Tag Archives: Iron Chef

celebrity chefs remember Chef Tell

15 Nov

“Chef Tell was a man of great humor and incredible skills in the kitchen. He brought wonderful food to the table as well as love and laughter. Author Ronald Joseph Kule did an impeccable job bringing to life Chef’s humor and passion for food,” wrote Iron Chef Cat Cora about the recently released biography of the American culinary icon.

“The culinary atmosphere in Tell’s time, unlike the competitiveness that exists today, was one of great cooperation among chefs. That ambiance was created among his peers and his audiences by Chef Tell, who made cooking fun,” wrote Chef Walter Staib, TV host of the PBS series, A Taste of History.

“Chef Tell etait une speciale, homme tres special.” (“Chef Tell was a special, a very special man.”) Acclaimed and honored French chef ,Georges Perrier, commented in an interview regarding his friend.

“I saw how everyone seemed to know Tell and how they treated him respectfully. I got my first taste of the celebrity lifestyle up close and personal and I was impressed,” said Executive Chef John Barrett of the Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, then hired by Tell to work in his newly acquired Manor House restaurant and then invited to accompany him on a trip to a friend’s wedding on Grand Cayman Island. He continued, “Tell is a chef’s chef, someone I wanted to work with.”

Wherever Chef Tell ventured he worked cooperatively with his peers. In the early days of his cooking career as a lowly apprentice he had the backs of his contemporaries when their mentors got too out of line or kicked one of them too hard. In fact, given the opportunity one afternoon, Tell “accidentally” locked inside of a walk-in freezer the group’s fiercest executive chef just to give him a taste of his own medicine and to recover a morsel of respect for all of the other apprentices. That day may have witnessed the young Tell’s first standing ovation for work accomplished in the kitchen.

Chef Tell was royalty to the best of his contemporaries. The renowned chef David Bouley stepped up to the plate when Chef Tell walked into Bouley in Manhattan with a large group eager to have lunch there. Disregarding other celebrity diners seated nearby, Bouley personally took Tell’s order of several entrees for the entire party and then prepared the foods and delivered them himself, including one of his distinctive desserts.

If Tell’s brand of celebrity status to this date has been missed by younger generations, it is only because his life story has not seen the light of day in modern publications, until the release of his biography which is beginning to fill the vacuum of Chef Tell’s absence. Here and there, people are remembering the tall German chef and reading his story, which is capturing the minds and hearts — even the palates, since there are recipes in the book — of younger readers. From a 40’s-Something reader, “Chef Tell was a larger-than-life figure. I had no idea, because my generation missed him completely, but in my mind I am comparing him to any “rock star” or sports figure around today. His biography successfully captures and portrays the essence of how famous this guy was — what a rags-to-riches story!”

As more celebrity chefs find the time to read about the chef who blazed the television trail on which they stand, the kudos come in, agreeing with legendary TV host Regis Philbin, “I think there’s a little bit of sizzling here. Honestly, I can feel it. The ions are flying back and forth… it’s a shame he’s not with us now, but his memory lives on with this book.”

 

Synopsis: CHEF TELL The Biography of America’s Pioneer TV Showman Chef

27 Jul

Before Julia… before Wolfgang, Paul, Emeril, Jacques, Bobby, Mario, Gordon, Rachel, Jamie, Martin, James, Charlie, Thomas, Anthony and Sara and Cat*… there was Chef Tell!

“Tell started all this television madness about chefs.” – Regis Philbin

If bombs raining on Stuttgart and empty years of near-starvation had not killed him; if family opposing his dream to cook for others could not deter him; if ducking the crush of physical blows, verbal zingers and pots and pans from fiery, kitchen mentors never dissuaded him and his mother’s suicide had not dashed his creative outlook toward living or his spirited bravado… the simple task of winning an outdoor park audition for a cooking slot on a TV show would not deny Friedemann Paul Erhardt his place in culinary history:

Empty-handed, Tell steps up to his mark, faces the camera and uses his wit, personality and imagination alone to win the contest, birthing a whole new breed of television star: the TV showman chef.

“Chef Tell” is America’s pioneer TV showman chef.  Within weeks, he appears on-air in 30 cities. Within months, 40,000,000 avid fans in 114 cities—approximately eight times the viewing audience of his contemporary Julia Child—tune in to Evening Magazine or PM Magazine to watch him perform his 90-second, cooking segments, three times a week.  The day after, water-cooler conversationalists and radio talk-show hosts across America mimic his lines. Personal appearances on the Mike Douglas Show; the Dinah Shore Show; the Merv Griffin Show, the Jon Davidson Show, and live cooking demonstrations in shopping malls and convention centers, add fuel to the German-American prairie fire that is sweeping the nation.

No one has ever seen anyone like him: Chef Tell cooks fast, entertains, teaches and makes America feel confident enough to try cooking his way.  A cavalcade of fan mail, more than 1,000 letters daily, blossoms into 14,000 pieces of mail weekly.  Excited crowds cheer him at airports and laugh at his live-show quips.  In Capitol Center in Baltimore, Maryland, he draws 20,000 people to his five cooking shows on one weekend.

PM Magazine gushes over their new “rock-star chef,” which in 95 percent of their syndicated outlets draws up to 50-percent market share. Detroit’s Kelly & Company conducts a “Chef Tell Look-Alike” contest, and local stations in Greensboro, Dallas and other cities and towns follow suit.

Tell’s appeal—ruggedly masculine yet comfortable in the kitchen—crosses gender and generational lines of television viewers.  Kids think he is the Swedish Chef from Sesame Street.  Twenty and thirty-year-old, female and male home cooks swoon over his engaging style and simple recipes.

“If a housewife, or man, sees me do something in 90 seconds they figure they can make it in five minutes,” Tell says, adding, “Most recipes are over-complicated anyway.  You see recipes in Gourmet Magazine… five of the ingredients are out of the country and three more you can’t find!”

Amazingly, Tell has no clue as to how extensive his influence is: “All of a sudden, everybody knows me, everybody’s my friend,” writes Erhardt to a friend, “I just can’t believe it.”

Yet, for all the glamour and glory of the Chef Tell public persona, Tell Erhardt suffers an inner lack of peace and understanding. The scars of his childhood and his mother’s ignominious suicide drive him through three restaurants—one on Grand Cayman Island, which he promotes on numerous appearances on LIVE! with Regis & Kathy Lee, two marriages, another suicide, sporadic drug use and clandestine sexual conquests before he finds the two measures of personal happiness that he has sought all along: an honest and loyal love from a woman he can trust implicitly and love boundlessly, and the production of his own syndicated television show (after turning down, on the legal advice of another, The Food Network’s historic, first contract offer).

When a new breeze catches the mainsail of his storied career vessel, and he opens two more restaurants that flourish, tragedy strikes.  Two untimely falls lead to ill health, lawsuits, marital strife and a (fortunate) discovery of a diabetic condition.

But Tell recovers everything. He kicks his medications and manhandles his diabetes with dietary changes and exercise. He loses 100 pounds, rehabilitates his marriage and begins research on his sixth cookbook—one was a 230,000-copy best-seller—loaded with diabetic recipes. In the Kitchen with Chef Tell airs on PBS locally, pulls high ratings and gets picked up on syndication.  His public remembers him.  Once again they tune in to watch and be entertained. Requests for recipes jam station mailboxes ten years after he left the mainland for Grand Cayman. Redemption is right around the corner!

But on Friday morning, October 26, 2007, Tell never reaches his cooking class at Chestnut Hill College. Instead, he collapses and dies alone at home, surrounded by family photos, and the tokens and tributes of his many accomplishments. Bunny, Tell’s wife, already informed of his passing, will return from her business trip late that night in a driving rain storm.

The next day messages of surprise, shock and reminiscence flood the internet, including this: “Chef Tell has died? Stick a fork in him, he’s done.”

Chef Tell would have loved that.

(* Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsey, Rachel Ray, Jamie Oliver, Martin Yan, James Scott, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, Sara Moulton and Cat Cora…)

Chef Tell in Grand Cayman Islands

Chef Tell in Grand Cayman Islands

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