The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Chef Bruce Hirsch: From Corporate Kitchens to Fraternity Feasts at Theta Chi

Printed with permission of Bruce Hirsch

Bruce Hirsch explained that he has the best job in the world. A long-time Hamilton resident, father and husband, Hirsch spends the better part of his week at the Colgate University Theta Chi house, located at 52 Broad St., where he is the chef for around sixty brothers.

“I get to experience young people thriving all the time, and I get to see that almost every single day,” Hirsch said. “It’s changed my life tremendously.”

Hirsch began his culinary career working for corporate giants like Panera Bread and Applebee’s, where he was tasked with expanding both their locations and repertoire. As part of Panera’s start-up crew, Hirsch’s branch was soon made a test location for the entire company, an experience which he reflects upon fondly.

“I helped bring Panera Bread to Central New York when it was new, and I worked on several units for Applebee’s,” Hirsch said. “I have a pretty big corporate structure background.”

Soon, Hirsch moved on from corporate life and began his next chapter on college campuses. 

“I was the senior dining coordinator for Morrisville College and an Onondaga Community College chef. I have a very large, diverse background in campus dining services,” Hirsch said.

Before long, Hirsch arrived at Colgate as an employee of Chartwells, the company that provides dining services for students on campus. Hirsch explained that this role wasn’t the best fit for him, and that working as a chef at the Theta Chi house offered him more opportunities in terms of his own personal growth and passion towards the food industry.

“After I resigned from Chartwells, I was an entrepreneur, as well,” Hirsch said. “I came to Theta Chi with the intent that I would be able to grow, prosper and learn some things.”

Having connected through entrepreneurial work, Dan Foust and Dan Joseph — the founders of local Hamilton favorite Fojo Beans — told Hirsch of an opportunity at the Theta Chi house that could potentially be a perfect fit for him. Five years later, it seems they were right.

“I had to audition [for house chef], so that was kind of a cool thing,” Hirsch said. “We still use Fojo coffee in our house because I owe them a sense of gratitude.”

Now comfortably settled into life with Theta Chi, Hirsch continues to explore his culinary repertoire and make interpersonal connections that weren’t always possible in other positions. A product of his diverse background, Hirsch has cultivated an appreciation for ethnic foods, including his favorite: Caribbean soul food.

“I like making anything that’s not traditional,” Hirsch said. “ I try to look at the culinary food trends for the age demographic that I serve: they’re much more demanding, [and] their palette is much more entertained. There’s a huge fusion [of foods] that they’re adapted to.”

Years of work with corporate chefs and researchers taught Hirsch the value of authentic meals. 

“The unique thing is — and this was a part of my interview process — that anything that I serve them is eaten in my own home,” Hirsch said.

Naturally, Hirsch still must contend with different tastes and preferences. 

“Every now and then, the brothers do make requests, but very seldom,” Hirsch said. “My guys put everything into a bowl, no matter how I see it or want to plate it. They’re not very selective.”

Hirsch explained that being Theta Chi’s house chef means maintaining the delicate balance between friend and authority figure.

“From time to time, I’m the voice of reason; or maybe the not-so-intimidating parent in the house,” Hirsch said. “There are times [when] I’m the counselor and the confidant, event-planning and [organizing]. ‘Let me iron your shirt,’ or, ‘Take my hat and wear it, because your hair is a mess.’”

With three children of his own, Hirsch is all too familiar with the often turbulent lives of college kids. Hirsch’s youngest son is a college sophomore, while his two oldest children have graduated from college. He noted that his experiences as a father guide much of his relationship with the brothers of Theta Chi.

“I get who they are, what they do [and] how they behave,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch explained that the brothers also provide him with wisdom, as he appreciates the opportunity for connections with students.

“It goes both ways: They’re as much for me as I am for them, beyond the kitchen,” Hirsch said. “I’ve made probably 140 friends in a very short amount of time. Every single year I say goodbye to somebody and I welcome somebody new, so every single year I’m creating several new friendships that’ll last a lifetime.”

Uniquely, Hirsch has the privilege of working with his wife, whom he describes as having become a “frat mom.” Over the years, both have grown to appreciate the small details of fraternity life and the unique background each member brings to the community.

“We’re a largely diverse group of people that can somehow do what the rest of the world can’t — which is get along,” Hirsch said. “These are great people with great backgrounds that create a very cool atmosphere.”

Hirsch expanded on the love he has for his job as well as his passion for food and how it has the ability to bring people together.

“Food does a lot of things for people; it builds a relationship,” Hirsch said. “But it’s so much more than food. Food just brings us together and puts me in control. You take the food away, and I’m not in control. Food brings us together and everything else is icing. I have the greatest job on the face of the earth, and [the brothers] make it easy.”

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