday May 14. He was probably the single most influential chef in Melbourne, and a trendsetter and leader for 40 years. Guy Grossi, Luke Mangan and Teage Ezard were among the apprentices he trained, and all of them, now distinguished chefs and restaurateurs credit him with their success. Not to mention the wine people like Frank Heaney, Curtis Marsh, and Peter Watt. The late Anders Ousback, who ran such great restaurants in Sydney, was also a Two Faces alumnus.

He was born in Baden, Switzerland, and trained under the old school in Switzerland, His father paid for his apprenticeship, as we might now pay TAFE or University fees, with the understanding of thorough training. He came to Australia in 1956 to cook for some of the teams during the Melbourne Olympics (themselves a gamechanger for the city). In 1960, he opened a basement restaurant called Two Faces in South Yarra, but under the then licensing laws, had to wait until wine could be served! It was incomprehensible to him that a restaurant could not have a wine list immediately – but he complied. And in time, Two Faces had one of the best wine lists around.

It was a long career. He married Faye in 1964, and they were a strong enduring partnership. Two Faces ran for 27 years. Accolades all the way. It attracted prime ministers, union leaders, politicians, artists, journalists, and welcomed them equally with any one else who came. Its sense of hospitality was remarkable. At a time when other chefs were declaring that the only way to serve steak (or duck) was very rare, porterhouse was offered on at least one menu “grilled to your liking”.  The tent cards on the table listed two changing wines by the bottle or glass, always top quality, always interesting, and never over-priced.

There was also a city bistro called Roesti, and a partnership in a wine merchant’s.

They left Two Faces to establish Delgany on the Mornington Peninsula as a boutique hotel. It was a curious building, built in the 1920s as a private residence like  a castle. It became many things – an orphanage, a hospital. With Hermann and Faye as partners in the enterprise, it was wonderful, not flash, but with an eye to detail that was – and is – very rare. The food and wine were great, so were the rooms, but it had a difficult run. Building delays bumped up the costs hugely, and in the early 90s, security became an issue for senior corporates and politicians. Delgany, with its immense barely fenced beautiful gardens, was a difficult place for that sort of security, and so a crucial part of the market was out of the picture. (Hotels and restaurants depend on a mixture of business, and functions are an important part of it.) The place became a Peppers resort, and is now a residential development.

Then they went to Arthurs, on Arthurs Seat. More casual, but very good. There was bad luck: there was an accident with the cable car up to Arthurs Seat. People were injured, the cable car was shut down for a while. At the start of summer, this was as difficult as Covid-19 closures have been – even more so, because there was no support, and no possibility of doing take-out food.

I got to know Hermann and Faye when I left The Age. Faye died in 2007, a huge loss.

Hermann was fierce, modest, funny, and wonderfully generous. It was, you might say, a great funeral. And that was because he was such a fine man. His legacy? No books, or television series, few interviews. His legacy is in the chefs he trained, the influence he exercised on Melbourne eating for so many decades, and in his family.

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