Memories of a great chef and Vail’s past
Recipes for chateubriand, Main lobster bisque or le canard a la orange tell the story of a chef’s genius. Photographs that span 35 years of life spent mostly in Vail tell the story of that chef’s love for family and friends. A 15-page introduction tells the love story between the chef and his wife.Since the book’s release in November, "Walter Anton Moritz . . . Memories and Recipes of Vail’s Grand Chef" has become a local success story for the French-born author and wife of chef Walter Moritz, Marie-Claire Moritz. It is a tribute to the memory of one of Vail’s first European chefs and his life-long love affair with the people for whom he cooked."I was really afraid people would forget him," says Moritz of her late husband. "That’s really why I wrote the book."The Moritz family owned two of Vail’s well-known bistros, St. Moritz and La Tour. Walter Anton Moritz died in Vail on Dec. 14, 1999."We used to talk about making a cookbook," says Moritz. "But Walter was terribly stubborn."So, for the last year and a half, Moritz has been poring over a lifetime collection of photographs, Walter’s recipes and writing a tome that, while telling the story of her and Walter’s ascent to success in the 40-year old ski resort, also provides the story of Vail’s early days in microcosm.The way it wasThe time was 1967. Vail was five years old and Walter and Marie-Claire Moritz had opened the doors of St. Moritz to locals and tourists. It was a classic French menu run in a mom-and-pop fashion. It was a dream come true for the young couple who had landed in the United States only three years before they served their first meal.Marie-Claire Moritz was born in France and raised in a Parisian orphanage by nuns. Walter Moritz was born to a pastry chef father in the berg of Graz, Austria two years before World War II. The continental couple met while living in Brighton, England. They would soon find themselves emigrating to the Chicago where, while working as a chef, Walter Moritz would meet fellow Vail pioneers Herman Staufer and Pepi Langegger. It was the meeting of a small group that would eventually become an important part of Vail’s last 40 years."By the time our third son, Misha, was born, the St. Moritz had clearly become the place where locals, VIPs of all kinds and presidents could be found enjoying the professional service, good wine and family atmosphere that were complimented by our acclaimed cooking. Our clientele were spicy and colorful and consisted of many folks from everywhere in the United States and abroad. Vail was growing fast," Moritz wrote in the book’s introduction.The writing in the book is fluid and to the point. It’s a story told well, and told the way Moritz talks, as she herself says in her thick, classic Parisian accent."If everybody looks at the book, it says it was hardly edited at all," says Moritz.After the introduction, pages upon pages of photographs and their descriptions can be found amidst pages of Walter Moritz’s recipes. The photographs depict a full life lived with friends and family through Vail’s early days to the present. And the recipes show what Moritz says was her husband’s "casual" way of cooking."The recipes are just the way he left them," Moritz says.As for the photographs, whether you are a longtime local reminiscing over by-gone days or new to the valley, it’s a pictorial history of Vail that spans 35 years and is worth experiencing."I always had plenty of photographs," says Moritz. "I was neither the great skier or the great developer. But my world was Walter’s kitchen so whoever made a difference in my kids lives, that is who the book is about."Again, Moritz also seeks to preserve the memory of a man who spent his days and nights closed away in the kitchens of his bistros, cooking up his popular European culinary creations. That in mind, Moritz says she sometimes worries that people did not have time to know Walter."Nobody knew him unless somebody would come to the kitchen. So nobody got to know him," says Moritz.But somehow people did know Walter Moritz. The quotes about Walter throughout the book’s photo pages, supplied to Moritz by friends, are a testimonial to fond memories of the chef.In 1977, the couple closed their first bistro. Moritz says that while they took a shot at other small ventures, it was in 1981 when they went for their second round at being restaurateurs. They opened the still thriving La Tour on Meadow Drive in Vail. They would sell the bistro to Paul and Lordes Ferzacca in 1998, five months before Walter’s death."He was my friend," says Moritz. "He was not only the father of my children and my husband, he was my friend and we worked together."The book remembers Walter and his culinary legacy well. It also remembers Vail’s days past and offers a nod to Vail’s future. It is a book that, to date, has sold more than 700 copies. With the help of local graphic designer Joanne Morgan, Marie-Claire Moritz has created something for Vail and food lover alike."Walter Anton Moritz . . . Memories and Recipes of Vail’s Great Chef" can be purchased at Gorsuch, Ltd. or To Catch a Cook in Vail. You can also order the book from Moritz by calling 476-5464.