Doyle Moore, WILL’s “Chef-in-Residence,” Dies
By Sean Powers
Doyle Moore, long known as WILL’s “Chef-in-Residence,” has passed away at the age of 82.
Close friends say he died at his home in Champaign.
Moore taught graphic design at the University of Illinois for more than 30 years. He also taught a U of I course in material folk culture in the 1970s.
Starting in 1982 until last year, he could be heard on WILL’s Focus program on the first Wednesday of the month. He had been the show's longest serving regular guest.
When the show first went on the air, the station could not have phone guests, but instead needed a person physically in the studio.
"We were always looking for good local people to be on the show, and one day someone said let's do a cooking show," said David Inge, a longtime former host of Focus.
Doyle's name popped up as a possible guest to field questions on all things cooking.
"(Doyle) just laughed," Inge said. "You're going to do a cooking show on the radio? He said, 'What are you going to do, play the sound of bacon frying or something?' So, he thought that was pretty funny, but he was willing to take it on."
Moore came to the studio with a stack of reference books, figuring he would be trying to troubleshoot cooking problems for callers. He found himself talking to an elderly woman who called to tell him the secret of making good rye bread.
“She said you had to use goat milk and she milked her own goats to get it. I was so overwhelmed and delighted by her,” Doyle recounted in a 2001 interview.
“I was terrified and skeptical,” he added. “I didn’t know how in the world we could do cooking on the radio...Between my audacity and David’s wisdom and skill, we have made the show one of the most popular programs on Focus."
Doyle admitted that he learned to cook “in self defense” as a bachelor, and he gave a lot of credit to his sisters for teaching him. Inge remembered Doyle always talking about the chili his mother used to make, but being frustrating that he did not know how to get the recipe just right.
"One day, we were doing a chili show, and someone called in and said this is how you do it," Inge said. "He thought in fact that was the way his mother did it, and he was just overjoyed because he felt he had recovered something special from his childhood that he hadn't been able to find. That was something a listener gave him, and I think that was something he always remembered."
In a 2001 interview, Moore said his favorite type of food to cook was Thai food, although he acknowledged that he did a really good job preparing Indian cuisine.
“I cook that with no fear and almost no recipes,” he said.
Beyond the recipes, Inge said the thing that really interested Moore was hearing people's stories when they called into the show, describing the traditions that went along with certain kinds of food.
"He was very interested in people's personal stories, and he was good at drawing those out," Inge said. "One thing I would say about Doyle is that he was a natural."
Linda Ballard owns Art Mart in Urbana, and she has known Moore since 1962, meeting him shortly after coming to Champaign-Urbana. Her husband took a class taught by Moore.
For years from the early 1960s to 2013, Ballard said she and a group of friends would regularly have dinners, picnics, and parties with Moore. Sometimes they would travel to other cities, but they usually kept their meetings local.
"Food was very important, and we would try a lot of different things," Ballard said. "You know, usually somebody would bring one thing or the other, but sometimes we would do all of it."
Her final conversation with Moore last week was about food, when he called her for some advice about making perogies.
In addition to his love for cooking, friends remember Moore as someone who had many interests from traveling to quilt making to printing books to learning about Japanese Culture.
"I could write pages about Doyle," Ballard explained. "He just was remarkable in his interests and his enthusiasm."
One person who considered Moore a mentor is Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud, the director of Japan House at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She remembers Moore as 'Doyle Sensei' because of his love for Japanese culture and his continued involvement with Japan House.
Gunji-Ballsrud said Moore became immersed in Japanese culture in his twenties when he was in the military and stationed in Japan.
"He took advantage of every moment that he was there to learn about the Japanese way of tea, Japanese flower arrangement," Gunji-Ballsrud explained. "When he came back here and was teaching graphic design, it was infused with that experience."
When Japan House opened in the 1970s under the guidance of Shozo Sato, Gunji-Ballsrud said Moore began teaching a tea class that was available to anyone who wanted to sign up. He continued teaching the class for about 40 years.
"He was able to teach us the various tea ceremonies, and we talked a lot about the philosophies behind the way of tea," she said. "He was just a wealth of knowledge."
In later years, Moore also taught a Japanese aesthetics class through the U of I, where he would talk about tea, gardening, architecture, or cooking.
About a year and a half ago, Moore sold his beloved printing press for a kiln that is used to make Kogo, which is an incense container for Japanese tea ceremonies. Gunji-Ballsrud said Moore recognized that Japan House had a shortage of Kogos, and so he made more than a hundred new containers.
She said in the fall, a group of 16 tea teachers from Japan visited Japan House, and Moore also made Kogos for each of them.
"Two weeks ago he received a letter from one of those tea teachers, and a slew of photos showing that they were using this Kogo," Gunji-Ballsrud said. "He raced to Japan House to tell me about it. He was so thrilled."
"What a renaissance man; he knew and did everything," she added. "He lived his life to the fullest. I can tell you that."
Funeral arrangements have not been set.