"Minneapolis is a very food-centered culture,” says retired chef Steve Schuster. He should know; as the former executive chef and culinary director of Kelber Catering, he prepared meals for some of the biggest meetings and events the Minneapolis Convention Center has seen.
Schuster’s culinary journey began over 40 years ago, when he attended the culinary certificate program at Central Nebraska Technical College. He worked several food service jobs before settling at the Thunderbird Hotel from 1972-1989. He then moved to the Minneapolis Convention Center where he worked for 27 years, recently earning the Lifetime Achievement Award from Meet Minneapolis; he retired late last year
Throughout his career, Schuster was a culinary chameleon, adjusting to suit clients’ needs. Occasionally, clients would forgo a theme and ask for a replication of personal recipes. He recalls the 1989 opening of Cargill as a highlight of his career when he executed a “ports of call” banquet theme that featured menu items from a variety of cultures.
Schuster strived to impress clients as soon as they sat down, even before they took a bite. Presentation, he says, is what put a banquet experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center on par with fine dining. That, and dessert. He’s very proud of the talented pastry chefs he worked with and their showstopping desserts. “I have a sweet tooth that never ends,” he confesses.
Over the years, Schuster saw the hospitality industry evolve. “Food changes, so does our culture,” he says. “When I started in the restaurant business, everything came out of a can. Then we went to fresh-frozen and everything was steamed or baked in the oven. Then we went to fresh, and that’s so important to work with from the standpoint of the nutritional values and taste and texture.” Dietary restrictions became an increasingly large concern in the kitchen towards the final years of his career.
Working in busy, high-tech kitchens to cooking for one at home has been quite the transition for Schuster. “It’s no fun getting old, I’ll tell you that,” he says. Still, his memories are fond. “There was never a day that I didn’t want to go to work because every day was a new day.”