Onondaga Community College faculty member Chef Deb Schneider is the 2019 Chef of the Year for the American Culinary Federation’s Syracuse chapter. The award is handed out annually to a chef who demonstrates the highest standard of culinary skills, advances the cuisine of America and gives back to the profession through the development of future chefs. “I never expected this. It’s an overwhelming honor to be selected. It’s really amazing.”
Schneider’s love for cooking started while growing up on a dairy farm in the town of Skaneateles. “We had great gardens, beef cattle, lamb, chickens and all those kinds of things. On Sunday’s my mom would say ‘cook what you want.’ So my brother and me would make whatever we wanted.” At age 18 she started working at the Sherwood Inn as a prep cook. “I loved it. It was the deciding factor for which career I would choose.” She wound up attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and coming home on the weekends to continue working at the Sherwood Inn.
In 1990, Schneider opened her own business. “Framboise,” which was located on East Genesee Street in Skaneateles, started out as a bakery and catering business and kept getting bigger and bigger. “A couple of years after we opened, I added on a small café. A couple of years after that I bought the building next door. I had the catering business, a 65-seat restaurant, a 100-seat banquet area and a full-service bar. We would go in at 4:30 in the morning and serve dinner until 10 at night. We had catering vans and 34 employees. At some point I said ‘something’s gotta give here.’” Schneider would scale back, open a breakfast place called “Fast Eddie’s,” sell it, then open the “Red Rooster Pub” in Skaneateles Falls. In 2008 she sold that business and took some time to decide what was next.
Schneider began working with students in OCC’s Hospitality Management major in 2010. Because she had been teaching employees in the industry for most of the previous two decades, working with students was a natural fit. “I was always really good at training people. I had trained every position from dishwasher to morning baker. I felt if I could train employees, I teach students.”
The transition to the classroom was a seamless one. She loved teaching students, especially in the cooking labs. As television cooking shows grew in popularity Schneider would see the occasional student who was more interested in what is perceived to be the celebrity side of the business. “We let students know how much work being a chef is. On the first day of class I’ll pull out measuring cups and tell students ‘there is a lot of math involved. You have to do recipe conversions. You have to follow formulas. If you think this is all glamour, if you think you’re going to come in here and say ‘BAM,’ that’s not what this is.’”
Since coming to OCC Schneider has earned the prestigious designation of Certified Executive Pastry Chef. She’s a perfectionist in the kitchen who is always ready to experience a new restaurant. “People will say to me, ‘you must be horrible to go out to dinner with.’ I’m not critical! I love to eat! I’ll go anywhere and try places.”
Her favorite food may surprise you because of how simple it sounds. “There’s nothing better than bread, butter, bacon and chocolate. Those are the best.”
Congratulations to Chef Deb Schneider, the 2019 American Culinary Federation Syracuse Chapter Chef of the Year!