The Donkey Goes Out On the Ice

by Chris Jay

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Whenever I talk with Shreveport restaurant industry lifers, folks who’ve worked 30 or 50 years in local restaurants, there’s one name that always comes up within the same context. If you worked in restaurants or frequently dined out in Shreveport in the 70s or 80s, you likely associate one unusual name with fine dining, foul language and booze-fueled mayhem.     

“Dietmar,” the old timers all say. “That motherfucker was crazy.”

Dietmar Molitor was born in 1943 in a picturesque German village called Kasel, a tiny, hillside cluster of homes in the Mosel wine region. He was the youngest of four sons raised by a single mother. Their father—a Nazi soldier—was pronounced missing in action following World War II’s largest, bloodiest conflict, the Battle of Stalingrad. His mom worked many jobs to make ends meet amid the ruins of postwar Germany. For six years, Dietmar delivered cuts of meat that his mother sold as a wholesale butcher, earning him the childhood nickname “wuerstchen,” or “weenie.” 

A photo of Chef Dietmar Molitor
Chef Dietmar Molitor, photographed in 1980.

Dietmar completed grammar school at age 14 and began a cooking apprenticeship in nearby Bitburg at a four-star hotel and restaurant called the Eifelbräu Bitburg. At the hotel, he and several other aspiring chefs trained under a severe and impatient man with a short fuse and a penchant for explosive violence.

“Sometimes the chef would hit me so hard and unexpectedly that it knocked me literally to the floor,” Molitor wrote.

Once, as punishment for dicing potatoes into “uneven cubes,” the sadistic chef forced Dietmar to eat six quarts of mayonnaise-based potato salad in a single sitting. Later in life, Dietmar would connect the dots between his own character flaws and those displayed by the man who forged him into a professional chef. Though he attempts to frame the terror in a positive light (“Yes, it was tough but there were many good times too.”), Dietmar is clearly aware that this man’s cruelty corrupted him in irreversible ways.

By 17, he was drinking heavily on a daily basis.

“In Germany, in those days, nobody asked how old you were, they were only interested in your money. So fourteen or fifteen made no difference…I started drinking at an early age and this became more prevalent in my later years,” Molitor wrote.

Chef Dietmar Molitor drops by a table at his restaurant in Shreve Square.

How do I know all of this? I know all of this because, unlike any other local chef I’ve ever studied, Dietmar Molitor wrote an autobiography. Chef: Memoirs of a Culinary Lunatic was self-published online in 2011. Copies of the slim, novella-sized book turn up in Shreveport’s used book stores fairly often, but if you’d rather not have to hunt for a copy, new copies of this wildly entertaining and occasionally disturbing volume may be purchased online.

In 2011, bad boy chefs were still seen as sexy. Anthony Bourdain was in his seventh season hosting No Reservations and was preparing to make the jump to CNN. Mario Batali’s bulb-nosed visage still leered out from jars of spaghetti sauce at your local grocery store. Marco Pierre White, arguably the outbreak monkey responsible for the entire “chefs as rock stars” schtick, was undergoing his third divorce and starring on the UK television series Celebrity Big Brother. Maladroit chefs with rage problems were lionized in pop culture—see the entire career of Gordon Ramsay.  

So, Dietmar sat down and wrote his story. It is an insane, unhinged, upsetting story, and its wildest chapters unfold in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Dietmar wrapped up his three-year internship at Eifelbräu Bitburg and began bouncing around to different cooking gigs across Europe. In 1964, at age 21, he traveled from Luxembourg to Dallas for his first job on U.S. soil.

While Dietmar was working as a line cook at Ridglea Country Club in Dallas, the manager of the Shreveport Club, A.J. Rubben, showed up in the kitchen. He was seeking a sous chef for the Shreveport Club. Did Dietmar know anyone who was qualified?

“Me,” he responded. In one of my favorite moments from the book, Dietmar practically turns to the camera and deadpans:

“Having balls like a brass monkey and guts is what it takes in life and I had both.”

The logo of Dietmar’s Restaurant.

On his next day off, Dietmar flew to Shreveport, where he accepted a position as sous chef to Chef Shorty Lenard (of Black Forest cake fame). When he informed his boss in Dallas that he’d be taking another job after only four months on the line at Ridglea, you could say that the conversation did not end amicably.

“I said that I would throw him through his office window, and he could tell by my voice and posture that I meant it.”

Over the next few chapters of the book, very little changes except for the name of the club: the Shreveport Club, Shreveport Country Club, the Petroleum Club, East Ridge Country Club. If I were adapting Dietmar Molitor’s life for a film, there’d be a montage here of customers getting told to go fuck themselves in German and club managers being punched in the nose by a tall, moustachioed guy in a toque. 

“I was not the nicest man to be around, and the staff was sometimes scared,” Molitor wrote. “Once, on a big buffet, a club member said ‘Go to hell, you god-damned German.’ I put my carving knife on his shoulder and told him that he would be there to meet me.”

Even as he terrorized his staff and employers, Dietmar won acclaim and adoration with his European style of cooking. In Chef, he summarized these years succinctly: “I became more and more recognized as a talented chef and lunatic.”

It was only a matter of time before he hung up his own shingle. Dietmar’s Restaurant opened in Shreve Square in August of 1975. It was an immediate success, quickly turning out omelettes, soups and salads to the lunch crowd and serving bespoke, reservation-only dinners to high rollers in the evening. But, by June of 1977, he had burnt out on downtown Shreveport. Speaking to Bob Griffin of The Shreveport Journal, Dietmar blamed a lack of support for downtown that may sound familiar to modern readers.

“Shreveport doesn’t support quality or talent, and the people of Shreveport rejected the Square almost from the beginning and don’t support it.”

Chef provides a different, darker take on the closure of Dietmar’s.

“By the time lunch was over, I had already consumed 20 or more 10-ounce glasses of Michelob. I was averaging 50 to 60 a day, every day.”                                
Thus begins a cycle that repeats itself several times over the course of the book: ambition, success, self-destruction.

Throughout the book, Dietmar employs an old German phrase that I will never forget: “Wenns dem esel zu gut geht, geht er aufs eis.” The phrase translates to “When things are going well for the donkey, the donkey goes out on the ice.” Dietmar Molitor was that donkey, unable to resist the urge to fuck up everything in his life.

There was a second incarnation of Dietmar’s Restaurant in 1980, followed by Dietmar’s Soup and Sandwich in 1982, followed by a cafė at the Bossier City racket club and Dietmar’s Burger and Brew. Dietmar’s Burger and Brew was located at 3839 Gilbert Drive in Shreveport’s Madison Park shopping center. Currently, the site is home to Ki Mexico, one of the most popular restaurants in town. At one point, Dietmar found himself operating three restaurants simultaneously, driving a catering van from one kitchen to the next. Of course, it all imploded.

“Do not misunderstand what I am saying,” Dietmar wrote in Chef. “I worked more than anybody and my cooking was the best, but my brain was impaired and I made all of the wrong choices.”

In 1986, Dietmar and his wife and children moved to California. He and Shreveport had abused one another, and themselves, badly over the previous two decades. Over the following years, he cooked at senior living facilities, worked as a private chef, managed food and beverage for a country club, and worked any number of other jobs, including as head chef at Cal-Tech. His final restaurant was a schnitzel haus in Palm Springs, which came to an end when the landlords increased the rent and Dietmar “told them to go fuck themselves and closed the doors.”

Today, he lives in Palm Springs, where he paints abstract art.

The thing about the process of self-destruction is that it gets easier as you go. The phrase “going downhill” is apt; there is an inertia to it. I’m certain that Dietmar Molitor did not write Chef: Memoirs of a Culinary Lunatic as a cautionary tale about alcohol, but it can be read that way. Read between the lines and it’s also about a man realizing that, just because he’s burned every bridge he’s ever crossed, he isn’t required to burn the bridges ahead.

In my experience with these matters, it seems like the thing to do, when you realize that you’re an asshole, is to change. Or, as Dietmar wrote:

“Is there life after you fuck up? Most certainly, there is.”

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