The Real Chef Boyardee

By Robert L. Wolke
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I am the son of a home economics teacher and the brother-in-law of another. In the 1930s, my father was working for the Vincennes Packing (canning) Co. in Indiana when a man came in and said, "I run a restaurant in Cleveland and am catering parties by putting my spaghetti in a bucket. Could spaghetti be canned?"

My father said, "You can can almost anything, but I don't know what it would taste like. Let's try!"

That charming man's name was Hector Boiardi, and my father became the factory superintendent of the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (now Boyardee) company. So I grew up knowing that men should enjoy cooking.

Another thing I learned was that one should always stir with the spoon's rounded side down, rather than sideways. I wonder why that is.

I'll get to your question, but first, I'm delighted to hear personal confirmation of the existence of Chef Boyardee, because rumors have been circulating for years that he wasn't a real person.

Chef Hector Boiardi (1898-1985) -- and that's really his picture on the labels -- was as real as KFC's Colonel Harland Sanders, popcorn's Orville Redenbacher, and the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, who ran a hamburger stand in California in 1954. But sorry, kiddies, Ronald McDonald isn't real.

I don't have to remind you that Chef Boyardee foods are not exactly haute cuisine. Cooked spaghetti that has been soaking in a canned bath of tomato sauce for weeks or months does tend to lose its muscle tone and become flabby, so it is anything but al dente. But kids love it. One need only glance at the Web site to know the age demographic of the company's targeted consumers.

Chef Boyardee, now owned by ConAgra Foods, packages almost every imaginable combination of pasta, tomato sauce, meat, meatballs and cheese -- some in cans, some in microwaveable cups.

About your question: If the spoon is large and held vertically, vigorous stirring might slop some liquid over the rim and out of the pot. But if the spoon is held horizontally with the curve down, it will sail smoothly through the liquid, creating a sort of whirlpool that accomplishes efficient mixing.

I wish my readers wouldn't ask me such earth-shaking questions.

A few weeks ago I bought an inexpensive olive oil labeled "extra-virgin." Despite storing it in my very cold refrigerator after opening it, the oil did not congeal, as it always does with more expensive brands. Does this mean that it was not 100 percent olive oil? Would the congealing vs. the non-congealing of refrigerated olive oil then be an indicator of its quality and purity?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

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