The culinary world is in mourning today following the death of Friedman Paul Erhardt. The German-born cook better known as “Chef Tell” was 63.
I remember watching Chef Tell on “Regis and Kathie Lee.” He was a fixture on the talk show and his jolly personality complimented the sardonic banter shared by Regis and Kathie Lee who really had no place in the kitchen. Regis regularly poked fun at Erhardt’s thick German accent, but he certainly wasn’t the only one to do so. Erhardt was the subject of many comedy skits on “Saturday Night Live” and he also served as the inspiration for the Swedish chef on “The Muppet Show.”
As for his TV moniker, “Tell” came from Erhardt’s appearance as William Tell in a school play. He earned his chef status after completing years of training in restaurants and hotels throughout Europe.
Years after moving to America the Stuttgart born culinary expert appeared on a local Philadelphia TV show “Dialing for Dollars.” Shortly thereafter, in 1974, Erhardt landed a 90-second cooking spot on a nationally syndicated show, which blossomed into appearances on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” specials for QVC and a PBS program, “In the Kitchen With Chef Tell.”
“He was the first of the great showman chefs,” former restaurant critic Elaine Tait told news reporters following Erhardt’s death. “Up until his era, chefs stayed in the kitchen.”
During the last years of his life Erhardt made the rounds as the owner of several Philadelphia area restaurants, a culinary educator, cookbook author, and spokesman for major cookware and food product lines. He also taught at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. Erhardt’s latest project was one he held close to his heart. A diabetic, Erhardt just completed a new book about cooking for diabetics based on his own experience of working himself off insulin naturally by changing his recipes.
According to family members, Erhardt died of heart failure on Friday at his home about 25 miles east of Allentown, Pennsylvania.