The Release

When Cuphead’s long awaited DLC, The Delicious Last Course, was released on July 1st, a release trailer was uploaded to Youtube. Featuring Chef Saltbaker, announcing that the DLC has arrived.

When I saw Saltbaker’s noticeably sinister face in the thumbnail I thought “He’s evil, he’s fucking evil isn’t he I knew it”, though that feeling died down a bit when I actually watched the trailer, thinking I might’ve mistook his dramatic facial expressions for villany.

However, once I actually watched someone play the game and saw that fucking open basement door where Saltbaker should have been those original feelings skyrocketed back up to my brain, shouting “I told you so, I fucking told you so”.

However again, while I was expecting this accursed saltshaker-baker to be a twist-villain, I was not expecting him to cut up sentient ingredients - who all have terrified expressions as this is happening - and use them as attacks in his boss fight. Nor was I expecting his final phase to take place in a "Salt Domain" featuring swirling salt pillars with Saltbaker’s face constantly forming within them as his shattered glass shell/corpse lay in the background.

Suffice to say, the only thought in my head as I watched this all occur was “What the fuck. Holy shit what the actual fuck oh my god jesus christ”. Now that it’s been a few weeks since the DLC’s launch and I’ve had time to process everything I feel confident in my opinion that Chef Saltbaker is a scarier villain than The Devil.

The Reasoning

Now you may be asking: “Random artist on the internet, what the fuck are you talking about?”, and to be honest I have no clue. But, I greatly enjoy Cuphead and saying words, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

To explain myself further before I get into my reasoning, when I say 'scary' I don’t mean 'horror movie scary', I more so mean it like '40s disney villain scary'. Chef Saltbaker isn’t murdering children (though he did try) with blood and guts everywhere, he isn’t a slasher. But in the context of the rubberhose cartoon world Cuphead lives in, the things Saltbaker does is pretty fucking disturbing.

Think of the scene in Pinocchio with the children-turned-donkeys crying for their parents as The Coachman locks them up until they can no longer speak. It’s a surprisingly dark moment in an otherwise colorful movie (okay actually there’s a lot of fucked up moments in Pinocchio, but you get the idea), and Chef Saltbaker’s boss fight can be seen in a similar light, but we’ll expand on that later (Hell, Saltbaker’s smile in his second phase seems to be a reference to The Coachman’s).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing The Devil. He’s a wonderfully intimidating villain. But the difference between him and Saltbaker is expectation. Remember, we’re not talking about horror movie villains and the like, we’re talking about dark moments that stand out in an otherwise cheery story, things that you don’t fully expect.

At the start of Cuphead, you already know The Devil is the villain. Our protagonists nearly lose their souls to him in the beginning cutscene. And you already know you’re probably gonna fight him in the end. It’s expected, all of it. You already expect The Devil to do these things because he’s the fucking Devil, stealing souls is his thing. The game has chosen this notoriously evil figure to be their villain, and he’s portrayed as such since the beginning. The game’s full title is “Cuphead: Don’t Deal with The Devil”, for crying out loud!

You already know who The Devil is, you already know what Hell is. Fighting him in the pits of hell isn’t gonna come off as a shocker to you because it’s to be expected. Chef Saltbaker however? He’s a surprise.

MDHR did an amazing job at making me second guess every thought I had of Saltbaker being evil. If you stand close enough to his bakery in the overworld you can hear him humming while he works, laughing to himself as he experiments with different recipes. He seems like the living definition of 'jolly', right up there with Santa Claus. Even now I sometimes think “How can this guy be evil?”. So long as you don’t notice the foreshadowing, his twist villainy is a bit of a shock. Though to me the shock isn’t in him being simply a villain, it’s his behavior in his boss fight.

Immediately his fight starts with him using the ingredients he asked you to fetch for him as weapons. Sentient limes and sugarcubes with their little shoes and worried faces as Chef Saltbaker dices them to throw at you. Throughout the fight you can see how unhinged Saltbaker has become. His eyes are a bright yellow, with his sockets noticeably darkened, much akin to an old Disney villain. Not to mention his smile. Unlike The Devil’s sinister grin that only shows one row of teeth. Saltbaker shows both rows, which I feel makes him a bit more scary.

That’s a major difference between him and the former. The Devil has a more cool and confident feel to his first phases, only really falling apart later on in the fight. To him, Cuphead and Mugman are some brats who flaked out on a deal they made. What’s a couple vague-children to the fucking Devil?

Chef Saltbaker, however, behaves a lot more unstable. His breathing is heavy and he’s constantly exercising his fingers. He is going to get that Wondertart and become god, and he is willing to kill in order to make that happen. It raises more alarm bells in my head than The Devil, because before all this Saltbaker was just some chef. He’s a mortal trying to claw his way up to godhood. Like I said before, he’s unsuspecting.

The Foreshadowing

Now of course, this twist doesn’t come completely out of left field. Many parts of his dialogue foreshadow the Wondertart requiring a soul. And to be honest, he does look like he’s faking his enthusiasm at times… (Though that may be me overthinking things)

Also, y’know, the part where he invented a cookie that can swap souls and a tart that can make you fucking god. The best baker in the land? Yeah no shit he’s a fucking part-time sorcerer! You can see him manifest a rolling pin out of thin air with sparkles and everything. This guy is actually magic in this world, it’s not just toon logic!

I feel that you can actually tell he was going to be the villain in the first ever trailers for the DLC, where we didn’t even know the plot of the game yet. In the reveal trailer we’re never actually shown the story or what’s going on, just that you’ll be going on a brand new adventure with Ms. Chalice - who’s alive now - as a playable character. The only new character introduced is Chef Saltbaker, who’s shown to immediately be friends with the cups.

It can be seen as a bit suspicious, the trailer basically going “This is Saltbaker, he’s your friend now :) and what-not. He’s a complete stranger to us as the player. It’s only when the DLC launches that we learn what the actual plot of the game is. Chef Saltbaker, supposedly out of the kindness of his heart, has invented a tart recipe that lets you control the Astral Plane, in order to help Ms. Chalice get another chance at life. So of course you must go beat the shit out of a bunch of people in order to get these ingredients (much akin to The Devil making you beat the shit out of people for soul contracts).

Actually, another character you can say parallels Saltbaker is the Elder Kettle. In fact, the Cuphead artbook even says “As the Elder Kettle is to Cuphead and Mugman, the jolly Chef Saltbaker is to Ms. Chalice”. However, the Elder Kettle has more obvious reasoning for helping Cuphead and Mugman.

For one, he’s likely their fucking grandfather, of course he’s gonna help them. And two, objects you can see in the background of his house implies he used to have his own adventures, so it’d make sense he would know how to help his grandchildren in this situation. It’s easier to trust him with these aspects. Saltbaker, however… he doesn’t have that familiarity. How long has Ms. Chalice known him? A week? A day?

Of course, now that I'm writing this, I worry I'm accidentally saying people being kind and helping those they don't know is inherently untrustworthy... I mean it moreso that this counts as evidence after the fact. If he never turned out to be evil, he'd just be some kindhearted baker-wizard who figured out how to make someone god so she could be alive again. But it's the fact that he just needed a soul for the recipe so he could become god (also I feel it's implied he had the wondertart recipe before he met Chalice. He was just waiting for the right target).

Like I said, MDHR did an amazing job at making Chef Saltbaker the most jolly and kindhearted-looking fellow around. They also did a good job at adding those little off things about him, making you wonder whether he really is gonna stab you in the back at the end or not. Seeing just how unhinged he truly is in his boss fight really does make you think “what the fuck”. Was this transformation gradual, or was he always like this?

He may not be 'horrific', but he really does remind me of older Disney villains, like the Hag from Snow White, or The Coachman from Pinocchio. He gives off a feeling of nostalgia, I can imagine people talking about how much he scared them as a kid if he were from an old children’s movie. His specific type of villainy is unexpected, but it’s a familiar feeling at the same time. And I love him for it.

The Conclusion

Hhhghghgfh if we judge him in the context of Cuphead’s colorful and cheerful world and the unexpected Chef Saltbaker’s a pretty fucked up villain and I love him so very much he’s an absolute darling and I love his voice and also when he says his secret ingredient for all his baking is salt is he using his own salt is it like his blood is he doing the equivalent of spitting in your food when he does this also does that mean no one else in this fucking world adds salt to their baking