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Former personal chef for Mary Tyler Moore remembers her kindness

A local restaurant owner has more than just a connection to Mary Tyler Moore. Rhubarb's owner John Fleer used to be her personal chef.

She died Wednesday at 80.

Every night, Rhubarb employees prepare to serve many, but long before Fleer owned this restaurant, his cooking experience was much more intimate.

"For the most part, it was me cooking for her, just her and her husband," Fleer said.

Moore lived in New York City during the week and spent weekend in the country.

"It was really like just being part of their family, except I was doing the cooking," Fleer joked.

Moore's country home was close to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduating from there, Fleer had a fellowship at a restaurant focused on nutritional cuisine. Because Moore was diabetic, she wanted a chef tuned in to her dietary needs. Fleer said Moore's personal assistant had a connection to somebody at the Culinary Institute, and he was available and tuned into Moore's needs.

"I would work Monday through Friday in the restaurant, get up Saturday morning, go shopping for her and her husband, go out there through lunch or dinner Sunday," Fleer said.

After New York, Fleer moved for a job in East Tennessee. He lost touch with Moore over time.

"Mary had sent a nice baby outfit when my son Jackson was born, and then we had a couple more correspondences after that, but it had been a long time," he said.

Fleer said they hadn't communicated since the late '90s, but he felt sad she passed away.

"I never was star struck with her at all. She was an incredibly warm and open person, just as you would imagine from possibly seeing her on television," Fleer said.

Fleer said he cared about her a lot, and thinking about the time working for her made him appreciate how far he's come as a chef.

Fleer is a four-time James Beard finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast.

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