TAOS, N.M. (AP) -- A former White House chef who had been missing for more than a week after going hiking in the mountains of northern New Mexico is being remembered for his culinary talents as investigators try to piece together the last moments of his life.

FILE - In this July 27, 2004 file photo, outgoing White House chef Walter Scheib greets chefs at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. (AP Photo/Matt Houston, Files)

Searchers found Walter Scheib's body Sunday night not far from a hiking trail near the Taos Ski Valley. He reportedly went for a hike June 13. His girlfriend reported him missing the next day.

Investigators were combing the area for clues and were awaiting a preliminary autopsy report, New Mexico State Police Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said. As of Monday afternoon, they couldn't point to a cause of death.

"Our officers are going over details today in daylight hours confirming and verifying information," Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said.

Scheib was White House chef for 11 years under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he recently moved from Florida to Taos.

Both presidential families released statements Monday saying they were saddened by his tragic death.

"Walter used his immense talents not only to represent the very best of American cuisine to visiting leaders, but to make a difference in people's lives across the country through his support of numerous charities," Bill Clinton said.

Laura Bush said Scheib was an outstanding talent who prepared many magnificent dinners for world leaders as well as family members and friends.

Scheib, who graduated from New York's Culinary Institute of America in 1979 and later worked at grand hotels in Florida and West Virginia, became White House executive chef in 1994.

He was in charge of a full-time staff of five and oversaw a part-time staff of 20. Scheib was known for refocusing the White House kitchen on distinctly American cuisine with seasonal ingredients and contemporary flavors. He was responsible for preparing everything from First Family meals to formal State Dinners.

Last month, Scheib cooked dinner for a cancer charity's fundraiser at a hotel in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He told the Times Leader newspaper that preparing meals at the White House had required him to have a different outlook on food and cooking.

"When you're working at the White House, it's not a hotel or a restaurant or a private club. It's a personal home," Scheib said. "Our goal wasn't just to cook food at the White House, it was to give the First Family an island of normal in a very, very crazy world."

His creations were served to many world leaders including Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Vicente Fox, Nelson Mandela and Boris Yeltsin.

Scheib left the White House in 2005. He became a food consultant and speaker, often entertaining guests with anecdotes from his time at the White House. He also appeared on the Food Network's "Iron Chef America" show in 2006.

Scheib also wrote a book about his experiences entitled "White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen." It was published in 2007.

He also was involved in Atlanta's City of Refuge, which provides services to homeless and abused residents.

Taos police found Scheib's vehicle Tuesday at the Yerba Canyon trailhead. The 4-mile trail follows a canyon bottom before climbing to 3,700 feet in elevation, according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

As the search progressed, state police said they were exhausting all resources, from the New Mexico National Guard to the U.S. Air Force. High mountain peaks, deep canyons and dense vegetation made the air search difficult, while the rough terrain hampered efforts on the ground.

 

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