Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchip gets personal about the Muppet Quickfire Challenge, and reveals a professional connection to the late Jim Henson.

on Feb 17, 2011

I don’t think I’ve seen our chefs more excited to meet a guest judge in all my days on Top Chef than they were this week when they met Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Telly Monster. And not just those chefs who are parents. All of them were thrilled, since most of the chefs competing grew up watching Sesame Street. And don’t get me started on the crew, who were so happy to show up for work that day!

I admit to having been excited myself, even though I was just a bit older and “past it” when Sesame Street first hit the airwaves, so I didn’t discover Elmo and friends until my older son began watching the show. That boy loved Elmo with the reverence my grandmother saved for the Pope. And now my toddler, who calls Elmo “La-La” (because of Elmo’s theme song, in which “la-la, la-la” is the chief lyric), is a raging fan. He’s unimpressed when he sees Daddy on TV… but loses it with joy when La-La’s on the screen. His two favorite items are firetrucks and La-La. We actually found him a Firefighter Elmo which he calls “Woo-woo-woo-woo La-La.”; So cute it hurts. A friend’s three-year-old was excited to dress as Elmo to attend a Halloween party this year… until he entered the room and every other preschooler acted like teenaged girls at a Justin Beiber concert. He narrowly escaped the stampede and couldn’t get the costume off quickly enough. I could go on and on. It’s crazy, the hold Elmo has over the tiny tots.

…Or so I thought until I got to spend time with him in person (in muppet?) on Top Chef. I no longer find it crazy at all. The outsized charisma of that little furry red monster is utterly disarming. Kevin Clash, who plays Elmo, David Rudman, who plays Cookie Monster, and Martin P. Robinson, who plays Telly Monster (and looks like him, too!), were so much fun to hang out with, and even more fun to watch at work. They’re ambassadors of happy, leaving a trail of joy wherever they go. I don’t normally have to be at the set for tapings of the Quickfire Challenges, but there was no way I was going to miss this -- I brought my toddler and the two daughters of dear friends, and we had a blast hanging out with them in the green room. They have great senses of humor and of fun. Even the muppet wrangler was fun, whose tasks include making sure the muppets fur is fluffed just so.   

It was amazing to watch Kevin Clash, David Rudman (Cookie Monster), and Martin P. Robinson at work. These puppeteers are so adept at what they do, are so very talented, and make it all seem so fluid and effortless that folks almost forget it’s not the muppets themselves talking, despite actually watching the muppeteers in action. It was astonishing. Kevin Clash can actually make it seem as though he and Elmo are talking simultaneously -- I've never seen anything like it. Watching their exit from the table after the Quickfire Challenge was so cool -- they were hilarious. It was far and away one of the best days we all have ever had on Top Chef.