Shaved head, broad shoulders and the craziest pants on campus, new Executive Chef Todd Schneekloth is a noticeable presence among the kitchen staff this year. Unlike the stereotypical egotistical chef, when asked what title he prefers, he laughed and replied, “Just call me Todd.”
On an average day, you’ll find him mixing up a little new chipotle mayo, revealing peanut butter as the key to chili, teaching students to plate a catered meal or nearly anything else pertaining to food.
Starting every shift by greeting each worker and ending with “thank you and good job tonight,” the communal aspect of the kitchen is central for Schneekloth.
“Working in a kitchen is very different from an office environment. It is this interdependence where the student washing dishes is just as important as the cook, because without them the cooks can’t do their work,” said Schneekloth.
Schneekloth enjoys his job and staff, particularly teaching them proper techniques and how to be consistent in their work. “I like teaching people things,” he said simply.
On the schedule for later this week, the cooks will be learning to make shrimp bisque, a cream soup that used to be ordered in.
Having lived in Florida and most recently Kansas, Schneekloth says, “Kansas isn’t so bad, but it’s not Iowa.” Recalling the Saturday he arrived in Orange City, Schneekloth said appreciatively that people “see you walking down the street, and they wave. That’s what I like.”
Coming most recently from a Sodexho position at Emporia State University, Schneekloth brings ample experience to the job. “My dad cooked quite a bit,” Schneekloth said. “That might be where I got my passion for food.”
His own journey began after an old friend invited him to move to Florida and start cooking after his army days in Germany. Continuing to branch out from there, Schneekloth described his approach: “I would go work at a restaurant, learn the menu and then continue on and keep learning foods.”
While considering schooling, Schneekloth soon learned that the business experience was preferable to “book knowledge.” So Schneekloth built an impressive résumé, including starting his own restaurant in hometown Marengo, IA. He also worked at a four-star restaurant in Atlanta, Ga., in an old church where the waiters wore monk cloaks.
The tradition of his crazy pants has also accompanied him along the way, starting back in Florida with his old friend. Sporting chef’s pants, mind you, not pajamas; you can find him with patterns of utensils, garlic cloves, vegetables and grapes.
Like any restaurant, there are “still a lot of culinary challenges working for a college,” as the cafeteria food requires more than opening a can and pouring it in a pot.
In the end, Schneekloth finds motivation in both a fast-paced environment where working with others under pressure is key and in “the satisfaction of cooking someone a really great meal.”