Born in 1940 at the beginning of WW II, in Cologne, Germany, Willy Coln began his schooling immediately following the end of the war. At age 11, in 1951, he attended Hotel Restaurant School for 3 years in Cologne, followed by 3 years as chef apprentice in the Rasthaus Hotel, then from 1957-1958 in the Restaurant Hotel Whalfish, both also in Cologne. In 1958 he went to Switzerland and became the commis de cuisine at the St. Godart Hotel followed by the Hotel Rigihof in 1960, both in Zurich.
In 1961 he joined the Holland America Line as a line chef aboard their various ships and in 1963 he received an offer as the head butcher and garde manager at the Savoie Hotel in Blackpool, England.
In 1964, the Hotel Corporation of America (later known as the Royal Sonesta Hotels) made him an offer to work at many of their various properties, starting at the Hotel America in Hartford, Connecticut as chef saucier. After that Chef Coln joined their Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans as chef garde manager; then in 1967 to their Savannah Inn & Country Club as sous chef initially, and then moved up to executive chef, before being transferred back to New Orleans’ Royal Orleans property as sous chef.
In 1969-1972, he was their executive chef at the Sonesta Beach Hotel in Key Biscayne Florida, until the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans on Bourbon Street opened in 1972, and he was transferred back as the executive chef for four more years.
Not getting any younger, in 1976 Chef Willy Coln opened his own restaurant on the west bank of New Orleans’ Mississippi River, and he called it Willy Coln’s Chalet. It received awards from around the world.
In 1979, a local television crew, that later would become the Great Chefs television crew, were taping a “Chefs’ Charity” event for a local school in New Orleans. One of the chefs was Willy Coln. Actually, all of the chefs were so much fun to work with, we decided to try a 13-part series called Great Chefs of New Orleans, and Chef Willy Coln agreed to work with us on it. Willy and 12 other local chefs participated in what eventually became Great Chefs of New Orleans, and history began.
Chef Willy kept the Chalet going for 14 years until 1990, when he had an offer to become the executive chef of the Veranda in the New Orleans Intercontinental Hotel, where he stayed until he retired, just two months before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Some say Chef Willy Coln went out with a bang.