Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Todd Schneider, the chef hired with fanfare… (Steve Helber/AP )
RICHMOND — For weeks, even during General Assembly’s frenetic annual session, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, entertained state legislators, business leaders and supporters at high-powered breakfast meetings and glitzy cocktail receptions.
But they did it without an executive chef.
Todd Schneider, the chef hired with fanfare after McDonnell and his family moved into Virginia’s 200-year-old mansion in 2010, has left his job amid an unspecified police inquiry, officials announced this weekend.
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller confirmed Saturday that officials are investigating allegations of “improprieties involving the kitchen operations at the governor’s mansion.’’
But after several months of negative publicity for McDonnell — considered a top vice presidential contender for the Republican ticket this year — state officials have kept the situation about the chef closely guarded, leaving the capital city guessing about what “improprieties” could have occurred.
Even those normally in the know have been purposely kept in the dark, they say.
Geller would say only that no charges have been filed and that no arrests have been made.
Schneider is the only person under investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the probe but who were not authorized to speak about it.
Schneider, 51, did not return calls seeking comment.
Schneider has an oversize personality that got him plenty of attention inside the mansion and beyond. He hosted a beauty pageant and even scored a trip backstage at a Lady Gaga concert.
The chef trained with Martha Stewart. He counts former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Dick Cheney and famed movie director Steven Spielberg as clients, as well as companies such as Capital One and NBC, according to his Web site. He served as chef to former Florida governor Bob Graham (D), catered an event for former president George H.W. Bush in the Sunshine State and considers chef Paula Deen a friend, according to friends and published reports.
He studied finance at New York University and took a job as a stockbroker until food came calling. He has participated in charity events across the nation with celebrity chefs, including Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey and owner of Art and Soul restaurant in the District.
Schneider spent the past two years catering parties, first-lady teas and family dinners for the McDonnells and their five children. He kept lists of what Virginia’s first family likes to eat and doesn’t like to eat.
He helped the first lady plant a vegetable garden behind the mansion and cater the wedding of the McDonnells’ daughter Cailin at the house this past summer.
The butter-yellow, Federal-style mansion is touted as the longest continually occupied governor’s residence in the nation. It is estimated that at least 20,000 tourists visit annually and that 100 receptions, breakfasts, recitals and other events take place there each year.
Schneider was put on paid administrative leave Feb. 10, and the governor’s office announced this weekend that he no longer worked for the state. Officials would not say whether Schneider, who made $60,000 a year, was fired or left on his own.
“I cannot comment any further on the matter at this time,” said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin.
In 2000, Schneider was charged with felony embezzlement and found guilty of petty larceny embezzlement, according to court documents.
Schneider turned over his Richmond catering business, Seasonings Fine Catering and Event Planning, to staff when he took the mansion job.
Randy Catanese, who lives in Georgia and traveled to Belize with Schneider last year, said he was shocked to hear his friend left the mansion, because he loved his job and the world of food. “It’s hard to believe.’’
Martin, the governor’s spokesman, said that since February the mansion has hired chefs as needed for its events. The 60-day General Assembly session, one of the busiest times of the year, ended March 10.
Serving as a governor’s chef is a high-prestige job, said Winston Blick, chef-owner of Clementine restaurant in Baltimore, who cooked for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) last year at a cookout promoting local ingredients at Government House in Annapolis. “Obviously, feeding powerful people — it does feel good,” he said.
Blick figures there’s another upside to working in the governor’s mansion: “You get the dirt. You’re in the kitchen. That’s were the gossip happens.”
Staff writer Laura Vozzella and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.