"Vergoofin der flicke stoobin mit der børk-børk yubetcha! Chøcklate Moose! Chøcklate fur der Moose!"
--Swedish Chef's Dumpling of Wisdom:
A guide for freshly baked and half-baked Swedish Chef translators
The Swedish Chef was a character in the Muppets presentations, beginning with The Muppet Show, in which he appeared in the majority of the 120 30-minute episodes and was known for his hairbrained recipe segments that usually involved large blunt objects like rolling pins, ovens set to ridiculously high temperatures, sharp objects such as steak knives (which usually became airborne by the end of the segment), and of course, an absolutely awful and incomprehensible version of the Swedish language.
The inspiration for the Swedish Chef is shrouded in controversy. In an article released via Reuters, Lars Kuprik, a Hollywood chef who immigrated from Sweden claimed to be the inspiration for the Swedish Chef. Appearing on the show Tempo, Tempo, Kuprik was attempting to earn a cooking show contract.
"They say: 'You're on live' and there I stand in my chef's hat, shaking with nervousness, clinging to a pastry bag with mayonnaise with the sweat pouring out of me. I'm blocked. I can't speak English or Swedish. I called out for my friend Kurt from the Viking Horn but the only thing that came through my lips was a strange guttural sound of hu-do-do-bu-du-bu-do."
Meanwhile, the Muppets themselves disagree with Kuprick's claim to be the inspiration for the Chef. Jerry Juhl, one of the senior writers for "The Muppet Show" notes:
"I wrote, rehearsed, rewrote, brainstormed, and giggled uncontrollably a thousand times with Jim Henson as we dealt with the Swedish Chef, and I never once heard him mention an actual Swedish chef, especially one that claims to be Charleton Heston's golf buddy! I mean, that's a story Jim would have told! I can't remember where the genesis of Swedish Chef was. I think it was an idea with Jon Stone around the 'Sex and Violence' show, which I didn't work on. But I do remember that Jim spent a couple of weeks listening to Berlitz tapes while commuting to get his babble perfected. Then, much later, I actually wrote the babble! Heck, I come from good Danish stock, which Jim and I decided made me an expert in Scandanavian linguistics."
The Swedish Chef first made an appearance in the second pilot episode "Sex and Violence", which aired March 19, 1975 on ABC Networks. In fact, the first appearance of the Chef appears to have almost been an accident. In a jump cut from a wrestling segment, we see an indescript chef mumbling in a sort of scandinavian dialect, whilst preparing a submarine sandwich. The segment is subtitled - in grammatically correct, native Chinese- and bouncy accordian music is played in the background. The character is not named, and nothing really happens. The segment ends almost as soon as it begins with another cut scene. Hence, the first appearance of a Swedish Chef prototype was largely a non sequitur. The Chef did not become a regular member of the cast until Episode 2 (February 28, 1977), featuring Connie Stevens. This begins the tradition of bad puns being the punchline to his sketches. In this case, he drops a series of Swedish meatballs on the ground and notices that they bounce. He remarks "So, de beency bouncy burger, eh?" and immediately pulls a tennis racket from the drawer, then begins to "serve" the meatballs to the audience.
The Swedish Chef finally became a star for Episode 4 (October 11, 1976) when Brian Henson devoted the introduction monologue to fan mail:
"Hi, I'm Brian Henson. The Muppets have always gotten a lot of fan mail. Over the years, we've received thousands of letters and believe it or not, we do try to read and answer every one of them. (Cut to clip of Fozzie reading a letter from "The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson".) The staff received a memorable letter from a Scandinavian businessman who saw the show while on a trip to London. He wrote to inform my father that The Muppet Show's so-called Swedish Chef did not actually speak any real Scandanavian language, not even Swedish. (Cut to pilot episode clip of the Chef in his kitchen.) The Muppet Show head writer Jerry Juhl sent a reply, saying 'Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We were going to fire the Chef on the spot, but he has got a wife and family and he promises to take Swedish lessons.'" (Cut to clip of the Chef talking with Fleet Scribbler.)
The Swedish Chef is a unique muppet in that he is the only muppet to be performed by two muppeteers simultaneously. One muppeteer would operate the body and perform the voice, whilst another would operate the hands. Initially, the torso was performed by Jim Henson himself, while Frank Oz used his own hands. The result was a truly unique and unpredictable performance, where lit blow torches and floppy chef hats would come within mere inches of each other, with no apparent reaction from the Chef. When the live guest celebrities appeared in the Chef skits, few were told about the two performer scheme. As a result, the terrified expressions on their faces were usually genuine. Only recently has the Chef evolved into a single operator Muppet, despite the large number of performers who have either voiced or performed as the Chef. Jim Henson (1976-1990), Frank Oz (1976-1987), David Rudman (1992), Dave Goelz (1999), and Bill Baretta (who began in 1994 and currently performs the Chef) have all taken the helm and the rolling pin.
The Swedish Chef is also the only Muppet to have a breakfast cereal named for him. In 1988, Post Cereals produced a cereal called "Croonchy Stars," featuring the Swedish Chef, which lasted about a year. The cereal was sugar and cinnamon flavored, and featured the tagline "Live! From the Muppet Test Kitchens" and "No batteries necessary." Rather than a toy inside, the Chef included "eating instructions" and games in his eponymous Swedish dialect. An offer was available for a mail-order Swedish Chef doll on the side panel.