Chef Hans Aeschbacher operated at the Chicago nexus of sports, food and fame.

As executive chef at the Chicago Stadium and the United Center in the early 1990s, he cooked for Bulls and Blackhawks players and their families, as well as team owners.

He was like family to the late Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz.

Michael Jordan, Chris Chelios and other athletes called him “Chef” or “Cheffy.”

Two of his closest friends were Blackhawks alumni Stan Mikita and Cliff Koroll.

Mr. Aeschbacher cut a memorable figure.

He grew up Switzerland speaking Swiss German, had a thick accent, broad smile and remarkable knack for recalling names and other details of first encounters.

Mr. Aeschbacher later headed up the kitchen for Smith & Wollensky but maintained close ties to the hockey club, which held executive meetings in a private room at the restaurant.

“He was part of the team, kind of,” said chef Steffen Iserloth, who worked with Mr. Aeschbacher at Smith & Wollensky and later at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

Mr. Aeschbacher enjoyed joining tables full of retired athletes exchanging war stories and was known for telling endearingly flawed jokes.

“He told the worst jokes in the world. The worst,” recalled Stan Mikita’s daughter, Jane Mikita Gneiser. “He’d start with the punchline, or forget the punchline, and remember it 10 minutes later. It was so bad it was funny.”

He was also known for cooking at fundraisers and gathering auction items to benefit a wide range of non-profit organizations, including March of Dimes.

“I learned from him long ago that material possessions aren’t worth anything,” said Mr. Aeschbacher’s namesake son, who works in food services at Meta’s Chicago office.

He recalled his father receiving a basketball that was signed by Michael Jordan and other teammates during the Bulls championship era and immediately donating it. “I was like, ‘Dad, don’t you want to keep it?’ And he said, ‘It’s all about what you leave behind.”’

Mr. Aeschbacher died April 4 after a long illness. He was 80.

When Mr. Aeschbacher’s late wife, Esther, was dying of cancer in 1999 and he struggled paying medical bills, friends hosted a fundraiser at Mike Ditka’s Near North restaurant. Hundreds attended, including sports industry notables Bobby Hull, Mark Grace, Peter Wirtz, Rod Beck, Bob Murray, Pat Brickhouse and Steve Trachsel.

Wayne Gretzky, a friend from a previous gig he had as a chef at the Forum in Los Angeles, sent memorabilia for a silent auction, as did Joe Torre and Scotty Bowman.

Mr. Aeschbacher appeared as a guest chef on local television news programs, his recipes and tips ran in local papers and he was a popular guest with several well known radio personalities like former WLS host Steve Dahl and ESPN 1000 host Marc “Silvy” Silverman.

“I think the reason he maintained real relationships with so many people for so long was because he was memorable and friendly and warm,” said friend and fellow ESPN 1000 host Carmen DeFalco.

“We’d go to Blackhawks games together, and he’d come with me and Silvy to try out new restaurants, and he came on Silvy’s bachelor party weekend in New Buffalo,” he said, noting that Mr. Aeschbacher was a constant defender of his old friend Bill Wirtz, a controversial figure among Blackhawks fans, and that he signed off all voicemails with: “Auf wiedersehen, my friend.”

Mr. Aeschbacher was born Jan. 28, 1944, in a town not far from Bern, Switzerland. His father, Robert Hans Aeschbacher, was a civil engineer. His mother, Erna Bertha Haag, was a homemaker.

When Mr. Aeschbacher was 8, he was out picking wild strawberries for his mother to can for winter. He decided to pick a few extra and walk into town to sell them. It began to storm and he sought shelter at the Hotel Baren, a resort in the small Swiss town of Twann. The woman in charge of the resort’s kitchen took him in, bought the strawberries and fed him.

To show thanks, he cleaned a 16-pound fish for her and she asked if he could come back to help out in the kitchen. He apprenticed there for three years, went on to study culinary arts and business and worked at fine dining restaurants in England and elsewhere in Europe. He served his mandatory military service in the Swiss Army as a chef.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Aeschbacher, an avid skier, came to the United States on a visa to work at a ski resort in Northern Michigan, where he discovered chili, hot dogs and cheeseburgers, and the unfortunate fact the ski slopes in the Midwest are not comparable to the Alps.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Aeschbacher to find his culinary footing in his adoptive country. In the early 1970s he worked at the French restaurant La Cheminee in the Gold Coast before heading up the kitchen at Lawry’s Prime Rib for more than a decade.

“I remember Harrison Ford was eating at Lawry’s once and my dad brought a phone to his table to say hello to me because I was a huge Indiana Jones fan and I was home from school that day sick as a dog,” his son recalled. “We spoke for like 10 minutes and he was such a swell guy.”

Through his work as a chef, Mr. Aeschbacher also knew film director John Hughes, a connection that paved the way for an Aeschbacher family visit to the set of “Uncle Buck,” which filmed around Chicago.

“We went into John Candy’s trailer and he was so cool and nice and my dad gave him a Swiss Army knife,” recalled Mr. Aeschbacher’s son.

For a few years beginning in 1986 Mr. Aeschbacher had his own place, Chef Hans’ Restaurant and Lounge at 7011 N. Western Ave.

In 2010 Mr. Aeschbacher helped open Chicago Cut Steakhouse and guided the restaurant through its first turn as host on Thanksgiving.

“He sat down with all the guys in the kitchen and me and said ‘OK, we’re going to get here at 2 a.m., and that means you all have to be in bed at 8 p.m., and I want you to call me so I can hear there’s no background music,’” said David Flom, managing partner at Chicago Cut.

“We showed up and he was dressed in all whites, like he was in the fanciest restaurant in Paris, and worked for 14 hours straight showing everyone the right way to make turkey, gravy, stuffing, everything, for 800 people.”

Mr. Aeschbacher treated everyone the same, from pro athlete to dishwasher, said Matt Moore, another managing partner at Chicago Cut.

“He wore his heart on his sleeve and had the mentality of ‘We’re all in this thing together,” Iserloth said.

For decades, Mr. Aeschbacher was an avid supporter of the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Kevin Delaney, who was a participant as a kid and now runs the organization, visited Mr. Aeschbacher nearly every Friday and brought him lunch at the care facility in Niles where he spent the last portion of his life.

“He would do the same for me,” said Delaney, who noted that Mr. Aeschbacher always insisted he bring enough food for staff and his friends at the facility.

“I didn’t mind doing it at all. It tells you the type of person he was,” he said.

“He challenged himself and challenged us to make a difference in other people’s lives,” said his friend Joanne Madura.

In addition to his son, Mr. Aeschbacher is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth.

A visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. April 18 at Cumberland Chapels in Norridge.

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