Residents of the Marjorie P. Lee and Deupree House retirement communities in Cincinnati know good cuisine. Episcopal Retirement Homes (ERH) takes great care to make sure that residents are getting not only the proper nutrition, but that they have exciting, scrumptious dining options every day. Having expert chefs at the helm in each retirement center’s culinary department certainly helps.
In this article, we thought we’d take a few moments to introduce you to the minds behind the menu: Nancy Schmalle, the Executive Chef at Marjorie P. Lee, and Pete Juszczyk, Director of Dining Service for Deupree House.
Nancy Schmalle grew up in Coal City, Illinois, a small town about 60 miles southwest of Chicago that is perhaps best known for being the place where Jake Blues robbed a gas station, “to pay for the room service tab from that Kiwanis gig.”
Before pursuing her passion for cooking, Nancy worked as a master barber. “With my husband in the military, I kept [cutting hair] out of my house for the guys,” she said with a laugh. “Every two weeks they had to get a haircut. I can give a great ‘high and tight.’”
Her first food service jobs were in military commissaries; she also worked in a Mexican restaurant. Later, she decided to go for her culinary degree. In 2001, Schmalle received her chef’s certification from the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State. She didn’t stop learning there, either; in 2012, she qualified for her pastry and confectionary certification.
Schmalle came to ERH in December, 2013, after working for thirteen years as the executive chef for another Cincinnati retirement community. In her short time here, she has made quite an impression on residents who come to eat in Marjorie P. Lee’s exquisite dining room. They rave about her seafood specialties — swordfish and Italian-style orange roughy — as well as her amazing chocolate rum cake. She won’t reveal the ingredients, although people do try to convince her to share.
“I’ve been offered money for my recipe,” she said, coyly. “It will stay my secret.”
Schmalle loves listening to her diners share their life stories. Many were veterans, a fact that strongly resonates with her, having been so long associated with Air Force life.
“I was a military wife for 26 years,” she explained. “I can appreciate the challenges that our residents and their families faced while serving their country. The amenities I have today exist because of all the hardships and sacrifices that our residents went through.”
Serving those veterans and their families now, she said, is a treat.
“It’s my small way of giving back to them.”
Pete Juszczyk is a proud Ohio native, raised just up the freeway in Lebanon, Ohio.
Juszczyk’s first job in food service was as a short order cook in a bowling alley. His career has progressed pretty far from those days spent slinging fries. He earned his chef’s certification from the Culinary Institute of Cincinnati. He then served as a sous chef at Chateau Pomije and, later, as head chef at Allyn’s Café. In 2001, he came to ERH as the Chef at Marjorie P. Lee.
Now, as the Director of Dining Service at Deupree House, Juszczyk loves making his guests feel welcome by providing a warm, inviting dining atmosphere.
“For residents, living here means they can enjoy an amazing meal with great hospitality, even when dealing with special dietary needs,” he said. “I love to put my hospitality out front with the residents, guests and staff.”
Once a month, Deupree House hosts a cocktail party and a buffet-style dinner, which gives residents a chance to mingle and the staff an opportunity to show off its flair for culinary excellence.
“I think [the residents] appreciate all the effort and energy the staff put into each and every day,” he said. ”They compliment the amazing food that the cooks prepare, as well as the quality service in the dining room.”
Like his colleague Schmalle, Juszczyk’s true culinary passion is preparing seafood.
“The residents really enjoy eating seafood,” he explained. “I love the versatility, whether it is sautéed, grilled, baked, poached or a special application.”
Juszczyk believes that working at ERH has been a particularly special, rewarding experience — especially his daily opportunity to meet residents and to chat with them.
“My understanding has grown. When you listen, you learn so much. It’s been fulfilling to get to know their likes and dislikes.” He smiled. “The most important thing is to take the time to converse and get to know each and every one of our residents. We are all one big family.”