Who Was Walter Scheib, The Ex-White House Chef Found Dead In New Mexico? He Was A Creative And Unique Talent
Sadly, New Mexico officials on Monday reported that they had recovered the body of former White House chef Walter Scheib, who had been missing for over a week. Family members first reported him missing after he left to hike in the mountains near Taos on June 13 and never returned. According to police, Scheib's cell-phone signal allowed investigators to track down his body almost two miles from the nearby Yerba Canyon Trailhead on Sunday evening. His car was also found in the parking lot.
"High mountain peaks, deep canyons, and dense vegetation made the air search difficult," said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo, in a press release on Monday. "The Civil Air Patrol and New Mexico National Guard also provided ground resources to search the area [but] rough terrain made it difficult for ground operations to conduct searching."
The former executive chef had a long and renowned history in the White House. Handpicked by then first lady Hillary Clinton in 1994, Scheib spent the next 11 years managing a staff of 25 in the private quarters of the Clinton family and, subsequently, the Bush family. Scheib was first trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and simultaneously spent time working in the kitchens at the Capitol Hilton in Washington D.C. where he first caught the eye of upper management, who quickly promoted him to Executive Chef after graduation.
"I think in some ways I was born to be a cook or chef," said Scheib in an interview with The Reluctant Gourmet in 2012. "I had an aptitude for my craft from a very early age ... My mother was my biggest backer in a time before celeb chefs and TV shows on cooking made it popular."
Following the recovery of Scheib's body, former first lady Laura Bush on Monday issued an official statement mourning loss of such an "outstanding talent."
"Walter was an outstanding talent," said Bush. "He prepared magnificent dinners for world leaders and delicious family fare for our family and friends."
Scheib's time in the White House was a relatively smooth one, but a December 2004 conflict with Mrs. Bush's new social secretary, Lea Berman, pushed the Executive Chef to his limit. In an interview with The New York Times in 2006, Scheib recalled how Berman had ordered him to "stop serving this country-club food." Scheib, taken aback by her comment, said he snapped back that he and his staff were not "serving what we want," but were simply serving whatever the first family had asked for. Two months later, he told the paper, he was asked by Berman to hand in his resignation.
But according to Scheib and those who knew his extraordinary talents, it may not have been the worst thing ever — at one point during his tenure with the Bush family, he admitted he had grown "bored" with the job.
"I found myself thinking with profound nostalgia of Mrs. Clinton and her passion for inclusion, her interest in learning about and trying new foods, and her desire to show off her nation's best to visitors foreign and domestic," wrote Scheib in his 2006 memoir, White House Chef. However, Scheib was quick to point out that he had zero complaints about Mrs. Bush or the first family — a group of individuals, he added, who enjoyed simple meals and easy snacks like President Bush's favorite, grilled cheese on white bread (creamy Kraft singles, of course).
In an interview with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart in 2005, Scheib admitted that President Bush even had a nickname for the celebrated chef, with whom he had established a friendly and open rapport.
"The president would come in after his workout every day and say, 'Hey, Cookie! What's for lunch?'" Scheib recounted. "When you're in Washington, if you've got a nickname — and if he was in a good mood — [he'd call you] by your nickname."
Scheib's death has since caused an outpouring of grief on social media. Moorenko's Ice Cream, a creamery that had worked with the White House chef, tweeted:
With heavy hearts we remember Chef #WalterScheib. He was incredible to work with and we will miss him dearly.
In a comment to Bustle on Monday, Sgt. Armijo said:
The autopsy and death investigation for Mr. Scheib is ongoing, so until we have more information on that investigation, I don't have any updated information ... [but] at this time we don’t have any information which would lead us to suspect foul play or something of a suspicious nature. However, the official determination of cause of death will be made by the office of the medical investigator.