The Original Celebrity Chef: Chef Boyardee

published May 6, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

If you think chef-branded foods like Ina Garten’s cake mixes and Rick Bayless’s sauces are new to supermarket shelves, think again. A man named Ettore “Hector” Boiardi (pronounced boy-ar-dee, get it?) was a forerunning culinary sell out before there was such a thing. But did you know he once worked as a chef at New York’s Plaza hotel?

This week, TIME chronicled how Boiardi helped shape American Italian food, for better and worse. Following a period as head chef at the Plaza, Boiardi opened his own restaurant in Chicago. After customers started requesting samples of his sauce to take home, Boiardi went into business. But he didn’t remain in control for long. Although he stayed on as spokesperson, he first sold his namesake brand in 1944. Since then, the label has been passed along between conglomerates (currently it’s owned by ConAgra) and has developed a life of its own. What started as Boiardi’s attempt to build a line of affordable Italian meals for American families morphed into a product much more American than Italian.

The Boiardi empire has shifted these days as Hector’s niece, Anna Boiardi, recently published a decidedly more authentic cookbook based on her family’s recipes. Why cook at home what’s marketed in a can? These are the real Boiardi recipes and there’s not a single beefaroni reference anywhere.

Read more: The Rich, Red-Sauce Legacy of Chef Boy-ar-dee at Time

Check it out: Delicious Memories: Recipes and Stories from the Chef Boyardee Family by Anna Boiardi, $18.15 at Amazon