Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: The Swedish Chef

WMW Swedish Chef
Written by Ryan Dosier.


Performed by…swedish-chef
Jim Henson (1975-1990)
Bill Barretta (1996-present)

First appearance…
The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)

Most recent appearance…
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Best known role…
Incomprehensible, inedible Swede cook

Famous quote…
“Børk! Børk! Børk!”

The Swedish Chef is one of the most popular Muppet characters, well known for his indecipherable language, referred to as “Mock Swedish,” and for cooking up dishes that were made from false ingredients or live animals (see: Chocolate Moose, Chick-ee in the Bask-ee, etc.). On The Muppet Show, The Swedish Chef hosted his own series of sketches in which he cooked and was usually foiled by his own methods or his own ingredients.

In his first appearance in The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence pilot, The Swedish Chef’s schtick was pretty much solidified. He appeared in a three-part sketch in the pilot where he prepared a sandwich with fixings including a rubber chicken. Eventually the sandwich flies away, but the Chef shoots it down with a gun. The main difference in this first sketch that changed when The Muppet Show came along was some odd Chinese subtitles that accompanied the Chef’s dialogue. This joke apparently only proved funny once, so it was dropped after the pilot.

The Swedish Chef sketches were quite formulaic, yet each one was extremely different. In one sketch, The Swedish Chef could be making pressed duck with a real duck, and in the next he could be shot up and intimidated by lobster banditos. On a few occasions, The Muppet Show‘s guest stars participated in the Chef’s sketches, including Cleo Laine who sang “You’re Just in Love” while the Chef made salad and Danny Kaye who played The Swedish Chef’s uncle. More often than not the Chef is unsuccessful with his cooking, but every once in awhile he completes his dish and survives the sketch.

Throughout the run of The Muppet Show, The Swedish Chef appeared dozens of times preparing various meals. He also appeared multiple times backstage, onstage, and in other areas outside of his own sketch. The Chef notably dished on rumors to Fleet Scribbler, admitted that he speaks “Mock Japanese” to Jean Stapleton, and, most notably of all, sang “Danny Boy” as part of The Leprechaun Brothers trio consisting of Animal, Beaker, and the Chef himself.

The Swedish Chef has also appeared in almost every major Muppet project since The Muppet Show, including every feature film. In The Muppet Movie, The Swedish Chef ran the movie projector for the Muppets’ private screening. He made steering wheel souffle from Beauregard’s taxi cab in The Great Muppet Caper. During the “Manhattan Melodies” finale of The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Swedish Chef sang a line in the song “Somebody’s Getting Married” and prepared the wedding cake for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. He appeared briefly in both The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, both times with talking vegetables. In Muppets From Space, the Chef tries to make raspberry flapovers, but fails after his oven explodes. In The Muppets, the Chef appears mostly in the background, but can be seen hugging a group of chickens after Tex Richman wins the Muppet Theater.

Other notable appearances by The Swedish Chef outside The Muppet Show include trying to cook Big Bird in A Muppet Family Christmas, preparing tofu turkey in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, Muppet viral videos such as “Stars and Stripes FOREVER!,” “Habanera,” “Cårven Der Pümpkîn,” “Carol of the Bells,” and his starring role in “Pöpcørn.”

The Swedish Chef played minor to secondary roles in both The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).

The Swedish Chef has also appeared in numerous books, video games, and on countless pieces of merchandise. In fact, in 1988, The Swedish Chef received his own brand of cereal called Cröonchy Stars. Since then, the Chef has appeared on t-shirts, in doll, toy, and action figure form. A full-size playset of The Swedish Kitchen was released around Series 2 of Palisades Toys Muppet action figure line. Oddly enough, no Swedish Chef kitchen utensils or dishware has ever been released commercially. Perhaps no one wants to cook like The Swedish Chef.

With his hilarious way of speaking, his deliciously awful cooking skills, and his wonderful mannerisms, The Swedish Chef remains one of the most popular Muppets after a career spanning over 35 years.

Over the years, The Swedish Chef has prepared many a meal (and many more things that can hardly be called “meals”). Below are some favorite preparations by The Swedish Chef.

  • Meatballs in The Muppet Show Episode 102: Connie Stevens
  • Japanese Cake in The Muppet Show Episode 120: Valerie Harper
  • Lobsters in The Muppet Show Episode 209: Madeline Kahn
  • Frog Legs in The Muppet Show Episode 215: Lou Rawls
  • Chicken in the Basket in The Muppet Show Episode 311: Raquel Welch
  • Turtle Soup in The Muppet Show Episode 405: Victor Borge
  • Souffle in The Muppet Show Episode 522: Buddy Rich
  • Svenskas Tacos in The Muppets at Walt Disney World
  • Daisy Dukes in “From the Balcony” Episode 4
  • Pumpkin Pie in “Cårven Der Pümpkîn”

The Swedish Chef has become a crucial part of the Muppet cast and it seems impossible to imagine the Muppets without him. But why do they need him? Great question. He can’t cook. By all accounts none of the others can understand him. Yet still, he belongs. Perhaps it is because he persists that he belongs. Like any Muppet, The Swedish Chef does not give up, no matter how many times he may fail. He has never prepared a dish completely successfully, yet he still keeps cooking.

But also like any Muppet, The Swedish Chef’s most important quality is his humor. The Chef can entertain an audience like almost no other, and the audience consistently appreciates it. The Muppets need The Swedish Chef because he represents their never say die attitude and their make ’em laugh approach to entertainment. Because, really, that’s the Chef’s primary goal: make ’em laugh (and cook ’em if they don’t).

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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