Entertainment19 March 2021
How do you get kids excited about cooking? Add a dash of star power (celebrity guests like Common, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Tan France and Zach Galifianakis), a cup of exciting locales (Italy, Japan, Peru, South Korea and Uganda), mix in a familiar face as the neighborhood supermarket owner (Michelle Obama) and you’ve got our new Netflix series from Higher Ground Productions. The show centers on curious puppet pals Waffles and Mochi as they travel the world exploring the wonders of food and culture while learning how to cook with fresh ingredients. To celebrate the premiere, here are 12 things you might not know from the making of this one-of-a-kind show.
For star and executive producer Michelle Obama, Waffles + Mochi gave her the chance to extend the work she did as First Lady to support children’s health.
Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit organization created in conjunction with Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! effort, will also run an impact campaign aimed at meaningfully shifting our food culture. Leveraging themes from Waffles + Mochi, they will launch programs with retailers, food banks, and other entities across the U.S. food system to help children and parents learn to have fun and engage with food and ingredients — as they also become healthier.
Series creators Erika Thormahlen and Jeremy Konner have known each other since their early 20s. After a career as an actress, Thormahlen went on to become an early childhood educator while Konner pursued a career in Hollywood and co-created the hit comedy series Drunk History. The series marks the culmination of a 15-year-long dream for the longtime friends, whose fields of expertise (and mutual love of food) created the perfect combination of wit and whimsy.
Konner is a close family friend of Elinor Ochs, a professor of Anthropology at UCLA who conducted studies with families and found that some of the most stressful moments of their day surrounded mealtimes. It was her research that served as inspiration for Konner and Thormahlen to seek ways to alleviate the stresses around everyday negotiations between parents and their kids about food and turn the conversations into a shared experience that would excite everyone.
Head puppeteer Michelle Zamora is self-taught and began building her own puppets while she was a student at Cal State Los Angeles. Before she became the CEO of her own company, Viva la Puppet, in 2014, Zamora was one of the few women of color coming up in the world of professional puppeteering. Diversity now plays a big part in every job she takes on through her company.
While Waffles and Mochi were built by Swazzle, Michelle Zamora’s Viva la Puppet was responsible for building Steve the Mop, Busy, and Shelfie. Zamora also had a hand in building Waffles’s mouth and palate, which was customized with a special opening in the back that allowed Waffles to “swallow” actual food without making a mess—unlike Cookie Monster’s iconic crumbs that go flying everywhere.
KCRW’s Market Report correspondent Gillian Ferguson was a food researcher on the show. Together with director Alex Braverman, Ferguson was responsible for finding the various people and locales from around the world that are featured in each episode.
Any time Waffles tasted a new dish (like Chef Massimo’s tortellini!), Michelle Zamora was simultaneously spoonfed bites so she could experience the flavors in real time, bringing an authentic sense of wonder and delight to Waffles’s reaction.
There are at least nine nationalities represented among the staff at Orient Experience, Chef Hamed Ahmadi’s restaurant in Venice: Afghan, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Nigerian, Albanian, Pakistani, Italian, Turkish, and Guinean. Not only is the entire restaurant staffed by refugees, but everyone is encouraged to bring a flavor or a dish from their home country.
The omurice segment in the egg episode was inspired by a scene from the 1985 film Tampopo.
Chef Mashama Bailey’s restaurant, The Grey, was formerly a Greyhound bus terminal.
Konner’s son, George, makes an appearance at the pickle workshop in episode 4. He also serendipitously became the voice of Intercommy, which they recorded in a closet at home due to COVID-19.