Chef Scott Schneider Teams With Students from His Ohio Alma Mater
Renowned New York City chef and Vermilion, Ohio native Chef Scott Schneider will return to his old stomping grounds August 24th for a collaborative pop-up dinner with students from the Lorain County JVS Culinary Arts program, where Chef Scott’s own culinary career began.
Chef Scott, Chef de Cuisine at New York’s celebrated Ai Fiori restaurant, will prepare a five-course meal at The Culinary Vegetable Institute showcasing seasonal vegetables from The Chef’s Garden, with the students as his sous chefs.
Chef Scott is a native of Vermilion, Ohio ─ a small lakeside town about 20 miles northeast of the CVI. He said his interest in cooking goes all the way back to middle school.
“For Groundhog Day we had to shadow a profession,” he said. “My dad knew the owner of a local restaurant and I joined them for an evening. I washed dishes and watched the line cooks work. I was so excited and amazed by the speed and adrenaline of the dinner rush. After the shadow I was offered a job. I worked weekends during the school year, and full time during the summer. I moved up from dishwasher to prep cook to line cook. My love for cooking had begun.”
Competition, Education and Ambition
Even though Chef Scott has earned a prestigious Michelin Star rating, he said he is equally proud of winning a national culinary competition in high school. His four-person team was tested in categories such as knife cuts, cooking technique, cleanliness, organization, and overall taste and presentation.
“These competitions were so thrilling to me,” he said. “Our team made it through regional and state competition, then moved on to nationals in Nashville. At nationals our team won the gold grand prize! It was an amazing feeling and so worth all the training and hard work our team went through to get there.”
After high school, Chef Scott enrolled in the culinary program at nearby Lorain County JVS. It was an ideal outlet for his competitive streak and rising ambition.
“It was truly life changing for me,” he said. “The instructors really took the time to teach me the proper tools to succeed at the next level. I’m extremely grateful for the instructors pushing me to do competitions. It helped teach me that hard work really does pay off. Some days I’d be at school an hour before school and stay after three to four hours just to train!”
From there, Chef Scott attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, then worked in some of New York’s great kitchens, including Restaurant 81, Union Square Café, La Mangeoire and Bar Basque before landing at Ai Fiori in 2011. He rose through the ranks at Ai Fiori, moving from line cook to Executive Sous Chef to Chef de Cuisine in five short years.
Words of Wisdom
Asked what advice he’d give to up-and-coming chefs, Chef Scott said tenacity, humility and being teachable are the most important skills they can bring to the kitchen.
“The advice I would give these young cooks is to stay humble and learn as much as you can,” he said. “Just because you went to culinary school doesn’t mean you’re a chef. You have to be willing to put in the work and hours to rise through the ranks and get the respect of your peers. Leave your ego at the door. The worst thing for a chef is a cook who thinks they know it all.”
He’d also tell them to keep their options open to the abundant and diverse career choices emerging in the food world.
“Today’s culinary climate is growing like never before,” he said. “There are so many different types of restaurants and paths to take within the culinary industry, whether it be cooking, managing, food writing, styling, farming, photography, etc.”
Strong Values on the Menu
Chef Scott agreed that values are playing an increasingly important role in how chefs and their customers decide where to buy and where to eat. He said it’s the reason he chooses to serve farm-fresh vegetables from The Chef’s Garden.
“The Chef’s Garden fits into my value system by always putting quality first,” he said. “At Ai Fiori we are always looking for ways to improve presentation, flavor, and quality. The Chef’s Garden certainly provides us with the tools to do so.”
He said he is eager to put Chef’s Garden quality to use at the CVI.
“I’m very excited to be doing my pop-up in August!” he said. “The products and produce during that month are like no other. I’m going to be using a variety of different local products during my dinner. Products such as heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, summer radishes, gold bar squash, and local melons.”
“There are lots of items at the Chef’s Garden that I didn’t even know existed!” he continued. “It’s amazing to see the products, taste, and ultimately cook with them at the CVI. There is no place like it in the world! It gives chefs and culinary professionals the opportunity to come to the farm and see their process of growing and learning about the micro climate.”
No Place Like Home
Career and family have made it more difficult for Chef Scott to make it back to northern Ohio. “Especially now that I’m married and have a newborn,” he said. “That being said, I do try to make it home at least once or twice per year. Vermilion, Ohio will always be home.”