A Minnesota reader, fondly recalling childhood vacations here, recently sparked my curiosity about one of Idyllwild’s more outlandish characters. In January 1966, Warren Jacober announced himself to the community with this Town Crier ad:
“ATTENTION: Epicures, Gourmets, Art-lovers, Woodsmen, Housewives, Philosophers … Recipe-collectors … Brain-surgeons … Folksy Humorists … Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and any other interested person or lending institution … ‘THE CHEF IN THE FOREST’ hopes to be out of the woods and open for business soon.”
Two months would pass before remodeling of what has become today’s Creek House would permit a grand opening. But after merely a week, several more ads appeared, one confiding, “The Chef in the Forest wishes to thank his many friends and admirers for their advice and comments. He has, however, decided to open the restaurant anyway.”
For 29 short months “The Chef” was the place to eat in Idyllwild. European ambience, featuring tall-candled tables and live piano music ranging from classical to ragtime, was punctuated periodically by Jacober’s bursting into song, solo or with wait staff. He rang a gong to announce friends.
His bushy beard and trademark starched white jacket, red-and-white checked napkin knotted around the neck, and red beret became a familiar sight around town. He organized his staff, wife Joyce, and six children to form a marching band in the 4th of July parade, led by a street-wide “No Ketchup” banner.
A small, weekly, tongue-in-cheek Town Crier ad bore a half-dozen cockeyed one-liners subtitling the restaurant name (“The Equal Opportunity Gourmetorium … The Only Full-bearded Restaurant in Idyllwild … The Restaurant They Couldn’t Close”); offering come-ons (“ENJOY OUR MISSING JUKEBOX … SEE OUR DANCING WATER CLOSET … OUR BUSBOYS BELONG TO MENSA … WATCH FOR (3RD ANNUAL) GRAND OPENING”); trumpeting the menu (“GENUINE NEW YORK PIZZA (WE FINANCE) … MUTHA’S DAY DIN-DIN YUM … HOT DRINKS FOR COLD TOESIES … CHOCOLATE BUMPER STICKERS YUM” ); or just nonsense (“PLASTIC PLANTS ARE FOREVER … BLEEBER & FLONGOTZ THWOCK”). They invariably closed with “NO KETCHUP” or an occasional variant like “KETCHUP FOR PHILISTINES.”
Where did this guy come from? A New York City native, raised in an affluent Westchester family, he actually worked his way through Middlebury College in the early 1940s before reaching draft age. He learned to cook in the army and took culinary training in Belgium before apprenticing at high-end New York restaurants such as the Four Seasons.
Meanwhile, Jacober cultivated a flair for theatrics. He acted in college and on TV in Buffalo, N.Y. In TV’s early days he directed shows, including the 1940s the comedy quiz “It Pays To Be Ignorant,” and was a writer and producer for Fred Allen and Kate Smith.
Then he abruptly headed for the rural West, first landing as cook at tiny, exclusive, unconventional Deep Springs College, isolated among desert mountains on the Nevada-California border. A short time later he was cooking at a Mammoth Mountain resort, when ski-vacationing teachers from Idyllwild met and recruited him to run the food service at Desert Sun School.
But Warren Jacober really needed his own restaurant.
As Chef in the Forest attracted Idyllwild visitors, his fame spread. He became a pioneer TV chef with a weekly gig in San Diego. He appeared on Gypsy Rose Lee’s San Francisco talk show demonstrating cream of peanut soup.
Alas, returning from San Diego with Joyce and three of their children one July evening in 1968, the friend driving his camper truck became distracted, lost control, and struck a power pole. All aboard survived, except Warren Jacober, dead at the age of 41.
Joyce Jacober tried to keep the restaurant going, but after six months relinquished it to the Chart House chain. Thus ended a disappointingly brief chapter in Idyllwild’s history.
I remember that property as first being the Log Cabin restaurant run by Ralph and Queenie, followed by the Schwarzwaldhaus and then The Chef In The Forest. Warren Jacober was flamboyant and fun but he was an amazing chef as well.