Now That’s Chemintz’n It

Chef Wolfgang Green relaxing at home with Charlotte.

Down to business in the kitchen of Wolfgangs.

The Green Family today

Grilled Salmon with Israeli Couscous

Fried Brie

Chef Wolfgang and Mindy Green with newborn daughter Katie, 1991 at American Hawaii Cruises.

While looking into the eyes of Wolfgang Green and hearing his life story, I was deeply touched as I gained a new adoration for this man as a chef and a survivor of a time of unrest – a situation that most of us can never relate to.

Growing up in East Germany in a town called Chemintz in 1961 as the communists’ control escalated with plans to ban travel into West Germany, and rumors of a wall being built, at age 15, Wolfgang’s mother dropped him off at a refugee camp, in hopes of protecting him and giving him a chance for a better life without communist rule. He would not see his parents for another 15 years. He shared that, while on a train, the Russians searched each car – except the last one – which was his.

His culinary interests began while helping his mother in the kitchen, but would become his “way out.” When in high school, a counselor enlightened him on the possibility of traveling as a chef. He attended a three-year culinary school and while apprenticing watched ships go out to sea – dreaming that one day he would be on one of them – leaving his native country behind.

His career began after he placed an ad in the newspaper and received a call from a recruiter about a chef’s position in Kingston, Jamaica, with the opening of a new Sheraton Hotel.  Even though he spoke no English, he was hired and a new life in the culinary world began. 

Chef Wolfgang wound up in Bermuda at the Mid Ocean Club as sous chef for two years followed by a short time at the Playboy Club in Ocho Rios. Then, he was offered executive chef position back at the Sheraton in Kingston and became the youngest chef (age 28) at the largest hotel in Jamaica.

Other paths led to Tennesee, where he met Muhammed Ali and former president Jimmy Carter at the exclusive Rivermont, where he was Executive Chef. Then onto Louisiana where he met Ella Brennan and claimed a position with the Brennan’s family and went to Dallas.  Working for several years in that city, he was very involved with the Texas Chefs Association, and was voted Texas Chef of the Year by his peers.

During his career, he wanted to learn the front of the house also and became food and beverage manager as well. He was a member of the Texas team that went to the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, and claimed Gold and Silver medals.  He was named Sheraton’s North American Divisions Food and Beverage Director of the Year.  He also headed the Food and Beverage service for American Hawaii Cruises, serving over 5,000 passengers weekly.

On a personal level, Chef Wolfgang met Mindy in 1987 through a mutual friend in Texas.   

“She was driving a Cadillac until I hooked her on Mercedes,” says Wolfgang with a chuckle! They married in 1988 and discovered Highlands while on a trip to Octoberfest in Helen, Georgia. The town was packed and they wound up in Otto where they purchased a farm on 33 acres, two barns, and four cows! 

Once they frequented Highlands, in 1994 they purchased Hildegard’s Restaurant, a 50-seat restaurant. They started with 30 wines on the list and have since earned the Best of Wine Spectator Award with over 700 wines.  With Mindy’s vision and persistence, it grew to be Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro.

Some of my favorites are Grilled Salmon with Israeli Couscous, the best Short Ribs in town, the Grilled Portobello with Warm Goat Cheese, and the famous Basil-Grapefruit Martini. The Apple Strudel is Wolfgang’s mother’s recipe and is not to be missed. A friendly staff, great manager, and caring owners, as well as the wine expert ensure a pleasant evening.

The American Woody:The first generation of depot hacks boasted open bodies constructed of wagon-style solid planking. But by the mid-1910s, closed station wagon bodies became more common and lighter construction was required. The rib-and-panel style that is familiar today made its first appearance on these vehicles and allowed for the first partially enclosed wooden station wagons with side curtains, two or more rows of seats, and side doors. These new wagons could still be considered depot hacks, but were now called Suburbans, Combinations and Country Clubs. (Versions of these names still appear today.) The lower halves of these wagonette bodies resembled the earlier versions and were now combined with a flat roof. These designs found favor with non-commercial customers, and an increasing number of firms began building them. Major manufacturers such as Ford started offering woodies through dealerships, although independent body builders performed the actual construction. The Martin Truck and Body Corp. in York, Pennsylvania, made so many bodies for Ford, Dodge and others during the 1910s and 1920s that they billed themselves as "The Largest Commercial Car Builder in the World." The golden age of the custom wood body maker ended during the Depression, as many of the small independent firms went out of business. Some reorganized and diversified, like the Kentucky Wagon Manufacturing Company, which stopped making wood Ford Model T and Model A bodies (and its own line of automobiles as the Dixie Motor Car Company) and started manufacturing truck trailers. The company is still in business today as Kentucky Trailer. The major automobile manufacturers acquired many others at fire-sale prices during this time. The fortunes of Martin Truck and Body, who called themselves "The Largest Commercial Car Builder in the World," changed dramatically during the Depression. After merging with failed carmaker Parry in 1919, Martin Truck and Body was acquired by Chevrolet in 1930 and became its first in-house commercial truck body division. Ford, with its vast timber operations near Lake Superior, was gaining experience in woody manufacturing. That experience would be put into practice in 1936 when a plant opened at Iron Mountain that built complete wood wagon bodies that were then shipped to Ford plants around the country for final assembly. While Ford was the only manufacturer building woodies from the ground up, there were still coachbuilt versions available based on GM, Chrysler, Packard, Willys, Hupmobile, Graham, Hudson, Studebaker and even American Bantam chassis. The trend toward luxury continued through the 1930s, although woody amenities lagged far behind those in production automobiles. Pontiac, for instance, did not offer full glazing until 1939. As the country began to recover economically, woodies were increasingly perceived as upscale vehicles and sales rose accordingly. Ford easily maintained its dominance, selling almost 10,000 redesigned Standard and DeLuxe station wagons in 1940 alone. Chrysler introduced its first truly car-quality woody, the Town & Country, in March of the following year. It boasted an all-steel roof and a white ash and mahogany body by Pekin Wood Products of Helena, Arkansas. With Willys, Buick, Pontiac and Plymouth all getting serious about passenger comfort in their woodies, things were about to heat up when the manufacturers were told to cease production of passenger cars and contribute to the war effort. A trickle of cars continued for a brief time, but all domestic automobile production had ended by March of 1942. Ford continued to produce a small number of Ford and Mercury woody sedans and ambulances used during the war. We reach Crystal Cove and its landmark Shake Shack and pull in to switch drivers. Remembering the earlier starting difficulty, we leave the Ford idling while photographer Joseph Puhy shoots some images. Little do we know, the ethanol-laced modern gas blend is busy vaporizing in the fuel line, a common Ford flathead V-8 problem. It happens on the uphill leaving the Shake Shack, the woodie chugging slower and slower, until it can’t chug anymore. Now we’re stranded beside the Coast Highway, with Audis and Acuras zipping past at speed. Bad scene. With no luck re-firing the engine, I resort to bump-starting it backward downhill. This works, and the ’34 has just enough power to get us turned around and find safe haven in a nearby park. But the woodie’s day is over. “I think this has cured me of wanting an old car!” Dean says, laughing. Oddly enough, another “Surf City” lyric has portended our current situation: “And if my woodie breaks down on me somewhere on the surf route/Surf City, here we come/I’ll strap my board to my back and hitch a ride in my wetsuit.” With the photo and video teams close behind, our rescue isn’t quite that dramatic, and we all safely return to the museum in modern cars, leaving the generous McPherson and his beautiful ’34 awaiting Hagerty Plus Roadside Service. The last great year of the woody was, by some accounts, 1949. Handcrafting complicated and maintenance-intensive wood frames and panels was becoming very difficult to justify in the red-hot, new-car market. The epochal Chrysler Town & Country switched to Dinoc vinyl (still available in aftermarket "wallpaper woody" kits today) with ornamental ash framing, and the 1949 Ford used all-steel construction with experimental plywood-like panels that underwent a dramatically high rate of failure. General Motors abandoned wood framing after 1948, and from 1948 through 1951, Packard produced station wagons with window framing and ornamental wood door trim by Briggs Manufacturing. The few coachbuilders that survived the Depression and World War II were again in jeopardy during the 1950s. Despite efforts to make the transition to more modern products such as hearses and other steel bodies, the wood-body manufacturers, steeped in old-world hand craftsmanship, were almost all gone by the end of the decade. Car design and manufacture, as well as the tastes of the car-buying public, were undergoing radical changes and the woody, redolent of 1930s and 1940s country clubs, fell from favor. The Chrysler Town & Country was discontinued in 1951, and while Fords continued to sell well, they now increasingly used vinyl and paint instead of real wood. The 1953 Buick wagons were the last real woodies from any major American manufacturer. Various wallpaper woodies or "vinylies" are still offered by Detroit to this day, but the age of the real woody ended in 1953. Fiberglass would come to substitute for ash and Dinoc for mahogany. It was a slow death, and the last real wood exterior trim of any kind on an American vehicle appeared on the Dodge Adventurer 150 "Li'l Red Express Truck" option available in 1978 and 1979.By the time I had my summer epiphany in San Diego, woodies were already in their second incarnation as an American icon. Furniture makers constructed the first of them on truck frames in the late 1920s. The car replaced the horse-drawn vehicles–jitneys or hacks–that had hauled passengers from train depots to hotels. Woodies were, literally, “station wagons,” and you’ll see them turn up. In Southern California, the place to see any style in wood cars is the annual Wavecrest meeting, held every September at Moonlight Beach near San Diego. Trophies are given for Best 1960s Surfing Woodie and Best Hot Rod Woodie. There are big-money restorations and Model A’s with rotting wood, Buick Estate Wagons with fewer than 50,000 miles on the odometer and more Town and Country wagons than Pasadena’s Rose Parade. Lovely as these ghosts are, there’s nothing that can duplicate your first time. Nearly 40 years ago, on the afternoon when I saw that first woodie in a San Diego gas station, I was just way to my part-time job in a suit and tie. What I watched from across the street was a preview of another kind of life, one that was raw and vital, one where a whole world was spread out along the coast waiting to be discovered. It was a moment that changed my life–because that day I quit my job and started surfing.