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Farewell to Chef William,
farewell to the Wine Wench
The Corneliuses, called by duty, are heading back to Ohio
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 21, 2019 -- They are going back to the place they came from.
The Chef and the Wine Wench are returning next month to their old stomping grounds: Lakeville, Ohio, a community of about 500 families.
They are leaving their big old ramshackle house overlooking Seneca Harbor to live in a bungalow -- a half a house. The Wine Wench’s -- Norrie Cornelius’s -- parents live there, in the other half.
Norrie and her husband, Bill Cornelius -- former TV celebrity and owner of Chef William Creations -- will be living in the country, again near some water, with woods behind their home.
They will be leaving friends they have made in the 21 years they have lived and worked in New York State -- Norrie in the tasting room at Lakewood Vineyards, and Bill for various outlets: Pierce’s 1894 Restaurant, WENY-TV, Wagner Vineyards, Logan Ridge, a firm outside Erie for 21 months, the Harvest Cafe in Montour Falls, and his own Creations business, producing sauces with locally sourced wines and spirits incorporated in the finished product.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Norrie, a name short for Eleanor and which she has worn since she was a girl. She looks forward to being there in Lakeville as a recurring shoulder upon which her aging parents, both in their 80s, can lean.
She says she will miss Schuyler County “desperately,” but that moving back to Ohio “is what we’re supposed to do. Every sign is leading us back to Mom and Dad.” Sadly, both of Bill's parents are gone -- his father when Bill was 18, and his mother 17 years ago, both in Lakewood, Ohio.
"They met in Syracuse, New York, and the 32-year adventure they had together is quite 'another story,'" says Bill.
Among the friends Bill and Norrie will miss are Chris and Liz Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards. They met the Stamps back in Lakeville, many years ago, at Norrie’s parents’ house, when the Stamps arrived to borrow Norrie’s father’s pickup truck for a move from nearby Wooster to Lakeville, an hour and a half southwest of Cleveland.
They became fast friends, and after the Stamps relocated to Schuyler County, the Corneliuses visited “twice a year,” said Chef William, “and then more often. We came out here on New Year’s Eves, too” -- and eventually relocated themselves.
That was 21 years ago. They have been in their big old spacious house since then -- two stories with a full attic atop those, and a full basement. It has been home to adopted friends -- a WINK106FM employee who needed a place to crash; relatives; band members. As many as 24 people populated the place at once. It was a social maelstrom.
Now, with their three kids -- Katelyn, Daniel and Robert -- grown and moved away (two in Cleveland, Ohio and one in Lebanon, Pennsylvania), the house has become too big for Bill and Norrie. That was a factor in their decision to move, too.
Those kids -- all three -- were on hand Saturday, Nov. 16, to retrieve whatever they wanted from the house and to fill a dumpster set up near the house. The place was alive with people again, if only for a short time. The closing is coming up on December 10, and Bill and Norrie will be moving not long afterward.
“We signed the purchase agreement yesterday,” Norrie said, meaning on Friday, Nov. 15.
Chef William’s first gig here was working for Joe Pierce of Pierce’s 1894 Restaurant in Elmira Heights, serving as “kind of his media chef,” working large off-site parties, such as for Amo Houghton.
But the age of Pierce's fine dining soon waned with the times, and Chef William hooked on with The Ginny Lee Cafe at Wagner’s Vineyards on the east side of Seneca Lake. He spent five years there before being lured by Gene Pierce of Glenora to serve as chef at Logan Ridge, which Pierce planned to use for weddings and other high-end events.
But, says Bill, that plan was sidetracked when Gene Pierce's full dream for the property could not be realized.
So Chef William -- who, parenthetically, got his start in cooking while a Boy Scout, serving as a quartermaster while still a youth (“There’s bisque in my blood,” he says, noting his particular flair for soups of various kinds) -- moved on, becoming a TV personality.
He was doing a once-a-week cooking segment on a Syracuse TV station when he pitched a show to WENY, a gig that lasted six years and saw his appearances blossom into syndication, with shows as far off as California. He was appearing at one point in 54 markets.
Norrie, meanwhile, a teacher by trade -- and a talented photographer and artist -- had hooked on early at Lakewood, which their old friends the Stamps were helping to run, it being a Stamp family operation. She has been a fixture in the tasting room, and thus came her professional nickname -- Wine Wench -- which even appears on her business card.
Both she and Bill had, in fact, grown up in Lakewood, Ohio -- “so it’s ironic that I ended up at Lakewood Vineyards,” she says. From Lakewood to Lakeville to another Lakewood ...
Bill’s TV career tailed off about seven years ago. It was a matter of dollars, he said, as show producers decided they’d rather sell the minutes he was occupying rather than pay him for his presence. That led to a couple of “rough years,” he and Norrie said, with Bill working for 21 months over near Erie for Brick Village Gourmet in Mayville, in Western New York. (That firm specializes in gourmet salad dressings, salsas, jams, and pastas, with a Factory Store featuring a retail shopping center and cooking demonstration area). Norrie remained back in Watkins Glen, at the big house; Bill was renting an apartment three hours away.
Then Jeff and Val Snider hired him at the Harvest Cafe in Montour Falls, and ultimately helped finance Chef William’s launch of a line of sauces and salsas -- “90 percent of which is made using Finger Lakes wines, beers or spirits,” says Bill. The label design on each Chef William Creations jar or bottle was created by Bill and Norrie's son Robert.
Bill was operating the business out of the Arc of Schuyler, storing inventory there, before changes at the facility prompted a move. He then utilized Martin’s Kitchen, a Mennonite-operated food outlet in Yates County. More recently, the big old Cornelius house has served as the product warehouse.
When they move to Lakeville, Ohio, Chef William Creations will go with them. Bill says he is currently negotiating for space in a Wooster, Ohio facility. He will continue to set up his tent and product at festivals, including some back here in New York.
“Oh, I’ll be back from time to time,” he said, and will continue using Finger Lakes products in his sauces and salsas, although expanding to utilize Ohio wines, beers and spirits, too.
They will miss the big old house -- on a slope southwest of the old Frozen Food Locker building (now transposed into high-end living) and with a clear view of the harbor and marina and pier. On this day, this Saturday when they were throwing things into a dumpster, the sun was out and sparkling off the water, although the wind was a chill one out of the north.
It’s a view that was available not only from their comfortable, enclosed front porch, but from Bill’s office on the second floor and from a window in the large walk-up attic.
“Go ahead, kneel down and snap a photo,” Norrie said after lifting window and screen for an unobstructed attic view. “I’ve taken a lot photos from here. I love this view.”
And she loves her job at Lakewood, and her friends, and the memories this house possesses, and the region itself. And Bill -- well, he has a wide range of friends and admirers here, and a reputation well-earned over two decades.
All of that will soon be in their rearview as they pull away from Watkins Glen and head west, back to what once was home, and will be again.
Norrie, a caregiver by nature, and devoted to family; and Bill, an entrepreneur, a friend to all and a loving father, will embark, in their late 50s, on a new chapter in their lives.
It will be emotionally difficult. Norrie says she cries if she dwells on it. But she is looking forward to helping her parents. “I love being with them,” she said.
Whatever comes next, the last 21 years have been something special.
Chef William summed up the period.
“It’s been a wild ride,” he said.
Photos in text:
From top: Bill and Norrie Cornelius on the front porch of their Watkins Glen home; Chef William after unearthing an old advertising sign related to his stint at WENY-TV; a view of the Cornelius home from the sidewalk below; a view of Seneca Harbor from an attic window in the Cornelius house.