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Popular local steakhouse Angus Barn has announced the passing of their longtime Executive Chef, Walter Royal, on May 22 at the age of 67.

In a statement, the Raleigh restaurant said, “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we sadly mourn the loss of Chef Walter Royal… His spirit, kindness, and desire to mentor others was legendary. He set the example for a life well lived, even in the face of adversity.”

As reported by the News & Observer (behind paywall), the Alabama native was a football star who earned degrees in psychology, but switched to cooking after a brief career in social work.

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In a 2020 interview, he sought a culinary school that would allow him to go beyond the cliches of Southern cuisine.

“Growing up in rural Alabama, there was nothing but barbecue, fried chicken, and stuff like that,” he said. “I needed to learn. I needed to be refined. I needed to get my hands on other good food. Not to say that fried chicken and barbecue wasn’t good, but there was more to Southern cuisine than that.”

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He ended up at Fearrington House in Pittsboro, under the tutelage of iconic Southern chef Edna Lewis. He would go on to help open the now-closed Magnolia Grill in Durham with chefs Ben & Karen Barker. Magnolia Grill would go on to win two James Beard awards before closing in 2012.

Royal joined Angus Barn as its Executive Chef in 1997, leading one of the busiest destination restaurants in North Carolina.

An award-winning chef, Royal was the first African American chef to be awarded the Restaurant Guild’s Five Star Chef of the Year in 1997. He also had a 2006 appearance on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, where he defeated Iron Chef Cat Cora in the “Battle of Ostrich.”

According to a spokesperson, Royal always wanted his last job to be at Angus Barn. Sure enough, he was at the restaurant on Sunday.

Royal said that he enjoyed merging his legacy with the Angus Barn. “That’s how people feel about the Angus Barn, they want to be a part of it for the next 100 years.”

Longtime Angus Barn Executive Chef, Walter Royal, Passes Away  was originally published on