To those of us bent on self deception, January 1st brings with it a host of promises. I'm going to exercise more or I'm going to work harder or I'm going to stop voting Republican. Lofty and admirable goals, all. One of my personal favorites is the vow to eat better. In the wake of holiday binging, the need to moderate food and beverage intake is understandable. Sadly, such resolutions almost invariably fail after a couple of weeks or even just a few days. As such, it only makes sense that I scrap the whole idea and start the year off wrong, and what better way than with a piping hot bowl of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli in tomato and meat sauce?
Since McBone is concerned with All Things Cleveland, we'd like to offer a little backstory on America's favorite brand of canned pasta.
Unlike Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima and Count Chocula, Chef Boyardee was a real person. Ettore Boiardi was born in Italy in 1897 and migrated to New York where he found work in the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel. In time and through his considerable talents, Boiardi rose to become head chef, and various stops at hotel restaurants brought him to Cleveland, where he opened Il Giordano d'Italia in Little Italy. His spaghetti sauce was so beloved, customers would ask to take some home. The obliging chef would send patrons off with milk jars filled with his special concoction.
In time, Boiardi sought to produce and sell his sauce commercially. By the 1930s, he was peddling his spaghetti kits, complete with pasta, sauce and grated cheese, nationally under the easier to pronounce label, Chef Boyardee. The product was popular due to its low cost, about 60-70 cents per unit, and proved a depression-proof enterprise that made Boiardi a wealthy and famous man. His product, compact and convenient, was even used in military rations.
The ensuing decades brought television commercials, further expanding Boiardi's fame:
Ettore Boiardi died in Parma, Ohio in 1985, but his product lives on; even today a can of Chef Boyardee bears the image of its founder, smiling and sporting a proud, white moustache. At the time of his death, the Chef Boyardee brand was raking in over 500 million dollars annually, and you can still find those red cans in most any grocery store. I picked one out for the low, low cost of $2.25.
A can of Beef Ravioli claims, ludicrously, to provide a 'Full serving of vegetables.' One can only presume they are going by the Reagan era definition of vegetable. On the back, the label cites the hopelessly obsolete food pyramid, which for years has been encouraging us to get fat by loading up on carbs. No worries there; this ravioli's got plenty of 'em. Perhaps the most ominous sign, however, is the ConAgra logo branded like some portend of woe and death. For those of you out there, let this be message for you to abort, and abort now. For me, alas, the mission, once begun, must be fulfilled.
Before we sample the chef's sumptuous meal, let's check some nutrition info. A single 15 oz. can of beef ravioli delivers a whopping 70% of our daily recommended intake of sodium. Saturated fat checks in at 30%. This stuff ain't good for you, and it sure isn't organic, but hey, since when was ConAgra ever in the business of health and well being? Sure enough, all the best ingredients are there: monosodium glutamate, textured vegetable protein, corn syrup. Corn syrup? In pasta sauce? Heaven help us.
I open the can and plop its contents into a saucepan--strictly heat n' serve. In a matter of minutes the orange-ish red sauce is bubbling up in a sort of stovetop cesspool. Kidding myself, I want aromas of basil and oregano to fill the kitchen. Instead I'm treated to the stench of death. The closest I can approximate is chewing tobacco spit. My stomach, previously growling, whimpers and trembles in a dark corner of my abdominal cavity.
From saucepan to bowl to spoon to mouth. I think that the beef ravioli being an unmitigated atrocity was a foregone conclusion, but this can of glop constitutes nothing less than food murder. The word 'pasta' shares the same etymology as the word 'paste,' and in this case the common link is particularly apropos. The beef, grade D for sure, is encased in a sticky cocoon that could only satisfy the likes of Mark Osborne, a booger-encrusted classmate from King School who used to squirt Elmer's glue right into his mouth. Coupled with a sauce that would be better suited as an sundae topping, this beef ravioli torments my tastebuds. Though the wine in the photo was meant as a joke, I find myself reaching for the glass, but all the wine in the world couldn't save me from this perversion.
Hours later, I cling to life, typing away to deliver and urgent and perhaps final message: Do NOT eat Chef Boyardee products, and for god's sake, do NOT feed it to your children. They are not healthy, not wholesome and surely not what old Ettore Boiardi was cooking up at Il Giordano back in the 1920s.
McBone salutes Chef Boiardi for his entrepreneurial spirit, but can't help but condemn whatever impulse led to Chef Boyardee as we know it today.