Associate Close-Up: Richard Schleeter, Executive Chef
We recently sat down with the Executive Chef at Pitman to learn more about him and his passion for food and senior care and services. These are his words:
What is your name and job title?
I’m Rich Schleeter, executive chef of United Methodist Communities at Pitman.
Where did you grow up and where else have you lived?
I grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
How long have you been a chef?
I’ve been cooking for 33 years. Here at Pitman, I serve alongside six cooks in our kitchen.
What kind of culinary training did you receive?
I attended Widener University School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Prior to coming to UMC, what was your favorite on-the-job experience?
I worked in a high-volume family restaurant for 20 years with the same group of people. We were a team that got the job done.
What do you like best about working in a senior retirement community?
Beside the residents, I admire the kitchen staff’s dedication, teamwork and longevity. The stability of Tim Spencer, Lucille Larson, Keith Thren, Eric Murphy and others has been a tremendous asset. They make every day, an adventure. Lucille, a skilled baker, for example, dressed up and served in her Halloween costume.
Whenever I interview potential dining staff, I warn each and every one; “You will grow attached to the residents.” Personal connections are both inevitable and desirable.
Describe your philosophy of dining.
Only serve residents what we would serve to our own families. The food must be fresh. We ask prospective residents to dine here several times to sample and discover, asking themselves if the food is a good fit.
I am guided by resident preferences. I intentionally circulate in both the Terrace and the Wesley Dining rooms to get feedback from residents while they are eating. The Food Committee, which meets monthly, also provides a forum for feedback.
Tell us about one of your culinary specialties.
I like to do a lot of sales events live throughout the year. For example, Soup’s On, a winter favorite, attracted 25 potential residents who witnessed each cook making a unique soup and allowed everyone in the audience to sample them.
How does dining/food service at your community relate to Abundant Life?
I continually convey to the dining staff that residents can’t cook for themselves, so dining has a significant responsibility. After a few months at Pitman, I heard positive feedback, but also, the same negative comments. So, we created interactive dining events. The cooks love to get feedback, which helps them feel more connected to residents and realize they really matter. In turn, the residents perceive our strong investment in their culinary experiences. This demonstrates Abundant Life.
Do the residents inspire you? Does one resident in particular stand out?
Marion Burrowes, a resident with a Home Economics degree, finds cooking more fulfilling and interesting than entertainment or other endeavors. Marion enjoys doing what needs to be done. It all started when the cook made a pumpkin roll. The inquisitive Marion asked how it’s done, prompting the cook’s invitation into the kitchen. Since that fateful day, she’s regularly returned to the kitchen and places a priority on being there. She’s done everything from removing menus and the end of each day and replacing with those for the following day to baking cookies and making crab cakes.
What makes your community unique?
Our goal is to involve everyone with dining. While we’re onsite every holiday, we always prepare something special, like prime rib on Fathers’ Day. During National Nutrition Day in March, homemade granola making proved the most widely attended food event. The menus result from a strategic process and offer appealing cuisine for every season.
Tell us about a prominent memory of a grandparent or other older adult who had a strong influence on your life.
My mom, who worked two jobs as a single parent to take care of my sister and I, instilled a work ethic and taking care of family.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Fishing and spending time with my wife.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
You can learn more about our dining philosophy and talented culinary associates here.