Unlike the friendly but fictional food faces of Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, Chef Boyardee — that jovial, mustachioed Italian chef — is real. Ettore "Hector" Boiardi (that’s how the family really spells it) founded the company with his brothers in 1928, after the family immigrated to America from Italy.
Stewart, Tabori & Chang "Enjoy Ravioli as truly Italian as the Tower of Pisa," read a Chef Boyardee ad that ran in Ladies’ Home Journal. Click Here To See A Larger Version Of The Ad Though America came to know him as Chef Boyardee — in the apron and trademark tall hat — Anna Boiardi knew him simply as Uncle Hector. Anna carried on her family’s culinary tradition; her new book, Delicious Memories, is part cookbook, part family history and part homage to her ancestors — immigrants who made their way in a new country.
The Beginning Of A Business
"Italian food at the turn of the century wasn’t what it is today," Boiardi tells NPR’s Michele Norris. "All of the finer restaurants were French restaurants."
The family settled in Cleveland, where they thought they could open a successful Italian restaurant. "They had a real understanding of food," Boiardi says. It was a generation of people who "grew up in kitchens, so food was really their education."
Chef Boiardi’s Restaurant in Cleveland was a success, and customers expressed interest in learning how to make Italian dishes at home. So the Boiardis started sending people home with pasta, sauce and cheese and teaching them how to cook, heat and assemble the dishes themselves.
That’s what got the family thinking: " ‘What if we started jarring our sauce and selling it? Would it sell?’ " Boiardi says. "That was really this germ of an idea … that eventually turned into Chef Boyardee."
Delicious Memories: Recipes and Stories from the Chef Boyardee Family By Anna Boiardi Hardcover, 208 pages Stewart, Tabori