Chef Of The Year!

Chef Deb Schneider is the 2019 Chef of the Year for the American Culinary Federation’s Syracuse Chapter. She is pictured here in the Hospitality Management major facilities on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center.

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.

Schneider received her Chef of the Year award earlier this week at the OnCenter. She is pictured with OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill (left) and Provost Dr. Daria Willis (right).

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!

Hospitality Management’s Retail Classroom

Bechamel is the retail store operated by students and faculty in the Hospitality Management major. The store is located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center.

It doesn’t look like a traditional classroom, but teaching and learning are always in progress there. “The chocolate chip cookies are going to be 2 for 50 cents today. The pretzels are going to be $2 dollars,” says Hospitality Management Professor Lesley Brooks-Bianchi as she works with her students to set prices for that day’s products for sale. Student Megan Garvey (Liverpool HS) is making signs with the prices on them while another student, James Williams (Nottingham HS) is stocking the display case.

Students and faculty are working like a well-oiled machine inside Bechamel, the Hospitality Management majors’ retail store located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. Students working there are Hospitality Management majors enrolled in an Entrepreneurship & Hospitality class.

Students James Williams (left) and Megan Garvey (right) prepare for a busy day at Bechamel.

Cookies and other baked goods are the items which draw customers in, but Bechamel has more than baked goods for sale. “If we make soup we might turn it into a stew. If we have an abundance of peppers or cucumbers we turn them into pickles. Everything we sell is made here on the premises,” said Brooks-Bianchi. “Last semester we had specialty oils on the shelf and people were buying them like crazy and buying bread to dip in them,” added Hospitality Management Professor Deb Schneider.

Brooks-Bianchi and Schneider are always looking ahead and asking their students to do the same so the items for sale reflect the time of the year. On this day there are three, large chocolate chip cookies decorated in fall and Halloween colors. Coming soon will be mugs with hot chocolate mixes and marshmallows in them.

Working in retail is just a portion of the Entrepreneurship and Hospitality class experience for Williams and Garvey. Their final projects require creating a business plan with a mission statement, financial plans, organizational charts and marketing plans. Williams is working on plans for a hotel rooftop restaurant located near the State Fairgrounds. Garvey’s focus is weekend culinary classes for people interested in learning how to cook.

The students are also required to come up with something which will be sold in the retail shop. “They have to get their products together, cost it out, create a marketing analysis and market it,” said Schneider. Williams’ is planning to make a dozen scented candles. Garvey will be baking red velvet whoopie pies. Their creations will be on sale in Bechamel Thursday, December 6.

Bechamel is open Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at 10:30 a.m. Credit cards are accepted. When you are there please remember to be patient! Students are learning on the job while they are serving customers.

You can learn more about OCC’s Hospitality Management program here.

If you are interested in supporting OCC students, consider taking part in our “Believe In Better” fundraising campaign.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

OCC’s Test Kitchen

A practical for the American Culinary Federation brought several of the region’s top chefs to OCC’s outstanding Hospitality Management facilities.


Usually the kitchens in Onondaga Community College’s Hospitality Management major are filled with students, listening to and learning from the College’s outstanding faculty members. The scene was much different on Saturday, October 21. Many of the region’s top chefs had come to the kitchen to judge the work of a fellow chef who was here from Pennsylvania to do his practical. Successfully preparing a meal under the watchful eye of fellow chefs would mean a higher level of certification in the American Culinary Federation. “It’s very intense, very nerve wracking to go through,” said Chef Deb Schneider of OCC’s Hospitality management program. She went through a similar process in the spring of 2016 when she became a Certified Executive Pastry Chef.

The chef being tested on this day was attempting to achieve the level of Executive Chef. He was given a market basket and required to make a meal for four. The meal would include a salad course, a fish course and a main course utilizing chicken in two ways. Each time the chef completed a course, the food was put on plates and delivered to an area in the kitchen where the judges could take a closer look. They used their cell phones to take pictures of the food, examined it visually and tasted it. Chefs in attendance were from all over the region including the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, Colgate University, Morrisville State College, a private country club in Geneseo, Rochester, Buffalo, Mississippi and a Master Chef from Long Island.

Chef Deb Schneider

When the cooking and plating were complete, the chefs went into a room and discussed what they had seen and tasted. They were judging the chef not only on his cooking skills but also on his sanitation and organization. When they completed their grading process they called the chef in, shared his evaluation with him and told him whether he passed or failed. “When I had my evaluation it was the hardest thing to sit through,” said Schneider. “Going through the process of cooking or baking in front of others who are judging you is stressful enough.”

OCC’s outstanding facilities have made it a regular site for American Culinary Federation practicals but having the event here is always thrilling. “To meet and talk with these other chefs gives me goose bumps,” said Schneider. “We’re honored to host practicals and believe it says a lot about the facilities our students learn and work in every day.”

Learn more about the OCC hospitality management program!

Bechamel’s Grand Opening

Bechamel’s is located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center.

It’s opening week for the Hospitality Management major’s new retail space! Bechamel’s is open for business on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. The student-run store carries a full complement of tasty treats for sale including apple muffins, quick breads, chocolate chip cookies, bagels, quiche, apple pie, cupcakes, stone-fired pizza, pickles, pesto sauce, pasta with pesto, cowboy cookie jars, brownie mugs and cranberry muffins.

Store hours are:

  • Tuesday’s            10:30am-2:30pm
  • Thursday’s          10:30am-2:30pm

We look forward to seeing you there! You can see a slideshow of items for sale below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Partners in Student Success

College President Casey Crabill speaks with local lawmakers and their representatives during brunch in the new student-run restaurant, “Stonewalls.”

Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill welcomed local lawmakers and their staffs to campus to show off the latest capital projects and thank them for their support in making a difference in the lives of students.

The presentation began in Sidney B. Coulter Hall. The building which houses Coulter Library underwent a year-and-a-half long renovation. Library Chair Professor Pauline Shostack showed lawmakers striking before and after pictures. The new and improved library has more computers, study rooms and technology than before along with new cell phone charging lockers. Library use has increased 30% since the renovation.

“The amazing renovations here convey to students a very clear message about what you think of them,” Crabill told local lawmakers. “When we say to our students, ‘We want you to be well educated and have what you need so you can stay here and help us improve Central New York,’ they get that message from us. They didn’t get that from the old building.”

After receiving guided tours of Coulter by library staff, lawmakers were treated to brunch in the new student-run restaurant, “Stonewalls” in the Gordon Student Center. Chefs James Taylor and Deb Schneider, who are professors in the Hospitality Management major, spoke briefly about the great work students are doing and thanked officials for their support.  The Hospitality Management major has also seen a significant upgrade in its facilities including a new retail space, bakery kitchen, demo kitchen, student study area, locker room updates and a new faculty office suite.

“We have made academic leaps and bounds and we want to thank you,” said Crabill. “We know none of this could have happened without the incredible support we get from our partners with the State, the County and the Town of Onondaga.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jillann Neely

From the Ground Up: the Story of Jillann Neely

Jillann Neely
Jillann Neely

When Jillann Neely first came to OCC in 1979, the hospitality program didn’t exist. As a budding professional, she was tasked with creating the program from the ground up. Thirty-eight years later, she has accomplished that and so much more, leaving a lasting mark on OCC.

Growing up, Neely was always drawn to working with food. At age 15, she started waiting tables. Going into college, she was drawn to the chemical aspects of food which led her to nutrition. Neely’s interests evolved to include teaching and, after earning her degree, she started working at SUNY Cobleskill. It didn’t take long for her hard work to go unnoticed. Soon she was at OCC facing the daunting task of building a program from scratch.

Neely knew her task was difficult, but she was undeterred. “It never occurred to me at the time there was something I couldn’t do. The possibilities were endless in my mind.” It took time and many hours of hard work, but with persistence and the support of the campus community she accomplished her goal.

Along the way, Neely has continually sought to improve the hospitality program, adding new programs, improving facilities and making more connections with the community. Neely has touched countless student’s lives, propelling them to success in their field. She’s served as a consultant for growing restaurants and has helped many refugees start new lives as restaurant owners. She’s even made history. Former Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill in 1984 that made her recipe for the apple muffin the official recipe of the New York State muffin.

With one month to go until retirement, Neely is not slowing down. She’s working on a new course to be launched in the fall, a department chair manual for similar departments, new community-based cooking and wine courses, overseeing the renovations to the hospitality facilities and making sure that her replacement can fill her very big shoes.

OCC will always be grateful to Neely for starting the hospitality management program. She’ll leave us on May 22nd to start her retirement, though there is no sign of her slowing down anytime soon. “I plan to do some traveling, volunteering and do some consulting work. I don’t think I’ll be slowing down!”

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
  • High School: Fayetteville-Manlius, Class of 2012

Jill Wilson’s dream is to earn a master’s degree in Nutrition Science from Syracuse University. OCC’s Hospitality Management program is helping her make that dream come true.

Before coming to OCC, Wilson attended SUNY Oswego. She majored in Wellness Management and minored in Health Science and Nutrition. “I had an internship with a dietitian on the Oswego campus. I spoke with her about my goals. She helped me figure out I needed to take prerequisite courses before I could apply to SU.”

The need for prerequisite courses brought her to OCC. She arrived in the fall 2016 semester as upgrades to the facilities within the Hospitality Management major were being completed. “All of the professors and chefs here have been wonderful and the facilities are incredible. I’ve felt very welcome and have enjoyed my time here.

Wilson will begin pursuing her master’s at S.U. in the fall semester.

Hospitality Management’s Big Makeover

Lunch is served in the new student-run restaurant, “Stonewalls” on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center.

Students preparing for a career in Hospitality Management now have a learning facility which is second to none. “Our new teaching spaces are amazing,” said Professor and Department Chair Jillan Neely. “Many of our soon to be graduates want to come back and take classes again so they can continue to work and learn here!”

The expanded facilities on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center are sparkling. At one end is a new student-run restaurant, “Stonewalls.” The restaurant and its kitchen are located where the student lounge used to be. Its replacement, the new “Lazer Lounge” opened down the hall in time for the start of the academic year.

Directly across from Stonewalls is a new retail location, “Bechamel.” Passers-by can enjoy a 25 cent treat such as a small cup of beef stew with a biscuit or navy bean soup with a dinner roll.

There is also a new bakery kitchen which is wired with smart screens. A chef can work at the front of the kitchen with a camera focused on what he or she is making. A monitor at each of the student’s work stations shows the work in progress so students can work simultaneously with their instructor.

Other improvements to the Hospitality Management space include a demo kitchen, student study area, locker room updates and a new faculty office suite.

“The facilities here are incredible,” said student Jill Wilson. This is so wonderful. The resources these kitchens provide are incredible and the chefs are very knowledgeable about everything.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are the Champions… Again!

OCC's winning team in the New York Beef Council's Veal Culinary Tour and Competition (left to right): Chris Sheppard, Brandon Clary, Chef Deb Schneider, Alex Courgi and Lexi LaFountain.
OCC’s winning team in the New York Beef Council’s Veal Culinary Tour and Competition (left to right): Chris Sheppard, Brandon Clary, Chef Deb Schneider, Alex Courgi and Lexi LaFountain.

Somewhere an engraver is getting used to putting the words “Onondaga Community College” and “Champion” on cooking competition plaques. In November, four students enrolled in the Hospitality Management major traveled to Canandaigua and earned first place honors in the New York Beef Council’s Veal Culinary Tour and Competition. “We’re just really proud,” said OCC faculty member and Chef Deb Schneider. “It’s a great accomplishment for our students and our program.”

cropped-hospitality-management-winners-002Student teams from OCC’s Hospitality Management major have made a habit of winning these competitions. In each of the last three years during the month of May, students have earned first place honors in the Beef Farm Tour and Culinary Competition. Those were also held in Canandaigua.

Planning and preparation for this November’s competition began shortly after the start of the fall semester. Four students were selected to compete: Brandon Clary (Oswego H.S.), Alex Courgi (Fayetteville-Manlius (H.S.), Lexi LaFountain (Town of Webb H.S. in Old Forge) and Chris Sheppard (Corcoran H.S.).

College teams would be required to make veal schnitzel sliders while using only six ingredients. There were limits to which items could be used, also known as the “market basket.” “We got around it by making our own,” said Schneider. “Instead of taking sauerkraut out of a can we made our own and added caraway to it to give it more flavor. We made our own mustard and added beer to it which was part of the recipe.” The sauerkraut and beer each took four weeks to make. Students also made slider rolls.

In the months leading up to the competition students gathered regularly to practice making their recipes. “We worked on this every Monday for the past two months to make it really good,” said LaFountain. “Through our practice we’d done this enough times so we knew what we were doing,” added Clary.

By the time the competition began OCC’s team was ready. They were competing against five other colleges: Alfred State, SUNY Cobleskill, Erie Community College, Finger Lakes Community College and Morrisville State College. OCC won first place! “It was really fun… It was a very exciting experience for all of us,” said Shepard. OCC’s team was presented with a check for $2,000 which was split evenly between the four students.

The event also included lectures, presentations and tours of a veal producer and Noblehurst Farms, a dairy farm in western New York. It was quite an experience for students like Courgi. “I had never been on a dairy farm. It was very interesting to see the whole process and how things work.”

Congratulations to OCC’s team! You can watch a video produced by the New York Beef Council here.

OCC's team poses for a photo with the ceremonial check after earning first place honors.
OCC’s team poses for a photo with the ceremonial check after earning first place honors.

That’s Amore! – Jennifer Polak ’95


Jennifer Polak, ’95 has a passion for preparing food for others. She discovered it shortly after graduating from Syracuse’s Fowler High School when she began working in local restaurants. Her desire to make it her career brought her to OCC where she enrolled in the Hospitality Management program. “I learned so much from my professors during my time there. Terri O’Hare, Jillann Neely and Jim Drake were instrumental in my development and overall awareness of what was needed to succeed in this business.”

After earning her degree Polak moved to Denver and spent four years working at the Brown Palace Hotel and at Wolfgang Puck restaurant. “I was exposed to making everything from scratch. Once I started to work with the ingredients and learned how to create exciting dishes it’s all I wanted to do!”

A family illness brought Polak back to Syracuse where she worked at popular restaurants Riley’s and Lemon Grass. Each stop on her career path introduced her to new ways of doing things and ultimately the confidence she could start her own business. In 2005 she and her husband opened a restaurant named Choices. It stayed open until 2008. “I’m very proud of what we did there. I learned a lot about the business, lessons you don’t learn until you experience it.”

Customers can expect their dishes to feature fresh pasta, which is made daily.
Customers are treated to fresh pasta daily at Pastificio.

In May Polak opened another restaurant, Pastificio on Brooklea Drive in Fayetteville. Pastificio is Italian for pasta factory. Polak makes pasta daily there. The restaurant is part cafe, part bakery and part restaurant. Everything is made from scratch. Customers can take-out or dine-in. “This is a one-stop-shop. It has been a life-long dream of mine to open something like this.”

Pastificio is still in its infancy but Polak feels good about how the business is doing. She credits OCC with building a strong foundation for her career. “The hospitality program gets you ready by stressing the importance of professionalism and detail. It really sets you on a course for success!”