The Real Chef Behind the Chef Boyardee Brand

Weird History Food takes a look at the impressive career of Ettore Boiardi (Hector Boyardee), an immigrant who created a vast Italian food empire that carried an anglicized version of his name on the label.

Chef Hector Boyardee was born in 1897 in Piacenza, Italy, not surprisingly with a very Italian name: Ettore Boiardi. Weird History Food will follow Chef from his humble beginnings as an 11-year-old apprentice to the iconic figure he is today.

Boiardi had been an 11 year old apprentice at a restaurant in Italy before coming to New York. He got a job at the famous Plaza Hotel, working his way up to head chef before too long. Italian food was not nearly as popular in the early 19th century as it is in the present day, so diners were enamored by his creations.

Boiardi then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and opened his first restaurant. His food was so popular that customers always asked for samples of his sauce, a task that Boiardi and his wife handled out of their kitchen using old milk bottles. A local grocer helped Boiardi start his first canning company when it became too much. He asked his brothers to move to Ohio to help with the canning of his food. Production was soon moved to Milton, Pennsylvania, where the empire was born.

Hector took over a food processing plant and began producing and canning the sauce on a larger scale. He persuaded his brother, Mario, who was in New York working with Paul at the Plaza, to come to Cleveland. …And in 1928, the Chef Boyardee food company was born.

The name Boiardi was puzzling to people, so the brothers decided to anglicize their name and remove confusion about its pronunciation.

When it became clear that sales, staff, and customers were having difficulty pronouncing the name of the company, the brothers displayed their collective marketing genius and changed the brand to Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, a phonetic spelling of their family name.

The company was sold to American Home Products in 1946, which spun off its foods to the International Home Foods division in 1996. ConAgra bought IHF in 2000 and currently owns the Chef Boyardee name. While the brand has become a giant, the people of Milton, Pennsylvania, still remember Chef Boyardee very fondly.

Chef’s significant contributions to Milton, Pennsylvania were never forgotten. In 2013, the town erected a statue honoring him at the entrance to the factory. …At the time the statue went up, Chef Boyardee had provided jobs for more than 10,000 workers in the Milton area.

Here’s a 1953 commercial featuring Chef Boyardee

via Boing Boing