Obituary: Walter Ulz: Legendary chef
Walter Ulz, who has died in Joburg at the age of 57, was head chef and owner of one of South Africa's oldest and most celebrated restaurants, Linger Longer in Sandton.
Ulz was as much of a legend as his restaurant, which catered for the very top end of the market. When the then British ambassador to South Africa, Lord Renwick, took newly released Nelson Mandela to lunch, he chose Linger Longer.
When Mandela ordered one of the head chef's signature dishes, avocado Suzie Wong (with lots of extra chilli), as a starter, Ulz was terribly excited. But he was considerably less so when the most famous man in the world requested a fillet steak and peas as his main course.
His own idea of heaven was truffle oil and porcini mushrooms on pasta.
Although he was in constant quest of "things with a unique taste", some foodies criticised his menu as old-fashioned and stuck in the 1970s.
"There are certain things we just can't take off the menu," Ulz retorted. Unlike many top chefs, he was never too superior to deny his customers Wiener schnitzel or, another of his old favourites, sole St Germain.
Top politicians and captains of industry were regular patrons. Ulz treated them like royalty and ensured that once he had them, he kept them. They loved him and trusted him. Explaining his addiction to the place, one of them said that he hadn't had to consult a menu in years because UIz always knew what would be right for him and never let him down.
When reports that Ulz had died began to surface, customers bombarded the restaurant with frantic calls to find out whether it was true.
The bosses of Fifa ate practically nowhere else when they were in Joburg for the World Cup.
The trouble with Ulz's restaurant is that not many people without access to generous expense accounts or fairly deep pockets could afford to eat there. It became known as a "very special occasions" eatery, and there weren't enough of those to save it from a looming financial crisis.
Ulz was born in Graz in Austria on November 16 1953.
After training as a chef, he worked in London for nine months before coming to South Africa in 1974. He landed a job at the five-star Landdrost in Joburg, where one of his first assignments was to prepare a breakfast of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, chives and rye toast for Elizabeth Taylor in the actress's suite.
On April 1 1975, he joined Linger Longer, which was started in Braamfontein by two Germans in 1964. They died in a car crash four years later. Linger Longer was taken over by six people from an ad agency, who promptly ran it into the ground.
"What do six advertising men know about running a restaurant?" Ulz snorted.
It was resuscitated and enjoyed some of its best years (Ulz's happiest) in the 1980s, after being bought by Ben Filmalter. In 1993, it followed its clientele to Sandton. Ulz and Linger Longer's manager, Carlos de Freitas, bought it in 2006.
Ulz the artist and De Freitas the commercial man formed a close and effective team. Linger Longer did well, and they paid off their debt in nine months. Their fortunes changed with the recession and some alterations created a cash-flow crisis. Then De Freitas died. Without his business partner, the situation for Ulz became untenable.
He was a man of great passion, and a perfectionist. In the kitchen of a busy restaurant, this is likely to be an explosive combination. Ulz would sometimes go off like a fireworks display, hurling Austrian-accented invective and whatever came to hand at the hastily retreating backs of those unwise enough to cross him. Once he almost brought down his boss, Filmalter, with a well-aimed box of cornflour.
Shortly before he committing suicide, Ulz said that Linger Longer was his life. He couldn't imagine life without it.
He is survived by two brothers and two sisters in Austria.