During the run of The Muppet Show, which lasted from 1976 to 1981, the show received a letter from a concerned citizen from Sweden. In it, the writer let the show know that the Swedish Chef wasn’t speaking actual Swedish, in case they might be unaware of this fact. Jerry Juhl, the show’s head writer, wrote back saying, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We were going to fire the Chef on the spot, but he has a wife and family and promises to take Swedish lessons.”
Being a lifelong Muppets fan, I can’t recall where I first heard this story, though it was probably from Jim Henson’s son, Brian Henson, on one of the many DVD intros and commentaries he did back when DVDs were still a thing. I share this because it’s the only instance I’m aware of where a Swedish person offered their thoughts on the Muppet — a seemingly confused man who wrote a single letter about 40 years ago. Now, I’m sure that other Swedish citizens have offered fresher opinions since then, and with the advent of the internet, I could probably locate them pretty swiftly, but that would be too easy for me. Instead, I’d rather get Swedish opinions right from the source, and because we’re talking about the famous Muppet chef here, I figure, why not make sure that I get the opinion of actual Swedish chefs to boot?
Do they like the Swedish Chef? Do they find him offensive? Did they grow up watching him and were so inspired that they then pursued a career in the culinary arts? Let’s find out!
On How the Swedish Feel About the Swedish Chef
Swedish Metal Chef, pastry chef: We loved him when we were kids. I don’t think people in Sweden are offended at all, they just think he’s hilarious. We only had one or two channels when I was growing up in Sweden, so I first saw him when The Muppet Movie came out in the cinema. I remember he was doing something with the reel and the movie messed up a little bit. It was hilarious. I love everything with Jim Henson and Frank Oz and the guys.
Chef Henrik Ringbom: In Sweden, he’s just like this goofy dude. I don’t think anyone has anything against him, he’s just there. I live in New Jersey now though, and here in America, when I mention I’m a chef from Sweden, people start blinking a little bit and then they start smiling and then I can see where they’re going with this, so I yell “Kermit” real quick just to throw them off. It’s very different here. Everyone I introduce myself to — when I say where I’m from and what I’m doing — they make a little Muppet impression. In the beginning I thought, “Okay, this is a little stupid,” but I’m kind of used to it 13 years later.
On Their Favorite Swedish Dish
Demarkow: I’m not sure what my favorite is, but one thing I miss is the traditional smørrebrød, which are Scandanavian open-style sandwiches, which you can’t get anywhere else in the world, really.
Ringbom: I really like renskav, where you shave reindeer really thin and cook it with some onion and then pour some cream on and let it cook. Add salt and pepper and serve it on top of mashed potatoes with some lingonberries — it’s delicious. It’s kind of flaky like cheesesteak meat, but it’s a million times better because it’s reindeer.
Swedish Metal Chef: We have something called fika. In Sweden, if you’re having guests for coffee, you have to have something sweet with it — it’s a bit like tea and biscuits in England. They’re not quite sure how it started, but the tradition is that you have to serve seven kinds of sweets when you have fika. It has to be seven. If you add one extra, it means that you’re posh and a show off, and if you have one less than seven, it means that you’re poor. So it’s very important that you have seven different kinds.
On How Often They Throw Stuff in the Kitchen
Demarkow: Not very often these days, but when I was younger, sure.
Ringbom: Very rarely. If I’m alone in the kitchen and I’m pissed off, maybe I’ll toss a pan in the sink a little more aggressively than I need to, but other than that, I’d never do something like that, it’s kind of dangerous.
Swedish Metal Chef: I drop a lot of stuff, I don’t throw anything really. I try to keep my rage controlled. I spill a lot though, and I encourage people to spill a lot. Sometimes it’s good to be more like a kid — you shouldn’t take life too seriously.
On Their Worst Kitchen Accident
Swedish Metal Chef: When I was a kid, I got an extra ice cream from the cafeteria and I took it home and tried to heat it on the stove to melt it a little bit. The problem was that the container was plastic and I just put it on the stove. Let’s just say the fire department had a few words for me.
Demarkow: It happened not that long ago actually — I cut off a bit of my finger. It was only me, my kitchen hand and another young chef in the kitchen, and we had a full restaurant, so I had to keep battling on and ended up going to the hospital to get stitches and tried not to faint before then. I can butcher a whole animal carcass, but when I see blood on myself, I’m not the bravest person around.
Ringbom: I’m pretty careful when I’m working. I took off the tip of my finger once when I was working on a cruise ship and I was bleeding pretty hard. Unfortunately, I’d probably been drinking a little bit too much the day before so my blood was a little thinner, so when the doctor on board held my hand under water, I almost passed out. You burn yourself all the time though and I’ve spilled boiling water on my foot, but that cut was the worst one.
I’ve seen worse, though — one of the cooks I was training got specific instructions on a food processor and he was shredding down cabbage and the cabbage got stuck. He then pushed down with his hands — not with the attachment like he was supposed to do — and he shoved his hand all the way down in there and it chopped his fingertips off. There was a lot of blood, it was so graphic and disgusting.
On What to Do If Your Swedish Meatballs Bounce
Ringbom: Start over and try something else. They’re not supposed to be that bouncy, though the dog would love it.
Swedish Metal Chef: I’m not so much into tennis, I’m more of a hockey guy, so I probably would flatten them and use them as pucks.
On What To Do If Your Food Fights Back
Ringbom: Just fight harder and be sure you win. We’ve got to eat!
Swedish Metal Chef: As a Swedish person, you’d have to negotiate first. We’re not very hostile. I think there would be a long, United Nations discussion. There’d be a sit down and maybe have a coffee. By then, we probably would have worn them down by talking. We’re not vikings anymore, we Swedish people.
Demarkow: I’m not sure, but that reminds me, the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with was eel. When I was an apprentice, we had fresh eels and you had to kill them and they still crawl up your arm even after you’ve chopped their head off. Also, they still wiggle in the pan after you’ve skinned them. That freaks me out still today.
On How Many Moose It Takes to Make Chocolate Mousse
Ringbom: It depends if it’s a big moose or a little moose, but I think one-and-half moose, you get a good batch. You have to cook them down a little bit to get all of the gelatin out of them, but I’d say one-and-a-half.
On How They’d Prepare Big Bird
Demarkow: I’d do it methodically, like I do with any bird. Make sure they’re dead, then pluck them and stuff them. Slow cook them, then the job’s done.
Swedish Metal Chef: I think you’d have to put him in the bathtub and slow boil him.
Ringbom: I’ve lived in America for a long time and Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, so I’d say stuff him, roast him and then watch some football and get drunk. The trick is to brine him first though — you’ve got to brine a bird when it’s that big. As for what to stuff him with, I’d say traditional bread stuffing. Or Kermit.
On How They Feel About Frog Legs
Demarkow: They’re like chicken, they’re actually not too bad.
Ringbom: It’s okay. I’ll eat it if it’s on my plate, but chicken is tastier, so why not just eat that?
On What the Hell “Börk, Börk, Börk!” Means
Swedish Metal Chef: It’s hard to translate because it doesn’t mean anything. There is Björk though, the Icelandic artist. So perhaps the Swedish Chef was before his time and could see that she was going to be a great artist. He was calling for her, “Björk, Björk, Björk!”
Demarkow: I believe that’s a very made up word, but for a stab in the dark: What would a chef say in the kitchen? I’d guess, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”