Accidental drowning blamed in death of ex-White House chef

Walter Scheib
FILE - In this July 27, 2004 file photo, outgoing White House chef Walter Scheib greets chefs from around the world at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. Searchers found the body of former White House chef Walter Scheib Sunday night, June 21, 2015, near a hiking trail in mountains in the Taos, N.M. area, the New Mexico State Police said. Scheib had been missing for more than a week after going hiking in the New Mexico mountains, authorities said. (AP Photo/Matt Houston, File)

TAOS, N.M. (AP) — A former White House chef for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush drowned in a New Mexico mountain stream, and his death was ruled an accident, authorities said Tuesday.

The determination followed several days of mystery about the death of Walter Scheib, who vanished during a solo hike in the mountains of northern New Mexico and was found dead Sunday night after a weeklong search. There was no sign of foul play, State Police Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said. Scheib recently moved from Florida to Taos. He was 61.

Scheib’s girlfriend reported him missing after he failed to return from a June 13 hike in the mountains near the Taos Ski Valley. Three days later, Taos police found Scheib’s vehicle at the Yerba Canyon trailhead. The 4-mile trail follows a canyon bottom before climbing to 3,700 feet in elevation.

As the search progressed, state police exhausted all resources, from the National Guard to the U.S. Air Force. High mountain peaks, deep canyons and dense vegetation made the air search difficult, while the rough terrain hampered efforts on the ground.

Thunderstorms stalled the air search last Thursday, but ground crews continued. That evening, data from Scheib’s cellphone helped to pinpoint his last location, and the search was expanded.

On Sunday, a search dog indicated a possible scent, and the National Guard ground team found Scheib’s body in a section of land through which water was draining down the canyon. He was about 25 yards from the trail and hidden from view by dense vegetation and a steep, rocky slope.

Scheib was wearing a light windbreaker, running pants and tennis shoes. No other belongings were found in the area, police said.

Scheib spent 11 years leading the White House kitchen under Clinton and Bush after first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton became impressed by his cooking while he was working as a chef at a West Virginia resort.

Scheib was known for refocusing the White House kitchen on distinctly American cuisine with seasonal ingredients and contemporary flavors. He was responsible for preparing everything from First Family meals to formal State Dinners. Both presidential families said Monday they were saddened by his tragic death.

A graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America in 1979, Scheib went on to work at grand hotels in Florida and West Virginia before becoming White House executive chef in 1994.

Scheib left the White House in 2005. He became a food consultant and speaker, often entertaining guests with anecdotes from his time at the White House. He also wrote a book about his experiences entitled “White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen.” He appeared on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” show in 2006.

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