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Food & Drink

Washington County Restaurant Week features former White House chef

| Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Walter Scheib, former White House executive chef
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Walter Scheib, former White House executive chef

Former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib was born in California but grew up in Bethesda, Md., often visiting a summer cottage in Adams County, just north of Gettysburg.

“I spent a lot of my youth fishing and hiking and swimming, all in the southern Pennsylvania area,” says Scheib from his home on Sanibel Island, Fla. “Cooking is my professional passion, but I still love to fish,” which he calls “my real passion.”

Scheib planned seafood and many other entrees during his 11 years as executive chef at the White House, from 1994 to 2005. Hillary Clinton hired Scheib, charging the classically trained chef to bring the best of America cuisine to the First Family and diplomats from around the world.

Scheib, 61, will speak about his experiences during both the Clinton and George W. Bush years on March 3 to kick off the first-ever Washington County Restaurant Week. The event at the Triple Crown Banquet & Conference Center at the Meadows Casino will benefit three Washington County hospitals in Canonsburg, Monongahela and Washington.

The author of 2007's “White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.95) will take questions from the audience.

Scheib owns a company, The American Chef, which offers his services as consultant, helping produce dinners for large numbers of people, and speaking engagements. He has traveled to 48 states and 154 foreign countries as The American Chef.

Scheib gained his love of cooking from his late mother, Jean, who grew up in Canada's Maritime Provinces and was “an acolyte of Julia Child” long before the rest of America caught on to the French chef.

“She cooked in the Spanish and French style, so I learned how to appreciate” combining unusual flavors, he says. Jean Scheib made delicacies like paella and bouillabaisse.

Scheib took those culinary chops to the next level. After training in France, he worked as a chef at the Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Boca Raton Hotel in Florida. Scheib was accustomed to preparing first-class meals for hundreds of diners, a factor in his favor when Hillary Clinton hired him.

About a decade ago, Washington County restaurateur Michael Passalaqua heard Scheib speak at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association. When the state group subsequently attended a National Restaurant Association public-affairs conference, Scheib gave the Pennsylvanians a private tour of the White House.

“We got to see places and go places the public doesn't get to go,” says Passalaqua, owner of Angelo's Restaurant in North Franklin. “It was truly a memorable event.”

So, when the Washington County Chamber of Commerce planned Washington County Restaurant Week, Passalaqua, a member of the steering committee, recommended Scheib as keynote speaker.

“Washington County restaurants play second fiddle to Allegheny County restaurants,” Passalaqua says. “We thought it would be a great idea to pump up the volume a little bit on Washington County restaurants.”

David Lamatrice, owner of Bistecca Steakhouse, agrees.

“People don't realize the quality of food that's down here in Washington County,” says Lamatrice, another member of the steering committee and the board of directors of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency.

The kickoff also will feature restaurants offering tastings of their best dishes.

“Our goal for this year is to introduce and promote the event to a regional audience, attracting interest and new customers to our restaurants,” says Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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