Yes, there really was a chef.

In 1898, Hector Boiardi, the boy would be chef, was born in Northern Italy. Showing an interest in food from a young age, he was already working in restaurant kitchens by age 11. He moved to New York in 1915, where his brother, who worked as a waiter, helped get Hector a job working in the kitchen at the Plaza Hotel. That job was followed by others, including one at the famous Ritz-Carlton and as his reputation increased, he found himself at the Hotel Greenbrier in West Virginia, catering President Woodrow Wilson's wedding.

Later on, he worked as chef at Cleveland's Hotel Winton and in 1924 opened his own restaurant: Il Giardino d'Italia ("Garden of Italy"). Here the diners would walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room. Soon patrons were asking if they could get take-home orders of his popular spaghetti sauce and taking that as a cue, Boiardi began selling portions in milk bottles. Later he offered dry pasta and his special grated cheese for the sauce. His products were a big hit and he began producing them on the restaurant's vacant second floor. He packaged the spaghetti in a box featuring his face and the slogan: "Just 12 minutes to prepare."

By 1928, the spaghetti operation had moved to another location and in 1937 its own processing plant was built. At that time, it was already a two million dollar a year business. When they had begun to discuss nationwide distribution, Hector decided to change his name to the more "Americanized" Boyardee. Business was especially good and he moved from Cleveland, where the operation had grown too big, to Pennsylvania. (During WWII he contributed to the war effort by using his factory to make food rations.)

His company merged with American Home Foods (later International Home Foods) in 1946, though "Boyardee" remained an important part of and adviser to the business until his death in 1985. He also remained active in the restaurant business.

A scholarship in his (real) name was established to be used for students studying in the area of culinary arts and/or hospitality management. It is offered at many colleges.

And that picture on the can? Yeah, that's him.

(Primary source was: the Chef Boyardee site at www.chefboy.com)

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