Chef Boyardee: Italian Icon
Quote for Today: I’m gonna have the Beefaroni. And, some Teenage Mutant Turtles for the lady. Brian Regan
Food icons have been around for a long time. One of my favorites was Gidget Chipperton, the Taco Bell Chihuahua who rode the airwaves from 1997 until 2001. Sadly Gidget had a short run and passed away in 2009. Others have been around longer and have actually been human. Uncle Ben’s of Converted Rice fame has been around since the 1940’s. However the man on the box was Frank Brown, a Chicago Maitre d’ who posed for the picture on the box. Others have been the real McCoy such as Colonel (Harlan) Sanders, Howard Johnson, Marie Callender, Little Debbie, and the man who was born on this date in 1897, Chef Boyardee.
Ettore “Hector” Boiardi
His name was actually Ettore “Hector” Boiardi and was born in Piacenza, Italy. He began working in kitchens at eleven years of age and at sixteen he arrived in Ellis Island, New York. Here he got a position in the kitchens of New York’s Plaza Hotel where his brother worked as a waiter. He became the Head Chef there before the age of twenty which is remarkable.
After being lured to Cleveland by the owners of the Windham Hotel, he later decided to open his own restaurant “Il Giardina d’ Itlia” in the booming Little Italy of Cleveland, and he wasn’t even thirty at the time.
Little Italy Cleveland
The cuisine of Italy was, and is, diverse and interesting. But back then in America, it was based on inexpensive meals, prepared by poor immigrants looking for a new way of life. This translated into a lot of pasta and sauce that Ettore was good at it. His customers loved his sauce and wanted to take it home. He was more than happy to give it to them. In the beginning, he sold it in old milk bottles to take home and enjoy Ettore Boiardi on their own. He quickly needed to expand and moved his take-home operation to the building next door. As the business continued to grow he changed the products name to Chef Boyardee and moved his operation to Pennsylvania. For his work, producing rations, supplying American and Allied Troops during World War II, he was awarded a Gold Star Order of Excellence by the United States War Department.
Chef Boyardee became the leading canned food on the market after the war and Ettore continued to work developing new Italian products for the American market until his death in 1985. At the time, the Chef Boyardee line was grossing 500 million a year for International Home Foods. ConAgra owns the brand today and continues to use the Chef’s likeness on these products from Milton, Pennsylvania.
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