Wilfred Paul Crowninshield, 71, chef at clubs, expert in continental cuisine

November 18, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

"Chef Paul," celebrated by Baltimore-area private club patrons for his unparalleled terrapin dishes and souffles, died Friday of stomach cancer at his home on Bodkin Creek in Anne Arundel County. He was 71.

Wilfred Paul Crowninshield, who retired two years ago as general manager of Chartwell Golf and Country Club in Severna Park, fed heads of state, movie stars and corporate chairmen during his 50 years as a chef. His specialty: continental cuisine, stamped with the seafood and accents of his Scandinavian heritage.

As executive chef at the Maryland Club in Baltimore from 1979 to 1989, he produced crab cakes, clam chowder, grilled salmon and filet of beef dressed with shrimp and crab that placed him among the state's best chefs.

"His knowledge of food and wine was unsurpassed," said Ulrich Kniep, manager of Green Spring Valley Hunt Club and former manager of the Maryland Club.

"He became famous for his frosted crab soup, which he brought to Baltimore. It was his recipe.

"His cooking was of the old-type cooking with heavy sauces, which he always made from scratch. In fact, he never used anything that was preprepared in his cooking."

"He was exceptional," said Stuart M. Christhilf III of Roland Park, a Maryland Club member and friend. "He could cook terrapin better than anyone I know. He was thoroughly versed in the better aspects of Maryland cuisine."

Said Mr. Christhilf, "But the thing that differentiated him was his caring about people. He took people their favorite foods when they were sick, and spent time worrying about whether they were comfortable. He regarded them as extensions of his family."

His wife, Judith, said, "To me, it was such a contradiction that this man who had fed people for so many years would end up with something like stomach cancer, when he of all people knew about nutrition."

Chef Paul -- a long-running joke held that his first name was "Chef" and his last name was "Paul" -- was born in Santa Rosa, Calif., and grew up in Finland, in Rahja Kalajoki, where fish was a dietary mainstay.

From age 13 to 17, he trained at a hotel school in Odense, Denmark, where anyone who hadn't learned the lessons perfectly was kicked in the shins.

He immigrated to Canada and then, to the United States. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he worked in restaurants, and then owned a restaurant in California's Napa Valley. After a while, he decided he liked private clubs best.

In the mid-60s, he became chef at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, then moved to a club in Las Cruces Palmia, Mexico, that was run by a corporation headed by Bing Crosby and frequented by Hollywood stars.

He married Judith Abell in California in 1971, and spent several years as executive chef at banking headquarters in California and Arizona before moving on to restaurants in Philadelphia.

He was recruited to Baltimore in 1978 to open a restaurant in Timonium, called Shane's, owned by Peter G. Angelos. After retiring from the Chartwell golf club in 1995, he worked as a consultant to clubs and private parties.

Mr. Crowninshield -- who was over 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, had a booming voice, engaging blue eyes and a mustache -- possessed a meticulous memory for names and details. He often would greet diners by noting that he had their favorite dish that evening.

"That was part of his charm," Mrs. Crowninshield said. "He loved feeding people and would do anything to make them happy. When they'd come in at whatever hour of the night and wanted a souffle, I'd think it's time for him to stop, but he'd make it for them."

They often took their powerboat on short trips and vacations from their home on Bodkin Creek, cooked what they could catch and grilled it on the pier, making new friends.

In 1987, Chef Paul told The Sun that living on the water was "the realization of all my life's dream."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 689 Ritchie Highway in Severna Park.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Crowninshield is survived by two brothers, David Crowninshield of Sunnyvale, Calif., and John Crowninshield of Sun Lakes, Ariz.; a sister, Esther Earls of Sand Springs, Okla.; and two half-brothers, Charles Scholz of Tempe, Ariz., and Robert Scholz of Newark, Calif.

Memorial donations may be made to Mary's Center, P.O. Box 1804, Pasadena 21123.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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