Chef by nature
Thu, Jul 08 2010 at 12:49 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
PHOENIX, ARIZONA — Rudolf Frederick Strasser had a dream: Come to America from Switzerland, save money and own a successful restaurant. He realized his dream, and then some, with help from two fellow Swiss—his wife, Mary, and restaurant partner Louis Germaine. What they accomplished—a successful gourmet restaurant in Scottsdale and lucrative real estate and investment strategy—is now benefitting nature in Arizona.
Mary, in honor of her husband who passed away in December, 2008, recently sold their Paradise Valley home and donated the proceeds to The Nature Conservancy.
“We both saw the deserts disappearing, and Rudy was upset about that. We always appreciated the Conservancy’s work and we loved visiting the Hassayampa and Ramsey Canyon preserves. We went there many times,” said Mary, 92.
The Nature Conservancy plans to use the donation to safeguard its network of Arizona preserves and priority lands and waters, including another place the Strassers have visited and care about: the San Pedro River.
“We are so grateful to Mary and Rudy for their thoughtful gift which will help us preserve one of Arizona’s greatest assets: our environment,” said Pat Graham, the Conservancy’s state director in Arizona.
The Strassers developed an appreciation for Arizona’s natural world during their 48-year marriage and life in the greater Phoenix area. But they took separate paths on their journey to Arizona. As a young man in Switzerland, Rudy trained as a butcher and apprentice chef, and it was his kitchen know-how that earned him a ticket to North America. His first job was in Canada as a chef in a resort owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. From there he worked at gourmet restaurants in Toronto and Quebec City and a lobster restaurant in Nova Scotia.
“Rudy was always reminding people he came to this country with $30 in his pocket and the desire to succeed,” said Mary.
His prowess in handling food production for large groups landed him a job at the Man’s Grill under chef Ernest at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and later at Eugene’s, a French restaurant in Reno, Nevada. But his crowning achievement was as co-owner and head chef of Chez Louis, a French gourmet restaurant in Scottsdale.
“When it first opened in 1958, it was the talk of the town,” said Mary.“No other place in Scottsdale was as elegant or offered such an intimate dining experience. Chauffeured limousines would line up outside, and Frank Lloyd Wright came sometimes two or three times a week to dine.”
It was at Chez Louis where Mary met Rudy, despite having grown up but five miles from each other in Switzerland. Mary had come to Arizona after studying accounting and working in many departments at large hotels in Europe. After a short courtship, Mary and Rudy married and together purchased “the most perfect” home in what is now Paradise Valley. They built an outdoor kitchen and a greenhouse, and Rudy, after leaving the restaurant, focused on gardening.
“We grew everything – wheel barrows full of cauliflower and broccoli, peanuts – we grew all of our own food,” said Mary.
The Strassers' home became an entertainment hub. “Rudy loved to cook, and we had lots of visitors from Switzerland and Europe. All these contacts were important in my real estate business.”
Mary, meanwhile, was the financial manager of their household and made many lucrative real estate sales in the area. “Rudy and I complemented each other,” says Mary. “We had a wonderful life together and were very fortunate. We decided together that we wanted to do something that would help the places we loved to visit in Arizona.”
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.