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1931 Franz Josef 2019

Franz Josef Moehn

December 14, 1931 — December 15, 2019

FRANZ JOSEF MOEHN died on December 15. The day before, he had celebrated his 88th birthday in much the same way that he celebrated many days of his life: surrounded by love and drinking wine—in this case, with his daughter Juliette, her family, and some friends.

Franz will be remembered as a first-rate entertainer, opening his home to visitors and serving exquisitely tasteful meals with expertly paired wines. He had the ability to hold court for hours with a gift for storytelling, a brilliant memory for details of history, music, literature, and soccer, as well as a fantastic ability to laugh at life’s curveballs, here and there slipping a joke in without letting on that he was pulling your leg. He did not suffer tedious company; neither did he pay much mind to the wishes of vegetarians, it must be said, until his grand-daughter became one at a young age, and she loved everything he cooked for her.

He was born on December 14, 1931 and grew up during World War II in Wittlich, Germany, where many of his family members and childhood friends still reside. In the mid-1950s he emigrated to Milwaukee. Shortly after naturalizing, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed back in Germany as an American soldier for 2 years. When he returned to the US, he went on to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison, now with the help of the G.I. Bill, where he met Jeanette Krueger (1941-2016), whom he later married. He graduated with honors in Comparative Literature and in 1964 was admitted to Princeton University for graduate school on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, bringing his young family to the East Coast.

After earning his M.A. in Germanic Languages and Literatures at Princeton, Franz taught there and at Rider College while continuing as a PhD student. However, he found the academic job market unappealing and decided to change careers, following in his father’s footsteps to work in hospitality. He was a chef and manager at area corporate headquarters and hotels, and also worked as a caterer, but he would leave his mark in the Princeton community as the head chef at the Institute for Advanced Studies, where he worked from 1979 to his retirement in 1996. He kept many a genius well-fed, impressing them with his erudition (the wisest amongst them befriended Franz and accepted invitations to his home for long nights of eating, talking, and drinking there). An anecdote from this time illustrates his keen (and polyglot) sense of humor. One day, the director of the Institute, Harry Woolf gave a group of important visitors a tour. When they came to the kitchen Harry introduced Franz: “Here is the real boss of the Institute.” “No,” replied Franz. “You are the Boss, and I am the Chef.”

When Franz retired, Allen Rowe wrote, “There could not have been a more perfect match of interests and talents than Franz and the Institute.” Franz subsequently split his time between the United States and France--first in the Ardeche, surrounded by sheep and lavender, and then later in the Dordogne region of Bordeaux. His charming one-story house there featured two full kitchens--for winter and summer, he liked to say, as one was closer to the rear patio where he would dine in good weather and chat with his neighbors. Word of Franz’s passing spread quickly among his international network of friends, one of whom sent fitting words of condolence about him from France: “He loved life so much and he was able to see only the good parts of the people around him. Everyone is remembering all the nice moments we spent with him.”

He passed away at home with his daughter Juliette on Bainbridge Island, WA. He is survived by Juliette, his son Frederick, and four grandchildren who laughed at his jokes the hardest. The family is planning a private memorial service.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cook Family Funeral Home of Bainbridge Island.

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