F O R E WO R D
“I think there’s a little bit of sizzling here. Honestly, I can feel it.
The ions are flying back and forth.” —Regis Philbin I said that while doing a TV show with my friend, the late Chef Tell. That’s what I think about when I think of him. His legacy encompasses not only good food and fun, but also his guts and determination to overcome many obstacles and succeed in his line of work. Details about America’s leading pioneer of the phenomenon of TV showman chefs are revealed in these pages and are well worth reading.
In some ways we were different, but we ended up good friends. I grew up in the Bronx, a borough of New York City named after Jonas Bronck, an early immigrant from Denmark. When I was born, tenement buildings and single homes in the Bronx mixed as well as the Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish cultures that inhabited the area; just as African-American and Hispanic-Americans do now—we all got along.
Chef Tell, on the other hand, was born in Stuttgart, Germany. Their high-rise buildings for the most part were rubble in the aftermath of World War II. The Germans got by on their meager gardens and with C.A.R.E. Packages sent overseas through Philadelphia, which made it
As a young man, I could revisit the Bronx and the neighborhood to which my parents moved on Long Island pretty much any time I wanted. Right across the street from where Edward and Mary Hinz raised six children stood my parents’ house in Mineola on 12th Avenue.
I lived there after my two years of U.S. Navy service, following my graduation from the University of Notre Dame. As a page for NBC, I commuted to Manhattan every day, like many fellow New Yorkers.
Tell left home as a teenager, worked as a cooking apprentice and, after he came to America, he lived far away from his roots. Although his father lived into the 1980s, he lost his mother at an early age. My parents were with me well into my adult life.
Through television our diverse lives crossed paths.
Before Tell and I became celebrities, we started our careers from scratch. We shared an irreverent sense of humor—something we needed to help us get through those lean years. I suppose you could say that we were similar in that respect.
People call me “the hardest-working man in show business,” but Chef Tell was one of the hardest-working chefs I’ve known. He started locally and, like me, went national. His audience, I’ve heard, was actually eight times larger than that of Julia Child.
I like to eat good food; I’ll even go out of my way for it. Aside from the food I could get out of Chef Tell’s appearances on my show, I had to fly all the way to his Grand Cayman Island restaurant to get one of his meals—not that I minded too much, let me tell you, because Chef Tell cooked good food. His Lobster Chef Tell’s Way was incredible!
He aired his cooking shows as syndicated TV segments, and, of course, I worked my daily time slot. More than that, though, we had a lot of fun doing television shows together. It was uncanny how we started from the cue cards, somehow left them way behind—with Chef Tell you never knew where he was going to go—and always came back to the cards to wrap up the show. None of our crew knew what he was going to say; for the most part we worked unscripted. We had a give and take like that, which I liked. The one thing you could count on, though, was Tell’s food was always fresh, always prepared well. When it came to that, he was a very special person and chef. He really knew his art.
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And his desserts were out of this world!
Outside of our work, we became good friends, naturally. My wife, Joy, and I visited Tell and his wife, Bunny, on Grand Cayman Island. The restaurant he operated, The Grand Old House, will always be a place of fond memories for us. The meals were delicious, and Tell’s waitstaff offered great service.
We were fortunate to know Tell and Bunny off-camera, away from the kitchen. Let me tell you, the Philbins enjoyed good times and a few wonderful dinners with the Erhardts at their home at Rum Point.
We came to understand what a love Tell had for our country. He was born a German, but he became a naturalized American citizen. As deeply as his work ethic in food, Tell studied the history of our nation’s struggles leading up to the Revolutionary War. He was well versed in our forefathers’ activities. He loved America, which leads me to the words of His Eminence, the late Cardinal John R. Krol of Philadelphia, “I am conscious of our beloved country, the bold idealism that inspired it; the courage that gave it birth. May God grant that our prayers, the moral integrity of our lives, the clarity of our teaching, and the sincerity of our patriotism, help increase the spiritual resources without which no nation can survive.”
Tell spent much of his career in and around Philadelphia, the bed-rock of our nation’s revolutionary times. Precisely because of the historical significance, he chose to operate restaurants there and started on television there. After he departed the Cayman Islands, he returned to his beloved City of Brotherly Love.
What you saw on-camera was what you got off-camera with Chef Tell. His charisma was a combination of professional perfection, respectfulness and “a lotta, lotta fun.”
I am more than happy to tell you here that his fascinating life’s story, really a timeless recipe of life lessons, is written within the pages of this book. I enjoyed my time with Chef Tell immensely. It’s a shame he is not with us now. But his memory lives on with this book, which I’m sure you will enjoy reading.
Chef Tell—my friend—was a winner.
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