June 11, 2006

Chef Boyardee

In the City section of the New York Times, the F.Y.I. column answers questions with a New York slant. Today, an anonymous reader asks if it is true that Chef Boyardee once worked at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

To be honest, I didn't even know that there was a real Chef Boyardee. Indeed there was, although his actual name was Hector Boiardi.

Hector left the Plaza and opened an Italian restaurant in Cleveland. According to Michael Pollak, who wrote today's column, the turning point in Hector's career occurred when the head of the A&P supermarket chain fell in love with the spaghetti served at the Plaza. The hotel was still using Hector's recipe, and Hector's brother, Paul, who happened to be maitre d' at the hotel, informed the supermarket executive that his brother was unable to launch canned versions of his Italian products.

With the help of A&P, Hector and his brother Paul jump-started the company that has produced a line of "Italian" food that even as a small child, I found needlessly sweet and unctuous. I assume that the spaghetti served at the Plaza bore little resemblance to what we find in the can today.