Wafting from the governor's Executive Mansion is the scent of chocolate chips oozing into golden dough. "At the mansion, I feed everyone … even cookies for the guards," says Todd Schneider. Recently named chef in the oldest continually occupied governor's residence in the United States, Schneider had his first gig in food service at age 16, when he bussed tables for his Westport, Conn., neighbor, Martha Stewart. Decades later, after working as a stockbroker and attending medical school, Schneider traded hedge funds and hemoglobin for fiddlehead ferns. "This is what I really wanted to do. So, with the $3,000 in my checking account, I started a catering company."
Schneider, 49, was introduced to first lady Maureen McDonnell by her chief of staff, who had seen Schneider in action when he catered the 2003 Richmond premiere of Gods and Generals. His first workday, April 1, started with a luncheon for 200. Now, months into his duties, Schneider says the chemistry between the McDonnell family and their staff is wonderful. "The first lady sits on a bar stool, and we talk recipes."
Schneider may not don a toque, but he wears several hats. Every morning, he's on the South Side in his Great Seasons Restaurant by 7 a.m., "and then I'm here from 9 [a.m.] till 7 p.m." Bouncing between two smart phones, he's also got an eye on his off-premises catering business. In the mansion or elsewhere, Schneider's style offers "comfort food with a twist," he says. "Tonight, I'm making Mexican lasagna; it's with tortillas instead of pasta." There's a bountiful backyard garden, too, and the chef makes sure it's not just for show. "Yesterday, I made a cobb salad with basil vinaigrette because that's what was in the yard." In the old days of the commonwealth, a person could knock on the Executive Mansion door and request to see the governor. Now, while you might not catch Gov. Bob McDonnell, if Schneider's in the house, you just might score a cookie.