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'Chef Tell' Erhardt, Early TV Chef, Dies at 63

Friedman Paul Erhardt, a German-born cook known as "Chef Tell" who was one of America's pioneering television chefs, has died. He was 63.

Erhardt died of heart failure on Friday at his home in Upper Black Eddy, about 25 miles east of Allentown, his family said.

Erhardt's jolly personality, thick German accent and wit made him a fixture on television shows such as "Regis and Kathie Lee" and comedy skits on "Saturday Night Live." He was also said to be the inspiration for the Swedish chef on "The Muppet Show."

"Tell was able to incorporate humor and the entertainment factor into his cooking," Victoria Lang, who regularly produced Erhardt's segments for "Regis and Kathie Lee," told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Born in Stuttgart, the son of a newspaper owner, Erhardt earned the nickname "Tell" after playing William Tell in a school play. He trained in restaurants and hotels throughout Europe.

He made his first appearance on a local Philadelphia TV show "Dialing for Dollars" in 1974. That was followed by 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 Inquirer restaurant critic Elaine Tait said. "Up until his era, chefs stayed in the kitchen."

He was also known on the Philadelphia dining scene as the owner of several restaurants in the 1970s and 80s and as a culinary educator, cookbook author, and spokesman for major cookware and food product lines.

For the last 2 1/2 years, Erhardt taught at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.

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.