A biography is more than a summary of one person’s lifetime; it is a platform for life lessons that are timeless. Friedemann Paul Erhardt’s lifetime rose out of the dying embers of World War II, crossed the skies above two continents, and burned out too soon. The trajectory of this star-crossed ball of fire came with the TV persona “Chef Tell.”
Erhardt’s arc began when a young boy listened to his mother’s advice, “If you become a chef, you will never go hungry.” Later, he sought to cook for the world to share his personal knowledge and love for food. When Erhardt won an audition for a new show concept in the (then) infant days of syndicated television in the early 1970’s, a new category of chefs was born: the “TV Showman Chef.” (A title bestowed by Philadelphia Inquirer food editor and writer, Elain Tait.)
Within weeks, while Julia Child appeared on regional TV, Chef Tell picked up more than 40,000,000 adoring foodie fans across the nation, also performing live cooking demonstrations in public venues to as many as 20,000 people on a weekend.
Suddenly, Chef Tell was famous, overworked and getting rich. It would not be too much to say that Erhardt as Chef Tell was, in fact, America’s first “Rock-Star” chef.
FRESH INGREDIENTS, FRESH TASTE
Chef Tell’s characteristic signature for all of his cooking was twofold:
- He only used the freshest possible ingredients, and
- his food always tasted good.
As a matter of principle, Erhardt rose before dawn every day to oversee personally the purchase of foods that would be prepared and cooked in his restaurants or on a TV show set. The freshness and quality of his food choices, as well as his kitchen skills and made-for-television, ebullient personality, brought him more appearances than any other chef on the hottest morning TV show in the nation, LIVE! with Regis & Kathie Lee (later known as LIVE! with Regis & Kelly). When Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa tried Tell’s freshly prepared food on-air and commented favorably, they were ad-libbing their glowing remarks, not reading prepared scripts. (Most other chefs had their foods prepared for them, instead of selecting fresh ingredients and preparing the foods themselves. The crews dismissed eating their foods but clamored for Chef Tell’s!)
While the previous paragraph teases us with merely a taste of Chef Tell’s thrill-ride, celebrity life, the off-camera portions are more satisfying and easily ingested by reading the biography, CHEF TELL The Biography of America’s Pioneer TV Showman Chef (Forewords by Emmy-winner TV hosts, Regis Philbin and Chef Walter Staib; published by Skyhorse Publishing. 452 pages: hardcover, eBook and AudioBook.)
Readers can discover:
- how he survived the detritus of post-war living;
- the discovery of his mother’s lifeless body when he was to begin a three-year, mandatory cooking apprenticeship;
- the verbal abuses and kitchen projectiles thrown at him as he developed into Germany’s youngest master chef;
- his life inside an American corporate culinary culture that banished chefs to the confines of their kitchens and discouraged innovation; and
- the rigors of executive cheffing three restaurants while taping TV shows, making live appearances on TV talk shows and traveling across the country to regale crowds of adoring fans looking for more of his humor and cooking wisdom.
And all of that was just his on-air, on-camera life!
The personal side of Erhardt’s lifetime fascinates readers just as much. There they find the marital bliss and destruction that he faced more than once, and how he emerged mostly unscathed from self-created conflagrations with single women. Through it all, garnering lifelong friendships and overcoming hardships that he had to learn how to master and out-live, Erhardt searched for a long-lasting relationship with one soulmate. And he ended up winning each and every dream he pursued, giving us lessons that we can all use in our quests for happiness.
Chef Tell entertained his fans and loved his celebrity life, but Friedemann Paul Erhardt was just as happy to be someone that his cats and dogs, and closest friends, could always count on to be there for them.
Despite the adversities he had to overcome, Erhardt left us with an important legacy: Persistence toward, and achievement of, desired goals is not only possible, but also a must for surviving a lifetime worth living.
The biography written by Ronald Joseph Kule is available everywhere online, and through the author’s website.
© 2015 by Ronald Joseph Kule. All Rights Reserved.