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Lighthearted chef renowned for tasty soups

| Monday, March 12, 2007

Chefs can be intimidating, cranky and short-tempered.

Not Mischa E. Stares, according to those who loved him.

"He liked to keep it calm" in the kitchens he worked and maintained a light mood with jokes, said daughter Betsy Murray, of Mt. Lebanon. "Waitresses adored him."

Mischa Stares, a longtime resident of Herminie, Westmoreland County, and Pittsburgh-area chef who was beloved for his Italian soup "risi e bisi" (rice and peas), died of respiratory failure on Saturday, March 10, 2007, at The Commons nursing home in Squirrel Hill. He was 79.

Mr. Stares worked in several Downtown restaurants in the 1960s and '70s, including The Duquesne Club, Point Park University (then Point Park College), and F. Tambellini's restaurant, before becoming second chef at Edgewood Country Club in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Stares was born in Madison, Westmoreland County, but lived most of his life in Herminie. He had been spent the last seven years in nursing homes, Murray said.

Daughter Linda Stares Thorpe, also of Mt. Lebanon, said her father got his unusual first name because of a father with a love for music. Russell G. Stares worked as a coal company trucker but wanted to be a concert violinist, Thorpe said.

So Russell Stares named his son for a Russian-born American violinist Mischa Elman, who was famous in the 1920s, she said.

Thorpe said her father fell into cooking because of a stint in the U.S. Army after high school where he headed to Japan after World War II.

Murray said Army superiors lined up the men, including her father, and gave them numbers. She said her father received a "6," meaning he would learn how to cook.

She said her father liked cooking so much that he enrolled in culinary school when he returned to Pittsburgh, she said.

Mr. Stares told his daughter that he avoided being sent to Korea because his Army superiors liked his cooking enough to keep him stateside.

Mr. Stares worked in many Pittsburgh restaurants in the early days but always, his best dish was soups, Murray said.

"Soups were his specialty."

His split pea soup and French onion were both good, she said, but "the country club people really liked his risi e bisi" best.

That made him feel good, she said. "He was always very happy when people liked whatever he made."

Thorpe said her father must have loved cooking because he continued the work despite problems with his legs -- varicose vein ulcers, a condition that made it painful for him to stand for hours. She estimates that her father was in and out of the hospital 15 times for his legs while she was growing up.

"That made things really tough," she said. "He was extremely hard-working and devoted."

Murray said Mr. Stares retired from Edgewood Country Club in the early 1990s after working there 17 years.

Survivors include three daughters, Betsy Murray and Linda Stares Thorpe, both of Mt. Lebanon, and Diana Cusano, of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; a sister, Mary Spoonhoward, of Greensburg; and seven grandchildren.

His wife, Betty Marie Stares, died in 1997.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Beatty-Rich Funeral Home, Route 136, in Madison, Westmoreland County. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home. Burial will follow in Westmoreland County Memorial Park, Hempfield Township.

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