Reality shows that involve cooking have taken over the airwaves, and it’s hard to switch on the TV without seeing “real” chefs go head to head over a simmering white sauce or lightly braised chicken. But before there was MasterChef and Chopped, there were fictional TV chefs who made us laugh, cry and want to run to the kitchen during commercials to get a bite to eat. Over the years these characters managed to win over our hearts, minds, and appetites, combining great TV and fabulous food – a match made in heaven. Here then is our list of the Top 9 most popular and beloved fictional TV chefs.
Monica, from Friends
Although it took some time for her career to ramp up, Monica Geller, played by Courtney Cox on Friends, always knew that being a chef was her true calling. The path to her dream job was a bumpy one, and she went from being a chef, to a waitress, to being a caterer, and finally finding the chef job she aimed for all along. Due to her insecurities she was vulnerable to caustic restaurant critics, and in one episode, after receiving a particularly bad review, she joins a cooking class where she’s the star. Later on, Monica shows the owner of a bad restaurant how to make the perfect sauce and, as a result, she is offered the head chef position at Alessandro’s.
Throughout the show’s 10 seasons, Monica shows her love of food and friends. She is always the one to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, Halloween treats, and pots full of jam to soothe her aching heart after a breakup. Even as a kid, she loved hosting tea parties and baking with her Easy Bake Oven, as we see in amusing flashbacks of an overweight Monica (in sharp contrast to the super-svelte Manhattanite she becomes). Along with her passion for order and cleanliness, her zeal for cooking is what makes Monica tick and viewers are thrilled when she realizes her dream to become a NYC chef.
Chef, from South Park
Jerome McElroy, most commonly known as “Chef” on South Park, was portrayed as a cafeteria worker at the elementary school in the eponymous town. The character was a type of authority figure that the children of South Park could confide in and seek advice from; however the advice that Chef “dished out” was often misguided, leading to the expected hilarious results.
Chef went into the culinary field after giving up his musical aspirations. The shows main characters, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, have a special bond with Chef and look forward to seeing him in the cafeteria where he fondly refers to them as his “children.” His food is better than the usual public-school lunch fare, which is why it’s particularly unfortunate that in season 10, Chef (voice by Isaac Hayes) falls to his death from a rope bridge. His humor and his eye-level approach to youngsters made him one of the show’s most popular characters.
The Soup Nazi, from Seinfeld
Rarely does a character that appears in just one episode of a long-running TV show make such an impact as to become a household name and folk hero of sorts. Though the “Soup Nazi” was only featured briefly in Seinfeld, he left a lasting impression. The character is the owner of a trendy soup restaurant in Manhattan, who imposes strict rules of conduct on his customers. So, for instance when George complains about the price of the bread that he requests along with his soup, the owner barks, “No soup for you!” and George’s soup is snatched from his hands. The Soup Nazi meets his match in Elaine who is told she can’t come back to the restaurant for a full year, though she seeks revenge and manages to run him out of business.
Due to the popularity of the show, the Soup Nazi became an important pop culture reference, and the phrase, “No soup for you!” was used for years in various contexts. The rough-around-the edges chef from Argentina, whose name is Yev Kassem, was played by Larry Thomas and the actor was nominated for an Emmy Award for his brief but legendary role. Rumor has it that the character is based on chef Al Yeganeh, owner of Soup Kitchen International in New York City, and, as a form of protest against the character’s harsh treatment, he supposedly went so far as to ban Jerry Seinfeld and others from the show from dining at his restaurant. Soup Nazi, indeed.
Sookie St. James, from Gilmore Girls
Long before there was Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live, and Ghost Busters, Melissa McCarthy was Sookie St. James, Lorelai’s best friends on the show Gilmore Girls. Sookie starts out as the chef at the Independence Inn, but eventually becomes co-owner of the Dragonfly Inn with Lorelai. Sookie continues on as head chef at the inn and marries Jackson, the produce supplier, often bickering with him on the job. Sookie is bubbly, fun, quirky, enthusiastic, and a brilliant chef. She is a vehement perfectionist yet also tends to create havoc in the kitchen when she is cooking at full throttle.
Aside from her role as a chef, Sookie becomes a mother, and Gilmore Girls does a great job depicting the challenges that come with being a working parent. She is the perfect foil for Lorelai and the show managed to create a multi-dimensional character that is both a loyal and fierce friend and a fabulous and creative chef… and a fan favorite for years.
Bree Van de Kamp, from Desperate Housewives
Bree, from Desperate Housewives, has everything it takes to be a great chef: a perfectionist attitude, a hardcore work ethic, and loads of talent. Bree’s career as a chef flourishes and she eventually opens a catering business and publishes her own cookbook. From keeping a spotless house to hand-baking everything from scratch, Bree always keeps up perfect appearances with her need to excel that borders on the neurotic (or crossing the line in many cases).
Believing that baked goods are the answer to every problem, Bree wouldn’t be complete without a basket of fresh muffins to share. Her character, played so brilliantly by Marcia Cross, while exaggerated and extreme, was still one of the most beloved on the popular show. Bree always put cooking ahead of everything – her children, her friends, and, certainly, the men in her life.
Jack Tripper, from Three’s Company and Three’s a Crowd
Jack Tripper, from Three’s Company and Three’s a Crowd is a clumsy, bumbling character who nonetheless managed to receive a degree in the culinary arts. After completing his studies, he went on to become a chef, and eventually opened his own restaurant. The character, played by the late John Ritter, is a Navy vet, who, upon finishing school, gets a chef job at a popular restaurant run by Frank Angelino who becomes Ripper’s mentor and helps him finance his own restaurant, Jack’s Bistro. In one particularly chef-centric episode, Jack tries to host his own cooking show, though roommates Terri and Janet sabotage his efforts. Although not particularly highbrow fare, Three’s Company was a groundbreaking comedy with a chef at the center and it enjoyed years of high ratings.
Mrs. Patmore, from Downton Abbey
As head cook at Downton Abbey, Mrs. Patmore, played by British actress Lesley Nicol, ran a tight ship and held her dishes to high standards. She had a hard time going along with the changes that the 1920s brought, and was suspicious of modern food-related technologies, like refrigerators. Mrs. Patmore was a strict taskmaster, particularly with her assistant Daisy; however, over the course of the series, the two became close and pushed each other to become better cooks, even if that meant using electric appliances.
After Mrs. Patmore accidentally puts salt in the Crawley family’s pudding due to her failing eyesight, she is sent to London for cataract surgery and another cook, Mrs. Bird, temporarily replaces her. Mrs. P’s insecurities rise to the surface and she worries that the family will like Mrs. Bird’s food more than hers. Despite her attitudes and rough personality, Mrs. Patmore was an audience favorite during Downton Abbey’s TV run.
Artie Bucco, from The Sopranos
A television show about an Italian-American mobster would not be complete without an Italian restaurant, and said restaurant is nothing without a talented chef at its helm. Artie Bucco was that chef for the groundbreaking show, The Sopranos. Played by actor John Ventimiglia, chef Artie is a childhood friend of Tony Soprano, and the mob boss conducts many a meeting at Bucco’s restaurant, Nuovo Vesuvio.
Good Italian cooking is in Artie’s blood, going back to his grandparents who came to America from Italy in the early 1900s and opened their first family restaurant soon after. In addition to his familial ties to the culinary arts, Artie also attended a cooking school in London. In 2002, a Sopranos-inspired cookbook was published, called “The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco.”
The Swedish Chef, from The Muppet Show
The Swedish Chef is one of the few Muppets that is not an animal (or a monster of unknown origins); rather, he is a “human” who is a whiz in the kitchen, albeit an indecipherable one. On the Muppet Show, the Swedish Chef could be seen in short cooking segments where he instructs his audience on how to prepare a variety of dishes. The only problem is that his instructions are almost completely incomprehensible, as he speaks in garbled Swedish with occasional English words thrown in, invariably ending with the catchphrase, “Bork, bork, bork.” The Chef was originally voiced by the late great Jim Henson, and later by Bill Barretta. The Swedish Chef always wore a classic white “toque,” wagging his bushy, brown moustache and his eyebrows, which completely covered his eyes. He is also one of the few Muppets for which the puppeteer’s hands are visible, to enable the Chef to handle food and cooking utensils.
Gotta Love Those Chefs
This is only a partial list of great TV chefs, which also includes “Red” Reznikov, from Orange Is the New Black; Pacey Witter, from Dawson’s Creek; and Freddy Hayes from House of Cards. These beloved characters inspire us and whet our appetites, while the actors who portray them work their way into our hearts, time after time. Meanwhile, all we can do is admire them and wait for the next great fictional chef to hit the small screen.