The Chef Boiardi Food Company launched in 1928 with a single product: a pre-packaged spaghetti dinner in a carton, served with a little canister of grated parmesan and a large jar of spaghetti sauce. Founded by Ettore “Hector” Boiardi, an Italian chef who supposedly used a wire whisk for a rattle, the company adopted the phonetic “Boy-Ar-Dee” name shortly after. Now, nearly 100 years later, Chef Boyardee’s canned delights are the saving grace of babysitters and picky eaters everywhere. But is canned pasta an acceptable pick after the age of seven, or is it an affront to the pasta gods? Two Takeout staffers sound off.
I’m six years older than my eldest sibling and almost eight years older than the youngest. That meant that, from the time I was old enough to reach the top of the stove, I was spending summers babysitting the brats while our parents worked. (The brats are real people now and I love them very much.) Most days, my mom left us with easily heatable lunch options that didn’t require sharp knives—stuff like ramen noodles, PB&J fixings, and canned Chef Boyardee ravioli, which was my favorite. Canned ravioli was quick and filling, but most importantly, it was fun to eat. I even developed a patented method for juicing maximum flavor out of each bite:
- Spear center of ravioli with fork.
- Gently tap ravioli on side of bowl to remove excess sauce. Light licking is also acceptable.
- Slowly nibble around edges of ravioli until meat pocket is all that remains.
- Use tongue to peel off top of meat pocket. Eat top of meat pocket.
- Use tongue to scoop meat out of meat pocket. Eat meat.
- Eat rest of ravioli wrapper.
In conclusion: canned pasta is great when you’re in a pinch. It’s cheap and it’s fun to eat. It’s not in the same realm as grown-up pasta, but I don’t think it needs to be. It’s an utterly singular treat. Only exception: SpaghettiO’s. SpaghettiO’s are gross.
I am not a food snob. There’s room for all sorts of edible experiences in this world, and I do my best to appreciate whatever I’m eating for exactly what it is. So I would never expect canned pasta to remotely resemble what I, an Italian-American from Brooklyn, eat for Sunday dinner. Still, I’ll never be able to appreciate canned pasta in any way, shape, or form, because I refuse to eat it. I don’t consider this “food snobbery” as much as “a show of respect for my ancestors.” I am not stupid enough to subject myself to the wrath of ghosts.
While I appreciate that canned pasta was popularized by a hardworking Italian immigrant, this is a food that was invented in the 1920s when people were still impressed by that sort of thing. A bunch of ravioli crammed into a metal tube seemed cutting-edge and futuristic, and I understand how exciting something like that can be (I was alive when Go-Gurt was invented and saw with my own eyes how society can radically change). But it’s been just about a century since Chef Boyardee first appeared on supermarket shelves, and in that time, there have been some astounding food innovations. Why, in the 1920s most Americans didn’t even have refrigerators. People ate canned pasta because it was shelf-stable, not necessarily because it was the most delicious option. If Ettore “Hector” Boiardi could have made a frozen pasta dinner instead of a can full of salty mush, I’m sure he would have done it in a second.
If I could travel back in time and taste the real Chef Boiardi’s home cooking, I bet I would lick my plate clean and ask for seconds. As for the pastabominations that bear his name at the grocery store, well, I think that by the year 2021 he would have wanted us to move past them. Maybe we should want that, too.