There’s a new celebrity chef in town. An herbivorous whiz who launched his career in New Zealand, he prowls farmers markets for perfect produce, plays the banjo in his spare time, and counts Moby, Kristen Bell, and Samin Nosrat among his fans and followers (more than 319K, currently, on Instagram). He recently inked a two-book deal with Penguin—there was a bidding war—and is preparing to pitch a television show documenting his exploits, both in and out of the kitchen.
He’s also gosh-darned adorable.
Meet the Tiny Chef: five inches tall, with a body as round as a tennis ball, and sporting a striped apron and teensy toque. He’s the companion (a.k.a. stop-motion creation) of Rachel Larsen, a Portland-based animator whose credits include Coraline, ParaNorman, and Isle of Dogs. Since late last spring, Larsen has chronicled, in photos and minute-long Instagram videos, Chef’s enthusiasm for ... everything. With the bumbling charm of Julia Child and the unflappable compassion of Mister Rogers, he rappels into bags of flour, bakes pies in bottle caps, and makes itty-bitty pizzas, rolling out the dough with a matchstick. He’s also embraced Harry Potter, geocaching, the card game Uno, The Golden Girls, camping (especially s’mores), and, of late, painting and the Portland Trail Blazers.
“The world is a new place for him, and he wants to learn about everything,” says Larsen, who created the project with writer Adam Reid and cinematographer Ozlem Akturk. “He’s endlessly curious.”
His cuteness can overwhelm the uninitiated. In videos, Chef has a quick, warbly voice, full of wheezy ess-es and esh-es. (Reid compares it to Italian actor Roberto Benigni speaking English.) And he loves to sing, with tastes ranging from Lady Gaga to Queen to Dolly Parton to Neil Diamond. Last year, he even recorded a 14-track Christmas (or, in Chef’s parlance, “Mish Mesh”) album; the proceeds from downloads, totaling just north of $5,000, went to a farm animal rescue nonprofit.
What’s next for this little green gastronome? More cooking, of course—especially once his Portland kitchen, to be located inside a tree stump, is complete. In the meantime, he’s dreaming of scuba diving and berry picking.
“He’s our guide,” Larsen says. “We’re all just these humans trying to capture his best moments.”