Classic Ad Review: The chef whose beef got him canned

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Credit: Chef Boyardee

First, let's separate the man from his macaroni.

Unlike the fictional Betty Crocker, Ettore "Hector" Boiardi was real, and a real culinary prodigy. And it could be argued that his trajectory made him the archetype for today's branded celebrity chefs.

Some highlights, according to the Chef Boyardee website: Boiardi left Italy at age 16 in 1914; he worked in the kitchen of New York City's Plaza Hotel, where by 17 he was head chef; and he opened an Italian restaurant in Cleveland in 1924 and designed a canning process—the basis for a company he founded in 1928. He later sold his business to American Home Products for $6 million (it's now owned by Conagra Brands) and stayed on as a consultant.

Along the way, the website says, Boiardi phoneticized his name so his American sales force could pronounce it. Thus, the name Boyardee and later the brand Chef Boyardee, with its namesake's smiling face, mustache and jaunty toque, were born.

This black-and-white Chef Boy­ardee commercial for Beefaroni, created by Y&R in 1966, became a cultural touchstone. Its earworm jingle ("Hooray...for Beefaroni!") is sung as a wolf pack of children run through Venice to a very long table that seems to seat a cast of thousands and stretch all the way to Rome.

There's not an American kitchen, or mom, in sight, but the jingle became a schoolyard favorite. And it could be argued that the film's visual style, a cross between Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and the running of the bulls, influenced future spots featuring earnest young global citizens—like Prince's spaghetti spot of the late 1960s in which a boy ("Anthony, Anthony!") runs home through Boston for his Wednesday spaghetti dish and, maybe, Coke's teaching the world to sing on an Italian hilltop.

These days, Chef Boyardee is still on store shelves despite a culture favoring fresh food. Maybe that's because the average can or microwavable tub sells for 99 cents—but it's hardly as authentic a taste as that classic spot set in Venice seems to suggest.

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