Is This the Man Behind the Muppet Show's Swedish Chef?

Backman said former colleagues and friends at 20th Century Fox have kept telling him throughout the years that he "has to be the real life model" because he "looked and acted just like that in those days.

"I had a long red mustache and lanky hair that straggled under my chef's hat. Plus, I was the only Swedish chef around," he said, adding that his disastrous cooking incident on TV seemed to be widely known at 20th Century Fox, as people kept reminding him of it. Backman believes that Henson also knew about it.

Muppet Writer Dismisses Backman's Claims

But there are some who deny Backman's claims, like Jerry Juhl, a writer on the Muppet show who worked with Henson. On the "Muppet Show" Central News Web site he denied Backman was an inspiration albeit confessing to not remembering the genesis of the Swedish Chef character.

Nevertheless, Backman still thinks he is the real-life model.

"I think they fear that I am going to sue or make some sort of financial claim so they deny it. But I am not going to sue them," he said with a resigned shrug.

He does however admit to being inspired by the Muppet.

"I thought it was a great name and translated it into Swedish and used it for my catering business 'Svenska Kocken.'"

Despite the disagreement over the "Muppet Show," Backman's memories of his 16 years in California have not soured, he said, smiling broadly as he recalled the heady 1970s when he worked and partied hard, appreciated the beautiful women on Venice Beach and played tennis with Charlton Heston.

"To work as a chef in Hollywood is not like working in an ordinary kitchen. I would bike around with the food on a tray. I served food at rap parties. I served accompanied by orchestras. We worked on steamboats and served food on ice-sculptures, he said, adding he also catered for the TV series "Mash" and "Dynasty" and the film "9 to 5."

The only reason he left America was to tend to his sick mother back home and the fact that he met an old sweetheart, with whom he is still going steady after 22 years.

Today, he travels around with his portable kitchen and sells food, but he also arranges "cooking happenings" in shopping malls, at trade fairs, private dinners and parties.

In addition, Backman and his assistant Inge Grannas, "the Smurf," have done gigs at big football events like the World Cup in Germany 2006 and the European Cup in Austria last year. Backman also cooked on Canadian TV a couple of times, he said, proudly showing newspaper clippings of the events.

Wanting to give a flavor of his style in the kitchen Backman dressed up in his chef's gear, chopped and woked vegetables that he later tossed over half of his kitchen.

He also shared his favorite number that he performs with his band "Fiddle Rock & Kuprik Rock", in which he – dressed in a grass skirt and a tie around his forehead – plays the cabasa and sings "Putti, Putti", a hit by Hawaiian singer Jay Epae that was a big hit in Sweden in the 1960s.

Raising his voice over the samba tones, Backman explained his business had certainly not made him rich, but that the most important thing in life was to have fun.

"If people want to believe that I am the Swedish Chef or not, doesn't really matter. What's important is to have a little fun and put a smile on people's faces."

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