Words by LM Johnson
Photography by Stevo Torres
More roads lead to Rome—or for that matter, Dallas—than will get you to Granbury, Texas. And, all things considered, Rome and Dallas were both more likely final destinations for someone like Chef Wolfgang Weichert (Wolfi), whose half-century plus career as a food meister has taken him from jungle trails in Viet Nam, to the now contested borders of Syria, to the foot of Mt. Rainier and the posher environs inhabited by the likes of American presidents and British nobility.
But Granbury, specifically Granbury’s Inn on Lake Granbury lucked out. Retirement at the age of 70 did not agree with a man whose career began in his native Germany. Five years ago, the chance of a friendship brought Chef Wolfi and his American born wife, Victoria, to Granbury where boredom propelled him to the post of the Inn’s resident chef.
In his teens, Wolfgang (Wolfi) embarked on an unsatisfactory foray into toolmaking. “I didn’t like it… [then] my mother suggested cooking.” Training begun in trade school at the age of 15. A few years later, a certification in Culinary Arts launched a career that would span several continents. This would, in time, close the circle opened in Normandy when his father, a German soldier, was captured by American soldiers in the aftermath of D-Day.
But, coming to America was not a straightforward business. “I was living in Africa, and I had a girlfriend, a Swede, who moved to America. So, I put an ad in the New York Times and a guy hired me. When he found out I was still in Africa, he said, “You had some balls putting up that ad,” Wolfi chuckles.
The romance, once transplanted, failed to thrive. Not so with the budding chef’s career. The job, a spot in the kitchen of a hotel, was the first of many, although there was that detour to Viet Nam.
At the time, draft eligibility kicked in at 6 months of residency for foreign nationals of the appropriate age. Of his time in the central highlands, Chef Weichert observes, “They sent me off in the wrong direction.” The Army, while officially noting and appreciating his culinary talents, considered them secondary to the logistical and organizational skills that would see him shepherding convoys of supplies over mountain trails in the face of a difficult climate, rough terrain, and incoming fire. A tour of duty lasting from 1966 to 67 netted an Army Commendation Medal for Specialist Four E-4 Wolfgang D. Weichert, 4th Infantry Division. And then, back to The World.
The World would bring, among other things, the blind date that would become a marriage to Victoria, a native of Long Island with an MA in nursing. There would be unlikely opportunities as well, like the job on Wall Street that morphed into weekend gigs cooking for orthodox synagogues across NYC. Executive chef positions would follow at the Sheraton Hotels and the Playboy Club-Hotel in Great Gorge, NJ, positions that sometimes entailed organizing and cooking for gatherings of more than 30,000.
Wolfi has an aptitude for, and takes considerable pleasure in, organizing the production of food–the people, the raw materials, the delivery. He is like the conductor of a symphony who can play multiple instruments himself, but loves to command the greater effort.
A long-running position with Meri-Makers Caterers of New Jersey proved an especially good app for a man with a gift for organizing the creation and delivery of great food. “It was simple: hire me and you make money. I’m good at controlling costs.” The same military grade logistical skills that dependably got loads of supplies over contested terrain in Viet Nam made catering a natural fit for a chef whose work is largely unencumbered by deep philosophical concerns. As far as the style of cooking he most enjoys, Wolfi said, “What I like to make is whatever tastes good. And I like to make people happy.”
That happiness has been bestowed on the ordinary and the famous. An outdoor event in New Jersey that required 450 port-a-potties saw the serving of 10,000 hot dogs. A wedding for a former Miss Universe featured a fountain running with Dom Perignon (“Most expensive wedding I ever did.”). For a function held at the Playboy mansion in Chicago, Hugh Hefner insisted on unlimited Russian caviar. “We wound up with so much leftover that I took a few cans home and my wife and I couldn’t eat it all… we threw a lot of it away. I was giving it away to friends. Caviar’s over-rated anyway.”
The Inn on Lake Granbury (205 W. Doyle St) offers a more intimate setting for Chef Wolfi’s passion for cooking. Centered around a two story main house built in 1880 by Dr. James Doyle, Jim Leitch and Cathy Casey’s invitingly personal interpretation of a retreat for guests features 15 individually unique accommodations on meticulously landscaped grounds that overlook Lake Granbury, formerly the Brazos River. The addition made to the main house means the Inn can accommodate up to 34 guests for overnight stays and up to 150 on the grounds. Two or three times a week, the Inn’s kitchen is witness to Chef Wolfi’s gourmet plated lunches and dinners that continually delight the taste buds of the Inn’s guests. Chef Wolfi’s efforts extend to fundraisers for church functions and other non-profits, as well as corporate retreats. And there are the weddings, about thirty a year.
There are always people to cook for, sometimes by accident. “What I do when I’m not here, I like to invite people to my home to eat. Like the other day I made too much gazpacho, so I invited the neighbors in. Everybody loved it.”
And many roads still untraveled. Filling a “Kick the Bucket List” entails as many as five cruises a year “They always have good bread. I try to keep the carbs down, but I love good bread,” Wolfi remarks. Still in planning is a first ever visit to China, but a recent solo trip to Seattle served as an opportunity to visit one of the many boys, now grown, for whom chef Wolfi served as Big Brother.
Wolfgang Weichert still carries his German passport. “Maybe I’ll get citizenship now, maybe not. But, my wife wants me to.” His ambivalence is understandable. The end of a lifelong and fascinating road trip has found him comfortably ensconced on the banks of the Brazos, but for a man who is arguably a citizen of the world, all roads can only lead home.