The chef stands only six inches tall, like an enchanted ball of moss sprung to life. Made of wood, foam latex and metal, he preps vegetables, simmers sauces and bakes pies the size of bottle caps, all while chattering in a lispy singsong that is mostly
As the title character of “The Tiny Chef Show,” a series of stop-motion videos, usually no longer than a minute, he has won a devoted following of 400,000 on Instagram.
The posts resonate at a time when chefs are expected to manage multiple lives, not just as cooks, but as celebrities, social media influencers and ambassadors of their own personal brands.
Several segments tell the meta story of the chef as a newcomer to Los Angeles, navigating his rising fame. He reacts to a tattoo of himself on a fan’s body, and gushes over meeting the actor Kristen Bell, who is now a “Tiny Chef” producer. In a recent video, shot like a documentary, the chef is seen micromanaging the construction of his new kitchen, shouting about the importance of safety goggles.
His audience has grown rapidly since his first appearance last fall, and in June, Imagine Entertainment’s new family division took an equity stake in “The Tiny Chef,” with plans to develop the franchise across various platforms. A children’s book, “The Tiny Chef” (Razorbill), will be published in the fall of 2020, and a second book is in development.
When I met the chef for the first time, early this month at a studio in Glendale, Calif., he was sitting in the palm of Rachel Larsen, an animator who created the character out of clay a decade ago and now directs “The Tiny Chef Show”.
The chef wore a rainbow-striped apron and a tall, puffy toque. He was a fuzzy, muted green, with an enormous round belly and long, skinny arms that reached down to his feet.
As Larsen posed him in the kitchen, the cinematographer Ozlem Akturk lit the space, constantly adjusting the angle to flatter the chef’s round face. The writer Adam Reid, paced excitedly and called out suggestions. (“Can you turn him more, so we can see he’s sitting on a spool?”)
In the videos, the chef’s movements — rolling out pie dough, chopping up garlic — seem spontaneous, almost effervescent. But the team has to shoot them all frame by frame (12 for every second of video), maneuvering the scene for each new frame.
“Stop-motion is so slow, and it’s a ton of work,” Larsen said, “but we want to underplay all of that.”
As she adjusted the props, pulling clay and small pieces of felt from her tool kit — a clear, CVS-brand pill box — the chef became exponentially cuter and more expressive. The Tiny Chef focuses on vegan foods, like nut loaves and veggie burgers, pies and pancakes. Larsen, like the chef, is vegan (though Reid prefers the terms herbivore or plant-based).
The Tiny Chef appeared on Instagram soon afterward, in 2018, and is now posted to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. In all the videos, he approaches even the most tedious day-to-day tasks of the kitchen with curiosity, glee and a cartoonish exuberance. (His muttering voice is provided by Larsen’s brother-in-law, Matt Hutchinson.)
In one of my favourite videos, the chef sings while cutting a slice off a single clove of garlic. It’s already more than he needs. He minces this slice, then saws off the edge of a tomato. Overtaken by pure joy, he holds a basil leaf over his head and closes his eyes. The chef dances, free and easy, as if a basil leaf was the most magnificent thing in the world. As if half a million fans weren’t watching.
© 2019 The New York Times