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Sysco's Culinary Experts

Chef Profile: Shea Zappia

Growing up in his father’s restaurant, Chef Shea Zappia got an early start as a dishwasher. While still working at the family’s restaurant, his passion for creativity and food inspired him to enroll in culinary school where he excelled as a student chef, eventually launching his career as one of the best chefs in Buffalo, New York. 

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Chef Shea Zappia’s career path was set at an early age. When he was only about 6 or 7, he made a marinade for chicken for his Dad to use on the grill. His Dad loved the marinade and asked him to make it again. Too young to read labels or know what the ingredients were, he could remember the color of the bottles and spices he had used and was able to re-create it. His Dad purchased a restaurant in the suburbs and it became a playground for Chef Shea. He used to research the menus and highlight words he didn’t know and look them up. He read books and watched “Great Chefs of the World” on PBS. He’ll even tell you he became “obsessed” and hasn’t looked back since. At 13, he stopped “playing” and began working in the kitchen as a dishwasher, then moved up as a line cook and eventually as a Chef through his late teens and early twenties. While still working at his father’s restaurant, Chef Shea’s passion for creativity and food inspired him to enroll in culinary school at his local community college. Feeling a bit stifled out in the suburbs and craving more of the “big city experience”, Chef Shea joined the Culinary Team, a group of young chefs that are brought together to compete on a global stage, through his local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. As Chef Shea says, “This is where I received my classical training”. The commitment to the team required long hours working, training, and traveling to competitions all over the Northeast and Canada. He was appointed team captain and led the “hot food” team to 3 silver medals and 1 bronze, which garnered him a nomination for Student Chef of the Year. All the hard work and dedication paid off, as this distinction, along with great timing, helped catapult his career. His hometown of Buffalo was just on the verge of a resurgence, and, deciding to return home to his roots, Chef Shea landed his first executive chef job at 24 years old. In 2013 he was nominated by the Buffalo News for Buffalo’s Best Chef. 

Growing up in an Italian household, Chef Shea is well-versed in Italian cuisine but has a passion for Spanish and Latin cuisine as well. He loves to cook anything braised, especially short ribs. “I love the process of layering flavors and the time it takes to develop something so rich and delicious”. He’s also a big believer in the power of oils. As he explains, “While it’s tempting to look for what is least expensive, quality oils are a big foundation in developing delicious recipes.” 

A dedicated husband and father to two adorable sons, it’s hard to imagine Chef Shea once tried starting a motorcycle gang at the tender age of 18. Now part of the Sysco family, we’re so glad he decided not to head out to the open road and ultimately pursued a culinary career. As a Sysco Culinary Specialist, he’s a mentor, a guide, and committed to helping his customers succeed. Whether you need a sounding board for your latest dish or a friendly face to turn to with any culinary need, Chef Shea is always there with a helping hand. 

Chef Shea’s Favorite Quote:  

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. “— Abraham Lincoln