A few weeks ago, Dahlia Lithwick wrote a piece for Slate in which she set forth The Muppet Theory of Humanity: We all can essentially be described as a Kermit or a Miss Piggy, a Bert or an Ernie, or, more generally, an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet. She applied this theory to everyone from Chief Justice John Roberts (an Order Muppet, and a very strategic one at that) to her 7-year-old son, which naturally got us looking at Los Angeles restaurants and chefs with Muppet goggles. Et voilà, the Muppet Theory Food Venn Diagram. Turn the page for our completely unscientific armchair analysis of Muppets, restaurants and the Muppet Law of Entropy.
Moral of the Story: As Lithwick says, one type of Muppet is not inherently better than the other. Instead, “The key to a happy marriage, a well-functioning family, and a productive place of work lies in carefully calibrating the ratio of Chaos Muppets to Order Muppets within any closed system.” Think, for example, Tina Fey's advice on how to build the perfect writing staff (“Mix Harvard Nerds with Chicago Improvisers and stir”), or consider the personalities of great, successful partnerships: Mulder and Scully. R2-D2 and C-3P0. Dennis Rodman and everyone else on the Chicago Bulls.
The Los Angeles dining scene may very well prove the Muppet Theory correct. In this closed system, we have a decent balance of Miss Piggy restaurants and Kermit the Frog ones. In other words, something for everyone.
Methodology: We watched a lot of Muppet videos.
Analysis: Chaos Muppet Restaurants. Lithwick explains that “Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile … They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C.” Animal is the ultimate Chaos Muppet; Cookie Monster, The Swedish Chef and Ernie also all personify Chaos to varying degrees. As do most dim sum restaurants on Sunday morning, particularly at the frenzied 888 Seafood, where the din of trays and chatter is boisterous and the traffic of carts swirls around you like a twisted version of Frogger. Similarly, there's an awful lot of excitement at Iota, where, even at 1 a.m., the huge cafe is flooded with glaringly white lights and the wall-to-wall screens blast K-Pop. To eat in this environment, you have pastries filled with sweet potatoes and pourover coffee using beans roasted on-site. That's madness.
LudoBites sows a different sort of kinetic, volatile energy, one that is hard-wired into chef Ludo Lefebvre's very nature as well as into the format of the venture itself. After all, the allure of the pop-up is its unpredictability, which is exactly why it makes for great television. Luckily, LudoBites never completely implodes thanks in great part to the front of the house, where Krissy Lefebvre — who has a background in law and thus likely an Order Muppet — keeps the ship steady amidst the chaos.
But perhaps the ultimate Chaos Muppet Restaurant is The Bazaar. There, captivating molecular gastronomized dishes come out of the kitchen, and some of them are essentially food crumbs and small flaming objects. With three rooms (Rojo, Blanca and an Alice in Wonderland-like Patisserie), you have three wildly different dining areas fit for each part of your fractured psyche. Everything about The Bazaar, in fact, assaults your mind and your senses, albeit in a refined sort of way, like “Alistair” Cookie Monster hosting Monsterpiece Theater in his smoking jacket. This might very well be the Animal of restaurants: Probably a little insane, but also profoundly genius.
Order Muppet Restaurants. According to Lithwick, Order Muppets “tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running.” Muppet examples include Kermit the Frog, Bert and Sam the Eagle.
Outside the Muppet kingdom, Terroni has a strict allegiance to its Southern Italian roots, meaning you should not ask them to slice your pizza for you, among other absolute no-no's. And at Handsome Coffee Roasters, you are to order espresso beverages by cup size rather than by name; this preference for the specific over the general is intended precisely to avoid surprises and miscommunications. They also don't offer sweeteners for your coffee, and they refuse to do so for the same reason chef Sang Yoon will not give you ketchup for your Father's Office burger: You just don't need it.
Indeed, there is a reason for everything at Father's Office and Lukshon; the chef even has his own personal test kitchen in which he meticulously researches, develops and tinkers with flavors and gadgets to his own specifications. (Chaos Muppets, on the other hand, aren't so great with machines.) In a past Muppet life, he and Scooter may have been the best of friends.
Sushi chefs, though, might be the Muppets of the highest Order; they are to sushi as Sam the Eagle is to the United States America: Proud, fiercely loyal and adamant in their belief that you're either with them or against them. Indeed, if you find yourself at the sushi bar at Hiko Sushi, you must eat what is placed in front of you, and, it is implied, you must like it. And may the Muppet god — Snuffleupagus? — help you if you break any rules: An angry Order Muppet will put you in your place. Literally.
Hybrid restaurants. Like many modernist restaurants, ink. and Red Medicine are essentially Order Muppets who like to disrupt old orders to create entirely new ones. And at The Apple Pan, seating is based on the honor system, and it's a fascinating example of what we'll call the Muppet Law of Entropy: For every Gonzo ready to catapult to a spot before his turn, there's an Oscar the Grouch to rudely haul him back, much to the relief of less aggressive Beakers who otherwise would just “Meep meep” under their breaths in frustration. The Muppet Theory prevails. Who needs Myers-Briggs?