“Listen to your vegetables, and eat your parents.” It’s a bit of an odd catchphrase to lean into, but “Waffles + Mochi,” released Mar. 16 and produced by Netflix in conjunction with Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground Production, commits to all of its many quirks, resulting in a strange but ultimately delightful little show.
“Waffles + Mochi,” created by Erika Thormahlen and Jeremy Konner, follows the worldwide culinary escapades of Waffles, a half-waffle, half-yeti puppet brilliantly voiced by Michelle Zamora, and her trusty sidekick Mochi, a mochi ice cream voiced by Russ Walko that mostly converses in animated “meeps” and other unintelligible sounds. Waffles and Mochi dream of becoming chefs despite coming from the Land of Frozen Foods, which is a sort of food desert. They soon leave their home and find employment at a certain Mrs. O’s grocery store (that would be former first lady Michelle Obama) and travel the world to learn about food via Magicart, a magic, flying go-kart/talking food encyclopedia of sorts.
Visiting global destinations such as Japan, Peru and Italy, Waffles and Mochi explore ingredients such as tomatoes, rice and salt, among others, and discover how these are incorporated into dishes across different cultures. Although geared toward a younger audience, this portion of the show has all the appeal of Netflix’s other food and travel programming, including “Ugly Delicious,” and is sure to scratch the traveling itch many feel after an entire year of being cooped up due to COVID-19 restrictions. Waffles and Mochi even visit a few Bay Area destinations, as they travel to Oakland and speak with chefs Samin Nosrat and Preeti Mistry about tomatoes and herbs and spices in separate episodes.
At the end of each episode, Waffles and Mochi declare mastery of a new ingredient and earn a badge to put on their aprons, a bit that is clearly an opportunity to engage young viewers in cooking beyond the show — the show’s website has a program where viewers can cook with their families and earn these badges online.
The premise may feel, on the surface, a bit convoluted. Never mind that two frozen food items want to become chefs and canonically eat other, nonsentient foods — audiences are also supposed to believe that Waffles and Mochi, avid Julia Child watchers, have never heard of a tomato, or even salt, before. They are also to believe that Mochi has never heard of rice, but his favorite song is “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie. However, suspending disbelief and embracing the silliness of “Waffles + Mochi” is where all the fun begins.
In addition to Waffles and Mochi’s travels, the show has a lot going on: full-blown musical numbers, animation, stop-motion, a plethora of celebrity cameos and segments where children around the world give their opinions on various ingredients. Guest appearances from the likes of Rashida Jones and Jack Black are a delight, and the fun of each episode is balanced by some lesson about friendship, self-confidence or other morals delivered by Mrs. O. The show captures the comfort of “Sesame Street” while feeling updated for 2021 audiences.
There are also a few sneaky Netflix crossover moments, such as several references to “Stranger Things” in an episode about mushrooms as well as a “Chef’s Table”-style montage of Waffles cooking a dinner party dish in the season’s finale.
While the production value and international nature of the show is highly entertaining, the magic of “Waffles + Mochi” is that it has a lot of heart. While intended for children, anyone can enjoy and relate to Waffles and Mochi, and watching a puppet dance and pretend to eat gourmet food is universally delightful for all ages.
The educational aspect of the show is well done in a way that feels sincere without being too preachy, and its conscious inclusivity is intentional but also refreshingly casual. Across 10 episodes, “Waffles + Mochi” crafts an earnest and heartwarming celebration of food and the ways that cooking can bring people together.
Contact Sarena Kuhn at [email protected].