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Chef Tell was one of the first culinary celebrities, giving cooking demonstrations on television beginning in the 1970s.
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Born Friedman Paul Erhardt in Germany in 1943, Chef Tell started his culinary training at the age of 14. He earned a master's degree from the University of Heidelburg in 1970, and moved to the United States a short time later. In 1974, Chef Tell made his first television appearance. He then had his own segment on Evening Magazine and later his own show, In the Kitchen with Chef Tell, on public television. Chef Tell died on October 26, 2007.
Born Friedman Paul Erhardt in Stuttgart, Germany on November 5, 1943, Chef Tell was the son of a newspaper owner. He earned the nickname "Tell" after playing William Tell in a school play. Chef Tell discovered his passion for all things culinary at an early age. At the age of 14, he started his chef training as an apprentice.
In 1970, Chef Tell earned a master's degree in cooking from the University of Heidelburg. He had a very distinguished career in Europe, including being named "Chef of the Year" in Germany. Before long, Chef Tell decided to try his luck on the other side of the Atlantic. He met and married his second wife, Janet Louise Nicoletti, a former Miss Philadelphia, and moved to her hometown.
Chef Tell made his first appearance on television in 1974, on a local Philadelphia show called Dialing for Dollars. At the time, he was the chef at a hotel in the area. He went on to appear on the syndicated show Evening Magazine, where he delighted audiences with his cooking demonstrations. "He was the first of the great showman chefs," restaurant critic Elaine Tait told the Philadelphia Inquirer, her former place of employment. "[Tell was] a good, classically trained chef, who presented himself with a lot of personality. Up until his era, chefs stayed in the kitchen."
With his dramatic mustache and his thick German accent, Chef Tell enjoyed great popularity. He became such a pop culture icon that he was even spoofed on Saturday Night Live and reportedly served as the inspiration for the Muppet character known as "The Swedish Chef." Over the years, he made appearances on the daytime talk show Regis and Kathie Lee, and hosted a cooking show on PBS, In the Kitchen with Chef Tell.
Chef Tell also operated a number of restaurants in Pennsylvania, which were sometimes frequented by famous personalities. Former president Richard Nixon was just one of his satisfied customers. Nixon even helped Chef Tell apply for American citizenship in the mid-1980s.
Chef Tell spent his last years on sharing his culinary knowledge, working as an instructor at the Walnut Hill College Restaurant School. He also created a cookbook for diabetics, a disease that he had been battling himself. On October 26, 2007, Chef Tell died of heart failure at his home in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. He was survived by his third wife, Bunny, and his son from his first marriage, Torsten.
In many ways, Chef Tell was one of the first celebrity chefs. He ran several restaurants, endorsed his own product lines and developed a strong fan base, paving the way for the likes of Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray.
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