Obituary: Phil Learned – Portland Press Herald

Phil Learned

Phil Learned 1926 – 2020 ANDOVER – Phil Learned, 94, passed away peacefully on Thanksgiving Day at his home in Andover, Maine. Born in Andover on August 3, 1926, to Philip and Margaret Learned, he was the oldest of three children. Upon graduation from high school in 1943, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and after basic training, was sent to the South Pacific for the duration of World War II. Assigned to the 6th Marine Division, the fighting took him from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, as well as mainland China. He re-enlisted in 1953 and served with the Army in the Korean conflict as well. Phil had a passion for the woods of western Maine, especially Rapid River, where he came to own one of the few camps in the area. For most of his life, if he wasn’t in The Balsams kitchens, he could be found at Lucky Ledge, his cabin on Pond In The River. An avid fly fisherman and hunter, he worked as a guide and trapper following his time in the military. He began working in kitchens to supplement his income, with his first job being a cook’s helper for his Grandpa Charlie at an Appalachian Mountain Club camp. It was while working at Lakewood Camps as a cook and guide that he met the woman who became the love of his life, Mary Akers. They were wed on Dec. 4, 1965. In 1966 he applied for the chef position at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H. This decision would shape the rest of his life, because he stayed at the resort until his retirement in 2007. Taking the reins of the struggling hotel’s dining facilities, “Chef Learned” spent the next 40 years building the resort into a dining destination recognized around the country. He joined the American Culinary Federation, and was the driving force behind the creation of their first chapter in New Hampshire. To address the lack of skilled cooks needed to run the growing resort, Phil started a culinary apprenticeship program at the resort, the first of its kind in New England, in 1977. Certified by the ACF and the U.S. Department of Labor, the program eventually grew to partner with the White Mountains Community College to grant an associate’s degree, as well as certification from the ACF and DOL. Over the decades, the program gained a reputation as one of the best in the United States. The Balsams Culinary Apprenticeship Program graduated scores of highly trained culinarians, many of whom went on to run premiere restaurant and resort operations of their own. In addition to running the school, Chef also brought in externship students from culinary colleges throughout the country, making The Balsams kitchen a truly diverse educational experience. His drive and passion for quality and continuous education earned him many accolades from magazines, travel guides, and professional organizations. A few of those which he was most proud of include the American Culinary Federation President’s Medallion (of which only 100 will ever be given), the Herman Rusch Lifetime Achievement Award, ACFEI Educator of The Year, induction into the American Academy of Chefs Hall of Fame, and induction into the Honorable Order of The Golden Toque, of which there are only ever 100 members nationwide. Phil was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Charles Learned, sister, Dottie Jean Mills, and cousin June Woodman, who he looked upon like a sister; stepson Samuel Libby; and granddaughter Madelaine Learned. He is survived by his wife Mary, sister-in-law Donna Learned; daughters Linda Putnam and Mary Jean Learned, son Steve Learned (Kym), stepdaughter Ruth-Ann Child, and Elizabeth Alexander, who he looked upon and loved as a daughter. He also leaves behind 15 grandchildren; two great- grandchildren; and 13 nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren. In his two passions, fly fishing and cooking, Phil loved to teach. Whether it was casting a dry fly or making a proper pan sauce, he had an amazing combination of persistence and patience that he did not necessarily show in other aspects of his life. Because of this, in a very special way, he is also survived by the many, many cooks, chefs, and outdoorsmen that he mentored for over 50 years. He was meticulous, disciplined, and demanding in his teachings, and could easily drive you crazy with his insistence on high standards. But no one could deny that they became better chefs, and people, for learning under him. During his final months, Phil’s greatest love was receiving visitors, COVID-19 be damned. He loved to hear stories about fishing and hunting trips, and always wanted to know the latest news about the fate of the now closed Balsams Hotel. He even insisted on an outdoor party for his birthday in August, where dozens of guests showed up from all over the northeast to help him celebrate. A gathering celebrating Phil’s life will hopefully take place during the summer of 2021. Arrangements are under the care and direction of S.G. Thibaut Funeral Home 250 Penobscot St. Rumford Maine. Please visit to leave heartfelt condolences to Philip’s family and friends. In lieu of flowers, the family asks you to make a donation in his memory. There is a Phil Learned Culinary Scholarship given out yearly by the White Mountains of New Hampshire chapter of the ACF. Send to Bryant Alden, President, PO Box 761 North Conway, NH 03860. You can also donate to the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust’s Stewardship Fund (RLHT.ORG) If you mention Phil in your donation letter, they will ensure the monies go directly to the stewardship of the land they manage around Pond in the River and Rapid River

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