Faces of NGI: Q&A with Sydney Schwarz, Director of Business Development | Natural Gourmet Institute

Faces of NGI: Q&A with Sydney Schwarz, Director of Business Development

Posted May 19, 2017

The NGI community is made up of faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds. In this series, we’re featuring a staff member or chef instructor to give you a taste of who we are and how we each contribute to creating a quality, health-supportive culinary education.

Sydney Schwarz is NGI’s Director of Business Development. She’s had a passion for food since she was young, and found herself strongly interested in sourcing and sustainability right after completing culinary school. Read on to learn about Sydney’s experiences with food, and how she hopes to bring NGI’s valuable tools and education to hospitals, schools, restaurant groups, fast-casual chains, and additional businesses.

How did you become interested in food?

​I come from a big family and Sundays were spent at my grandparents house surrounded by delicious food and happy chaos. My grandfather was the best cook in the family – he learned from his neighbor, who was the chef of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC while he was a medical student.  I loved trying to recreate my grandfather’s dishes. I would use his recipes, which he kept noted on little slips of paper tucked into cook books, but could not quite get my versions to be as good as his.

One day I made caponata and followed his recipe to the letter. He tasted it and said “It’s good, but you forgot the red wine vinegar.” When I checked the recipe there was no vinegar! The first few times it happened, I thought it was an accident and then I got smart and called him out, and he laughed and laughed and it became a running joke. He would purposely leave out little key tips or ingredients that he had learned over years because there are no short cuts to learning to cook well. Talking about cooking gave us a kind of short hand that I always cherished and helped me become an inquisitive and ambitious cook before I even considered a career in food.

What was culinary school like for you?

​Culinary school was exciting, intimidating and ultimately one of the most rewarding things I’ve been lucky enough to do! Committing to a culinary education was my way of committing to a new professional path and making the leap to a career in food. During school, I took on every volunteer opportunity, internship, part-time job, networking event, club, and extra curricular event that I could manage.  You name it, I was doing it because it was all so exciting and the opportunities so varied that the first thing I needed to do was show up and learn all I could before deciding on my direction. One of those part-time jobs turned into a full-time job and ultimately led me to a path in sustainable food.

What drew you to Natural Gourmet Institute?

I was on the board of Slow Food NYC with a member of the NGI executive team. We were chatting after a board meeting one evening and he was filling me in on the sustainable food initiatives the school was implementing through the curriculum. As a culinary student and in my work with chefs, I was continuously surprised at the way sourcing and sustainability were looked at as separate from the technical side of cooking. I loved that NGI so authentically incorporated sustainability, health, and balance into the culinary training and asked if there were any plans to grow the team in the future. Eventually, an opportunity came up and I was thrilled to join the Admissions team.

What are your goals for NGI as Director of Business Development?

My goal is to help introduce more people to the valuable tools and education that NGI has to offer. From hospitals to college campuses to restaurant groups and fast-casual chains, businesses outside of the food industry are beginning to accept the connection between good food and good health. Whether it is working with medical professionals on ways to help patients navigate restrictive diets or with chefs looking for ways to create plant-based menus without sacrificing flavor, NGI can help partners achieve their goals by providing thoughtful, researched, and forward thinking solutions that truly integrate food and health perspectives.

What are your tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while juggling family life/work balance?

I love to cook and try to think of it as a kind of moving meditation, bringing mindfulness to the act of preparing meals. That is not to say I light candles, put on an ocean sound track, and dim the lights before I start prep! Life is busy, fast, and messy and sometimes dinner is on the fly. Getting my hands working and seeing the progress from start to (hopefully delicious) finish is very satisfying after a day spent in front of screens. It is easy to race through meal prep as one more thing that has to happen, but on my best days, when I can slow down and consider the miracle of microbes, soil, water, sun, and the hundred thousand other events involved in getting a simple meal to the table, I find cause for joy and celebration. Also a bit of wine helps.