A Tribute to Walter Nicholls
The following is a selection of remembrances of Walter Nicholls, who passed away June 1. A Washington native and Georgetown resident, he was a former staff writer for the Washington Post Food section and created the popular column in The Georgetowner, “What’s Cooking, Neighbor?”
Nancy McKeon I dragged my friend Walter Nicholls to a Washington Post Christmas party some years ago. While I was still in the entryway taking my coat off, he was already two rooms away surveying the food. Ditto our excursions to the Georgetown Gala one year and the Embassy Chef Challenge: While some of us shmoozed and bellied up to the bar, Walter buzzed around the food displays, sampling here and there, reporting back on what not to miss and what wasn't so great.
An old friend once said to me, "Walter's 'idle' speed is just a bit higher than ours." I told Walter that because it so amused me. But now I can't tell him anything, not (again) how I lived vicariously through his travel features and so enjoyed reading about his food adventures.
Chef David Guas I met Walter at a party in 1998, shortly after I moved to DC. I remember someone telling me who he was, that he wrote for the Washington Post and was a very "tough" critic. I went right up to him to introduced myself and I remember him being very "reserved." After that point, I started looking for his articles to try to understand who he was through how he wrote about food - and he knew food!
Walter was also the vanilla salesperson for my cooks at Bayou Bakery since opening in November 2010, introduced to me by Carolyn Lochhead (I remember telling Carolyn 'Oh, I know Walter, everyone knows Walter!') He used to show up to my Arlington restaurant within an hour of us placing our vanilla order via email (he lived near by in Arlington). I was so excited when he was hired by Arlington Magazine, because this neighborhood was his backyard, if not in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"Our whole team at Bayou Bakery in Arlington was very saddened by the news of his passing. I miss him already." – Chef David Guas
"We will miss you Walter Nicholls but we will never forget you. You will always be an important part of our life story." – Sophie and Katherine of Georgetown Cupcake
"I'm so sad to learn of Walter's death. What a true gentleman and a gentle soul. Gonna miss you, my friend." – Tricia Messerschmitt
"Walter Nicholls, better known to me as "Wonder Wal" back then, was also, among all of these things, "Drop Dead Gorgeous"! His intellect and conversation...when we met about 43 years ago, was then, and is still, a highlight in my life. Unique humor and a gracious man. He loved so much, so young. He also gave gifts to me and his friends, that were so unusual and beautiful...they are in my home and hanging on my walls today, throughout...many moves, changes etc. "Wonder Wal" knew great art when he saw it! I haven't kept in touch in years...but I feel his presence...just as much now...as I always will." – Heather P. McConnell
"I had the great good fortune of working with Walter for many years. He was smart, kind and wickedly fun and funny. Walter never did anything in first gear. He always operated in overdrive. His energy was amazing. He was amazing. And very much missed." – Sukiq (Washington Post reader)
"My spouse and I had a dinner party when Gorbachev, premier of the USSR, came to Washington in the '80's. I decided to call it "Glasnost," indicating his opening to the West, while rapidly liberalizing the Soviet system at home. I hired Walter to cater it, and he took on the assignment with a vengeance, researching old Russian cookbooks from the Czarist era and other sources. He arrived with his staff and provisions early the morning the day of, dismissed us and set to work, clearing out our furniture to accommodate 25 to set up tables for a seated dinner which turned out to be beyond fabulous. Course after course was authentically Russian in every way. He did it again the next evening for a similar crowd, followed by a brunch the next day after that with a more conventional menu. He was exhausted by the end of it all, but appropriately self-satisfied that he did a fine job." – Amabala1 (Washington Post reader)