Friends fear fate of ex-White House chef as search continues in Taos mountains

Walter Scheib

There was still no sign Sunday morning of a former White House chef who has been missing in the mountains near the Taos Ski Valley for one week. Search teams scoured the forest for a fourth day in an ongoing mission to locate Walter Scheib, 61, as friends expressed mounting concern for his safety.

“I’m not going to speak of him in the past tense,” said Martin Mongiello, who was executive chef at Camp David when then-first lady Hillary Clinton hired Scheib. “He’s a great chef, and we’re very concerned about him.”

Scheib is believed to have gone hiking in the area June 13, but authorities say he is not known to have informed anyone of his plans or packed for more than a day outdoors.

Scheib’s vehicle was found Tuesday evening parked at the Yerba Canyon Trailhead off N.M. 150.

A search-and-rescue mission was launched Wednesday, but crews did not find any sign of him.

Approximately three dozen rescuers, some with dogs, ascended the Yerba Canyon Trail Saturday morning and searched the area south of Lobo Peak. Data from Scheib’s mobile telephone indicate it was last connected to a cellular signal from the area around the summit at approximately 3 p.m. June 13, according to New Mexico Search-and-Rescue State Resource Officer Bob Rodgers.

The data suggest Scheib hiked up the four-mile trail and at least got close to Lobo Peak. At 12,115 feet above sea level, the peak rises over neighboring summits, allowing hikers to connect to cellular signals that do not penetrate the thickly wooded canyons below it.

Storms rolled into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that afternoon, though, likely making for treacherous hiking conditions across what can be challenging terrain at the best of times.

Search-and-rescue teams plan on resuming their mission Sunday morning. “We’ll be pounding the ground and trying to saturate the area where we think he may have gone,” said Robert Valdez, incident commander Saturday afternoon.

Rescuers are likely to shift focus to the Lobo Peak’s north face after spending Saturday scouring its southern side.

Meanwhile, friends and former colleagues are watching the search-and-rescue mission from afar with concern.

Mongiello said Scheib made his mark on the White House job. With the exception of Jon Hill, who served from 1987 to 1988, Scheib was the first American to work as White House Executive Chef since the post was created in 1961.

“To have another American chef join us was exciting,” Mongiello said.

Another friend said he spoke with Scheib the day before he went missing. Terry Tucker, chief strategy officer at City of Refuge, a shelter for women and children in inner city Atlanta where Scheib volunteers as chief culinary officer, said the two men were recounting their plans for an upcoming cooking contest featuring celebrity chefs and former students from the shelter.

“He has been a big piece of our fabric over the last two years,” Tucker said.

Friends said Scheib had only moved to Taos in recent months.

“He loved New Mexico, loved the new cuisine,” Mongiello said. “He was really pumped up about living out there.”

This story first appeared in The Taos News, a sister paper of The Santa Fe New Mexican.