Hip, modern food television is very much embedded within the DNA of Netflix’s new children’s series Waffles + Mochi. Netflix’s own food stars Samin Nosrat (Salt Fat Acid Heat) and Massimo Bottura (Chef’s Table) make appearances; for most of the dishes featured, you can practically see the James Beard Award tucked beneath the plate.
But when we first meet our titular heroes, a waffle-eared Yeti named Waffles and his squeaky-voiced dessert friend Mochi, they’re captivated by the oldest of old-school food TV stars: Julia Child. Living in the Land of Frozen Food, Waffles and Mochi have never encountered a fresh vegetable, much less a boeuf bourguignon. Child inspires them to travel to the outside world, where they find themselves employed at a supermarket run by none other than Michelle Obama.
It’s a charming fantasy for anyone, perhaps especially parents who will watch the series with kids who weren’t even born during the Obama administration. But for the show’s creators—Jeremy Konner (the creator of Drunk History) and his longtime friend, writer Erika Thormahlen—the spirit of Waffles + Mochi is more “punk rock” than prestige TV. “We didn’t want to talk about nutrition, we didn’t want any food pyramids,” Thormahlen said. Instead, their goal was to create “a really fun, wacky, rebellious show about food for kids.”
That anarchic spirit might be most evident in the show’s zippy theme song, which consists of a single line: “Listen to your vegetables and eat your parents, with Waffles and Mochi.” It’s sung by Maya Rudolph, who Konner said was their only choice (“We just kept hearing her voice, and we couldn’t really hear anyone else.”) Listen to Your Vegetables and Eat Your Parents—a line repeated by the grocery store’s loudspeaker every time Waffles and Mochi zip away on their next food adventure—was also the show’s title all the way through production. The line, Thormahlen said, “was just sort of this North Star for us in terms of having a little bit of a punk rock attitude when it came to food.”
There was a similar vibe at work in selecting the chefs who appear on the show, all of whom have long conversations—and eventually even feed—the puppet characters. “We were definitely looking for people that just sparked that fun, sort of wow, wonder, wackiness,” Thormahlen said. But particularly with the Obamas and their production company, Higher Ground, involved, Thormahlen and Konner were able to dig deeper into the meaning of food, including a history of rice plantations and slavery in the South. “When we went to Michael Twitty, who’s a brilliant educator, we said, ‘Do not hold back. Say what you need to say. Say what you want to say to kids.’” Konner said. “And I think he was extremely touched. And having the Obamas behind that really made it so everyone had the same goal at the end of the day.”
Michelle Obama’s participation was a “pinch me” moment that never quite stopped feeling surreal for the creators. “It sounds so out of this world, but Mrs. Obama has just been our number one fan throughout this,” Thormahlen said, using the show’s preferred honorific for the former first lady (it’s either that or “Mrs. O”). Konner added that the initial pitch meeting with Obama is what gave them the idea to feature actual taste buds (voiced by comedians Kate Berlant and John Early) as characters, and her contributions didn’t stop there.
At the end of each episode Mrs. O hands Waffles and Mochi a merit badge for what they learned, both about food and the character traits it takes to create it; the episode about pickles and the brining process included, naturally, a lesson on patience. “We had written some lines for her that I think were all right, but it’s hard to do her voice,” Konner said. So on the set, Konner asked her to add her own message for kids about patience. “And then she just goes off for 10 minutes, and we’re all behind the monitors, tearing up at the most beautiful monologue you’ve ever heard. And then we get to take credit for that.”
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