Meet Executive Chef Richard Leonardo

Auxiliary Services welcomes Richard “Rick” Leonardo as Executive Chef for Syracuse University Campus Dining. Leonardo’s culinary path began in his teenage years, when he worked at his family’s Central New York restaurant. He received his culinary degree from The French Culinary Institute in New York City, then honed his skills working with the Daniel Boulud Restaurant Group. He returned to Central New York to work as an executive pastry chef, then found his passion in collegiate dining with American Dining Creations, where he has spent the last 10 years developing menus for 29 colleges and universities.

Read on to learn more about his goals and initiatives:

What inspired you to become a chef?

Leonardo: My father was a chef and owned a family business, so I grew up learning the trade. When I wasn’t in school or playing sports, I was working in the business. It just kind of stuck with me.

Are you excited to be part of the Syracuse University team?

Leonardo: My wife and I grew up under the shadow of the Dome, loving Syracuse sports and everything that Central New York has to offer. We both have a lot of roots in Syracuse, so I am happy to be able to raise my family here.

What goals have you set for the dining program at Syracuse University?

Leonardo: I want to elevate the food on campus, especially in the dining centers. I want students to come in to eat, not just because they have to, but because we offer the food they are looking to eat.

How will you reach the goals you’ve set for the dining program?

Leonardo: My team and I will do a lot of market research to get a better idea of what is currently trending in the food industry. I’ll work with our purchasing agents, cooks, dining center managers, and in-house nutritionist to find ways to bring these foods to our dining centers.

Most importantly, we plan to really listen to students’ ideas for new menu items. I plan on being a regular presence in the dining centers, so students recognize me and hopefully feel comfortable talking to me about their dining experiences.

Students can also look for more tasting events where we will share new foods. We’ll ask for feedback on what works and what doesn’t. We started doing this in the fall semester, and it was very helpful.

This January, we are holding hands-on trainings with the dining staff on seasoning, different techniques and cooking methods, and food display. I’m also forming weekly cooks’ meetings where we will dive deeper into methods and recipe creation for authentic foods based on student requests.

Is there something that students can look for right away?

Leonardo: We have added more fresh vegetables into the daily menu. As we continue to rewrite recipes, I would ask students to look for new, modern flavors and foods with enhanced seasoning. To add a bit of fun to the regular menu, we are planning weekly pop-up events in our dining centers. These pop-ups will feature unique concepts and will be in a different dining center every day, Monday through Friday. If you enjoy a particular pop-up, you can follow it around to the different dining centers. Also, we will provide a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.

What about long-term goals?

Leonardo: I would like to have more student-facing opportunities, such as food samplings and possibly a “Chef Table” where I can teach students how to make their own dishes. The possibilities are out there, and I am excited to lead the way. As I continue working with students to get a better understanding of their needs, I will be able to fine-tune what these student-facing opportunities will look like.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Leonardo: I truly enjoy my family time. In my previous job, I was traveling constantly and felt like I was missing seeing my children grow up. I jumped at the chance to continue working in collegiate dining, stay in Central New York, and have more opportunities to spend time with my family.