Pasta lovers, get ready, because March 20 is National Ravioli Day, and to celebrate we’ve come up with a list of facts about your childhood favorite Chef Boyardee.
- His name was actually Hector
Or, to be completely accurate, it was Ettore – Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant from Piacenza who changed his first name shortly after arriving in America.
- He catered Woodrow Wilson’s wedding
During his time in West Virginia, Boiardi directed the catering for President Woodrow Wilson’s second marriage to Edith Galt in 1915.
- Boiardi was a renowned chef
Boiardi wasn’t always known as the face of canned ravioli. In Italy, Boiardi began his career as a chef’s apprentice at age 11. Then, in America, he took jobs in Greenbrier, West Virginia and New York City. By the age of 17, Boiardi became a chef at New York’s Plaza Hotel alongside his brother Mario. Eventually, he surpassed his brother and became the head chef.
- He had a restaurant in Cleveland
Boiardi began introducing Italian cuisine into the predominantly French menu at the Plaza Hotel. Eager to expand the concept of an all-Italian restaurant, Boiardi opened II Giardino d’italia in Cleveland. The restaurant became so popular that lines of customers would stretch down the block.
- People loved his spaghetti sauce so much, it was sold in milk bottles
Customers also begged him for his recipes, which he gave them along with serving tips.
- Chef Boyardee was the nation’s largest importer of parmesan cheese at the time
Chef Boyardee also bought a considerable amount of olive oil from Italy.
- He started Chef BOY-AR-DEE in 1928 with his brothers
One day, Boiardi’s brother Paul – who stayed on at the Plaza Hotel as a waiter – served Hector’s spaghetti to John Hartford, the president of A&P supermarkets. Hartford encouraged the Boiardi brothers to go into manufacturing, and so Chef Boy-ar-dee was born and distributed on shelves at A&P supermarkets across the nation.
- The U.S. military commissioned Boiardi to make rations for WWII soldiers
Boiardi closed his plant to civilian production and began making meals for the troops, which included his very own son Mario, who was a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army. His plant was kept open 24 hours a day, becoming the largest supplier of rations during the war.
- The Boiardi brothers were so passionate about their trade that they moved to Pennsylvania to grow tomatoes and mushrooms
Hector wanted fresh tomatoes and mushrooms in his pasta sauce, so he bought land in Milton, Pennsylvania, and built a factory nearby – which is still in operation today.
- Once the war ended, the Boiardi brothers sold the company
Despite the high demand and increased production, the Boiardi company had a hard time keeping up financially. So, Hector and his brothers sold the company to American Home Products in 1946 in order to prevent having to lay-off employees.
- Chef Boiardi still appeared in commercials
Boiardi was a consultant for the company until 1978. He was also the public face of the brand and appeared in several commercials.
- There is a book full of his family recipes
Hector’s grand-niece, Anna Boiardi, is also a chef and author who published a collection of recipes and stories handed down through her family.
[Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for E.S.P., Eat. Sleep. Play., NYC Dinner Series]