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Friedemann Paul Erhardt (November 5, 1943 – October 26, 2007) was a German American pioneering early television chef. He was known as "Chef Tell" to his fans.[1] He is widely regarded as one of the first chefs to enjoy widespread popularity on American television. Erhardt's thick German accent reportedly made him the inspiration for the Swedish Chef, a well known Muppet character on The Muppet Show.[1]


Early life

Friedemann Paul Erhardt was born in Stuttgart, Germany [1] on November 5, 1943. He was the son of a German newspaper publisher.[1] Erhardt earned the nickname "Tell", which millions of television viewers would later call him, at an early age, when he played the character William Tell in a school play.[1]

Erhardt trained in several hotels and restaurants in Europe before moving to the United States[1] when he was 28 years old.


Erhardt made his first television debut on a local Philadelphia television show called Dialing for Dollars in 1974.[1] He was employed at a chef at the Marriott Hotel on City Line Avenue at the time.[2] Now more commonly known as Chef Tell, his work on the show later earned him a regular 90-second cooking spot on a nationally syndicated show, PM Magazine.[1] He often used the phrase, with his thick accent, "very simple, very easy" while cooking during his PM Magazine spots. His career led to guest appearances on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and earned Chef Tell time on QVC.[1] He also hosted a show on PBS called In the Kitchen With Chef Tell.[1] Chef Tell was known for using humor in his cooking shows. "He was the first of the great showman chefs," commented Elaine Tait, the former restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Up until his era, chefs stayed in the kitchen."[1]

Chef Tell's popularity and German-accented personality earned him a place in American popular culture. He was often parodied in comedy skits on Saturday Night Live and became a regular guest on Regis and Kathie Lee.[1]

In addition to his work in television, Chef Tell also worked in a number of other culinary positions. He owned several restaurants in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s.[1] He later opened two restaurants in neighboring Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the short-lived Harrow Inne in Ottsville and the famous Chef Tell’s Manor House in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. He also owned the Grand Old House, on Grand Cayman Island, for some time. He baked an enormous cake for Donald Duck's 50th birthday in 1984, which was part of a grand celebration at Walt Disney World in Florida. The restaurant in Cayman has a photo of the chef and the duck and the cake on the wall.

Former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who often visited his daughter Julie Eisenhower in Pennsylvania, sometimes dined at another of Chef Tell's restaurants in Wayne.[3] Nixon personally sponsored Erhardt's citizenship application in 1986.[3] Nixon appeared as the guest speaker at his oath of citizenship ceremony.[3]

Chef Tell became a spokesperson for major corporate food and cookware product lines.[1] He also wrote and edited cookbooks,[1] including a cookbook written specifically for people with diabetes.[3] Erhardt was a diabetic himself.[3]

Tell spent the last two and half years of his life teaching culinary skills at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia.[1]


Chef Tell died on October 26, 2007 of heart failure at his home in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania.[1] He was 63 years old.[1] He was survived by his wife of 19 years, Bunny, his son, Torsten, and a grandson. [3]

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