Beloved Knoxville celebrity chef and former Knoxville News Sentinel restaurant reviewer, Walter Lambert, who was known in part for his long beard, apron, and a gift for gab, died July 28. He was 87.
Lambert was laid to rest Aug. 5 in Highland Memorial Cemetery, according to an obituary published by Rose Funeral.
“He was just good ole’ Walter, you know, Chef Walter. That’s what he wanted to be known as, Chef Walter,” retired News Sentinel food and features writer Mary Constantine told Knox News.
Beginning in 1986, Lambert began his News Sentinel career as a mysterious restaurant reviewer under the pseudonym Will Norman.
The food critic revealed his identity in 1988 upon releasing his first cookbook, and continued to contribute to the News Sentinel until the early 2000s. “Chef Walter” also made regular appearances on WVLT for 30 years for cooking segments.
“I don’t have anything except wonderful, wonderful memories of Walter,” Constantine fondly recalled about her mentor. “He loved Knoxville. He loved the community.”
A local celebrity who loved food and his community
Lambert was born in 1935 to Howard and Anna Lee Lambert and was the oldest of eight children. He grew up in the Gibbs community, and the family moved to Fountain City.
He found his love for cooking at young age, “out of necessity,” he once told WVLT. His mother was often sick, and as the oldest, he was tasked with looking after his siblings.
After serving in the United States Air Force, Lambert completed his doctorate in political science at the University of Tennessee. He went on to work in UT’s political science department and as lobbyist in Nashville and Washington, D.C.
He even served on the 1982 World’s Fair board of directors.
Through all that, Lambert’s love for food and cooking never left him. Through his reviews and cookbook, Chef Walter became a Knoxville celebrity and was a regular at regional food festivals and judging cooking contests.
“You saw Walter everywhere!” Constantine said. “Anything that had to do with food and judging.”
Constantine said he loved being involved in community and talking to the people who waited in line for his cookbook signings.
“He would take time to talk to people for five minutes or more, you know; it didn’t matter how long a line was, when you were the one that was there to get that book you, his focus was on you and his conversation,” she said.
“There were times that you couldn’t get away from Chef Walter, he loved to talk so much,” Constantine joked.
A devoted husband and father
Lambert’s wife Anne Lambert died in 2010. The two enjoyed traveling the world together and had a son, Michael Lambert, who died in 2019.
Anne often accompanied Chef Walter to food festivals and events. Even as she got older and was confined to a wheelchair, he made sure she was by his side when possible.
“He would push that wheelchair through grass, through gravel, whatever it took so that she was there to enjoy (the event),” Constantine recalled. “He was a very, very devoted husband who took care of her for as long as he could.”
At Lambert’s request, the family would appreciate donations to Manna House, a food pantry at Cokesbury United Methodist Church on Kingston Pike.
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