Ann Shelton, a chef whose traditional French regional dishes helped make Wulff’s a landmark Sacramento restaurant for almost 20 years, died Jan. 19. She was 84.
A widow with no children, Mrs. Shelton died of an “ongoing illness,” according to her fiduciary, Carolyn M. Young.
Opened in 1972, when there were few white-tablecloth restaurants on the local dining scene, Wulff’s was one of Sacramento’s most distinguished and popular dinner houses. Despite a secluded location behind a Swanson’s Cleaners off Fair Oaks Boulevard, nearly every table and bar stool was occupied nightly until proprietors Horace and Helen Wulff decided to retire and close the business in 1991.
Along with excellent service and a warm, sophisticated decor, Wulff’s offered French country cooking that was hearty, familiar and excellent. Mrs. Shelton, who worked in the kitchen since the beginning and quickly became chef, drew a loyal following with classic duck, rabbit and lamb dishes, along with specials of fresh fish and poultry.
She eschewed trends but added a few lighter dishes to the menu in later years amid growing public concern about excessive fat and cholesterol in the American diet.
“She cooked like her mother cooked,” Horace Wulff said. “Several of the recipes that she used were recipes of her mother’s that she used from memory.”
Although never trained formally as a chef, Mrs. Shelton was well-versed in the home cooking of her native France and had “a lot of talent and a lot of get-up-and-go,” Wulff said.
In 1980, she won a bronze medal as an independent competitor at the international Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. She belonged to the board of directors of the California Chefs Association, a branch of the American Culinary Federation of the Academy of Chefs.
“I’m not a great chef,” she liked to say, “but I’m a good cook.”
Primativa “Ann” Shelton was born March 25, 1929, in Meaux, France. Before arriving in Sacramento in 1972, she married American serviceman Stanley Shelton and cooked for big military parties in France and Germany.
Mrs. Shelton shared her talents outside Wulff’s. Besides cooking demonstrations at charity events, she appeared many times on KCRA Channel 3. She taught cooking classes for Arden Park Recreation and Park District and at Mather Air Force Base.
She catered private parties occasionally after Wulff’s closed. She sewed and knitted for relaxation, and for many years she lived in the Arden Park neighborhood.
Mrs. Shelton, whose husband died last year, was in declining health in recent years after several strokes and a tumor, friends said. She spent the last six months at the Palms, an assisted-living home, where she was visited by friends and workers in the restaurant industry, owner Jim Marshall said. She helped the staff prepare one of her signature dishes – pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon – and enjoyed sharing stories about food and recipes.
“She was back in her element,” Marshall said. “She was very charming and knew her stuff. If something had a bit too much salt or was not quite up to snuff, she’d taste it and smile and say, ‘Hmmmm.’ She was very sweet.”
A memorial is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 31 at Andrews & Greilich Mortuary, 3939 Fruitridge Road, Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.