Tag Archives: MasterChef Junior

MasterChef Junior Season 2 Finale: Wrapping It All Up

MasterChef-Junior-LogoSeason 2 of MasterChef Junior concluded with its finale Tuesday night crowning the bow-tie wonder Logan as Masterchef Junior for 2014. It was quite a ride though the season was short (unlike the full run of regular Masterchef which spans six weeks or more). They really had some very talented kids this year making it worth watching. Once again there was no one really to hate and most of the kids were adorable. And once again many are amazed as to how talented these kids area. More on that later. In the finale we saw two very talented junior chefs take the stage, each cooking the best meal in their lives. They just had to convince Gordon, Graham, and Joe they were worthy of the title.

And it was not so easy at all. Both of them were exceptional so it came down to very fine technical points in the end. Was the sauce right or wrong? Did the flavors go well together or did the olives make it too strong? It was those kinds of things that the judges had to sort through because both, quite frankly, could win the award. They were that good. In the end they awarded the win to Logan. I have to admit he was my underdog in the challenge.When he decided to do the salted fish I was both amazed and shocked at his decision. It is not for the faint of heart but is something you see in Sicilian dishes and elsewhere in Italy. If you ever attend an Italian Christmas Eve Dinner you probably will see a large fish that was likely cooked that way. It is very delicious and worth the effort. But not for the squeamish either. The fact he pulled it off shows Logan’s boldness and it paid off.

This season had a lot of  bright, creative kids doing things in the kitchen that astounds many and raises questions I see all the time on the Internet. Is it staged? Do the kids get coached? Is it faked? My answer is no but these are not your normal kids either. If you go into any elementary, junior high, or high school and select a random number from each and ask them to roast a chicken, many might not know what to do. The reason for this success of this show is that they pick kids that are cooking at home. The parents may be foodies or old fashioned families that want the kids to learn how to cook (in the old days that is how cooking was learned). And so at an early age they are shown how to cook. Think about how that helps out down the road. You open up a cupboard and find canned beans, spam, tuna, and rice. In the fridge are some mushrooms, bell peppers and in the pantry some onions. A clever cook or chef will make use of those ingredients to produce a decent meal while someone else might just pop open a can of beans and warm it up.

The show is enjoyable to watch and clearly is winning viewers but it not toppling the competition either. According to TV By The Numbers Tuesday’s finale had 5.5 million viewers (live plus dvr recording) while a new episode of NCIS on CBS had 17.21 million viewers. Masterchef Junior came in second place. It beat out A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC, another Christmas show on NBC, and a rerun of The Flash on CW. It will need to get a lot more viewers to topple CBS from the perch it now has on the 8-9 p.m. time slot. But the producers and schedulers are very confident in the show. So confident that season 3 will literally start on the heels of the last one and premiers on 6 Jan 2015 at 8 p.m. That seems odd to bunch them so close together like this. It is certainly a risky move and could backfire if people find more interesting things to watch.

There is also the danger of what I call déjà vu programming, When you run reality shows so close together, people might get tired of it thinking they are seeing the same thing all over again. After all, the danger for shows like Masterchef Junior is becoming formulaic lacking depth and breadth. Libby Hill over at Grub Street had this to say on this point:

The thing about both Logan and Samuel is not that they’re bad chefs or uninteresting boys. But the fascination they exhibit with the cooking process seems to be just that: a fascination with the process. It doesn’t seem like either of them really like food all that much. In other words, the finale of MasterChef Junior was missing any sense that the people involved loved food, and so a certain level of warmth was lost, too.

Her concern is that the show is more concerned with process less about the food itself. She has a point in that but regretfully in cooking shows of this kind, process is going to be desired. This is not a food science or food cooking show like on the old Food Network but a competition. Perhaps competitors will try to get that into their shows. Fox probably knows or expects that other networks might be looking at their own kids food shows to compete with Fox. Food Network probably has someone working on it right now and planning either Booby Fool or Gina Italian to handle it (Alton Brown is too grizzled looking like someone out of a Friday The 13th movie). Again people watching television make decisions: do I want to watch my favorite comedy/drama or watch kids cook like adults? So far millions are making the choice not to watch Masterchef Junior so running the shows nearly back-to-back makes little sense to me.  Time will tell on this one.

A problem I see is that fine line between adults and kids seems to becoming blurred on this show at times. I get the impression that while Gordon, Graham, and Joe treat these kids on one level as children, that it changes as the competition goes on. There is a shift and often comes as the challenges get more difficult and more suitable for adults. Like running a professional kitchen. It is one thing to have the adult contestants do a restaurant shift (and it is very tough on them)but to throw 8-12 year old kids into a professional kitchen seems unwise to me. I just wonder if some child experts out there will eventually start criticizing the show on these lines.

Masterchef Junior Season 2 Winner Logan Guleff Photo: Fox
Masterchef Junior Season 2 Winner Logan Guleff
Photo: Fox

At any rate, we wrap up this season with big congratulations to Logan. The bow-tied wonder proved he was the best. And more importantly shows bow ties are not a bad thing to wear anymore. And I look forward to eating in his restaurant one day (even if it is underwater!).

MasterChef Junior: King Salmon Decides Winners(Episode 6)

MasterChef-Junior-LogoThe MasterChef Junior Semifinal had Adaiah,Abby,Logan and Samuel fillet a king salmon but then also cook the portions into one stellar dish. None of the kids had ever done this before so Gordon demonstrated the proper way. Say what you want about Gordon, but he is a master of his trade. The kids try to match but only Adaiah and Samuel do the best job while Abby and Logan struggled. Adaiah had the most portions so she got the win. Her prize was to select the number of ingredients her fellow cheftestants would use. Which brings us to to the product placement chapter of this episode titled “Selling the Fridge.” After a glowing description of the fridge, Adaiah looks into the fridges since they are not tagged. I wondered why and then realized it was all part of the advertising. Without her opening them, we would not see the insides!

She gives Abby 100 ingredients,the fussbudget Samuel 25 (“pedestrian” ingredients),herself 50,and leaves only 5 for the bow-tied wonder Logan. Logan produces a good moist salmon by poaching in olive oil though stumbles with the raw broccoli rabe. Samuel overcame burning his salmon and produced a good dish as well. Sadly Abby had an overooked salmon though the puree is good. Adaiah had a lot of ingredients that mostly went well and her salmon was decent. What sealed her doom was burnt garlic. I know from personal experience how this can totally ruin an otherwise good dish. The smell hits your nostrils but it also dominates the dish. Whatever goodness you have on the dish will be overshadowed by the burned garlie.

Which is sad because it sends Adaiah home along with Abby. I really liked Adaiah and think she is more talented than Samuel. No surprise with Abby going on, she was unfocused. Logan is a surprise. I think early on many wondered if he would make it this far. Not me, this kid has talent and is serious challenge to Samuel. So it is the fussbudget versus the bow tied wonder. Bow ties are oft ridiculed but it really comes down to the person who wears it and Logan wears it well. It ought to be a good match between these two and I hope Logan pulls out the win if nothing else to prove that someone wearing a bow tie is not the comic nor fool many think they are.


Masterchef Junior:Six Becomes Four After Pop-Up Problem(Episode 5)

MasterChef-Junior-LogoThe most challenging part of Masterchef is the restaurant (or similar) challenge where you cook either for the public or invited guests. On Masterchef we have seen cheftestants run breakfast in a major hotel, do weddings, and take over a restaurant to serve a meal. It has been on Masterchef Junior as well and this year they decided to do it with a pop-up restaurant. These are the will-o’the-wisp of the restaurant world: restaurants that magically appear for a moment somewhere and are gone. Unlike the mythical will-o’-the-wisp that  lure you off safe trails at night, these attract those who have been invited to partake of these meals. Often social media or a telephone call alerts you to its upcoming existence. And it no doubt they get the ire of local oversight agencies who can neither regulate them nor get any fees paid for them to operate.

Since we are going to drop two at the end, this episode will really put the kids to the test. The question you have to ask is whether you want them to run a meal service. Remember these kids have never worked in a professional kitchen which means lots of pressure and stress to get the food out. It is one thing to help out in the home kitchen but quite another to have customers waiting for your food to arrive at their plates in a timely fashion. It is an intense experience that is very hard for adults to do and just as tough for kids to do as well. Even the best and brightest of this bunch is going to find this challenge difficult.

And it was. Both teams–led by Samuel (Blue) and Abby(Red)– both had major problems getting food out. Gordon was expediter and we all know how he fiery he gets with poorly made food. You could see Gordon really struggling to not let loose. Oona had problems with deep frying, Adaiah had never cooked filet mignon, Logan made multiple mistakes in seasoning. Gordon had to take time and counsel them to do better. Graham had to step in at one point to show how to step it up. The good news is that in the end both teams delivered good meals. The bad news is that one team had to loose and that was Samuel’s. Usually when a team loses on Masterchef, you face the dreaded pressure test where you cook some fiendish dish the judges have decided for you to cook. The cooking challenge was the elimination challenge so they merely had to decide which two of the losing team to send home: Samuel, Oona or Sean.

It was inevitable the decision to send Oona and Sean home since Samuel was the better of the three. However it was hard to see Oona go. She was really impressive and I thought it possible for her to be in the semifinal or top two. She has the drive, passion, and creativity. But this challenge showed that none of these kids were ready to work in a professional kitchen yet. This episode, like last week, had an odd feel to it. Again something was missing like the usual magic and sparkle the show has. It was like half a show really, as if a lot was chopped and edited out. Sean’s comment that working with Gordon was “traumatizing” will no doubt raise concerns about the pressure of the show on kids. At any rate we now move on to the semifinals which has Abby, Adaiah, Logan and Samuel now competing for the trophy and money. My concern is, especially watching Gordon having a talk with Logan in this episode, that the fine line between treating them as kids as opposed to adults is becoming harder for the judges.

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Masterchef Junior:Perfect Eggs and Signature Dish (Episode 4)

egginpanIt is Thanksgiving week but not on Masterchef Junior season 2. Nope, no turkey and all the trimmings here. I am surprised they did not have one. It would be a great challenge to have these kids come up with an upscale turkey meal for Thanksgiving. Instead we get a fried egg challenge and have them cook their signature dish. This was an underwhelming episode and perhaps one of the reasons Joe “the stare” Bastianich has decided to move on from the Masterchef franchise in 2015 (except for filmed episodes of the next season already in the can). Really this was one episode you could miss and come back later to watch. Or not at all.

So the kids all line up to learn they will cook perfectly made sunny side up eggs. They have done this on Masterchef but not on the junior side of the show. Oh and they have ten minutes to cook as many as they can. Perfectly. Off they go to get the pans nice and hot, and cracking those eggs into the pans. If these kids saw what happened on that Masterchef episode, they would have doubled their efforts to do it right. In that episode three former contenders were cooking eggs for the chance to return to the show. It was brutal as the judges tossed any egg and its plate into the trash that did not measure up. Nor did they mention the number of eggs cooked perfectly would have a very important impact on the next challenge.

Now I suppose the lesson here is consistency. In restaurants, each meal has to be perfection on the plate each and every time. And mastering how to perfectly cook sunny side up eggs is one way to do this. The adults did not fare well in the challenge and most of the kids end up overcooking them or worse. Abby got only two eggs correct while the others got four to ten eggs right. Sean got ten for the win.There was no trip to the pantry tonight and no selection of foods to be done by the winner. Instead the number of eggs successfully cooked meant the number of ingredients in your signature dish. Great for most but it left Abby with just 2 ingredients. Oh boy. Gordon tried to console her but it came out kind of flat to me. In fact he was smiling way too much about it as if he was happy it occurred.

We learn the various restaurant dreams the kids have. Abby wants to have a combined veterinary and restaurant. Bring your animal in for care and then sit down for a meal! It will be called Horses and Courses. Logan wants to have an underwater bistro! Moving on….Graham decides to reveal he started out at 17 as a dishwasher in a restaurant. And it turns out his mentor to get into the business back then was none other than Gordon Ramsay. Moving on again….Abby is limited to two ingredients and decides to do salmon & asparagus done five ways. Samuel is going to do a blood orange glazed duck breast with zucchini and pasta. Just be careful to select the right fruit. His restaurant will be called Le Samuel with a French-Asian theme. He even has drawn what the restaurant will look like and describes it. Ah filler can be interesting in an episode that is well, boring. At least he has thought out his restaurant but he needs to work on recognizing his fruits and vegetables first like cucumber and zucchini. Now that is a trick question since both cucumber and zucchini are fruits but treated as culinary vegetables. It is easy at first glance to make the mistake but they are not that hard to distinguish upon close examination.

The dishes went from really good (Abby, Adaiah and Samuel) to not that good (Logan, Levi, Sean, Oona and Sean). On the bottom were Josh, Levi, Oona and Sean. Both Oona and Sean were saved sending Josh and Levi home. Levi said the best part was meeting Ramsay. Josh says Samuel or Sean will be the winner.

As the credits rolled by, I really thought this episode just lacked the punch of the previous episodes. Something was very off here. Libby Hill over at Grub Street says that the elimination challenge was flat.

There was a certain winning quality about watching the kids talk about their imagined restaurants and showing off their elaborately planned layouts, some meticulously colored. And sure it was darling to see a little girl extoll the virtues of her future restaurant — called “Horses and Courses” — complete with ride-up pony parking, but the rhythms of the episode were a complete disaster. The entire thing was so ill-timed that dish-tasting and judging began halfway through the episode, since it means the show had to devote an entire 20 minutes to the criticism of hardworking children.

Her criticism is that the judges do the good cop/bad cop routine too much. Meaning while they praise they good efforts, they continually ding you for the mistakes. She cites Logan as an example of this. Joe said his meat was good but that his rice was overcooked and lacked salt. And that was that. Gordon praises the meat and knocks the rice as well and then spends more time explaining his critique:“I just expected you to be a little more elaborate. And I have to be honest with you because we are looking for the best youngster. And you’re normally up there. So I am just slightly underwhelmed.” He goes on later to say he took seven ingredients and made them look like three. Others clearly get that Gordon is unhappy. Samuel even whistled. Logan looked rattled from the experience.

Gordon thinks Logan is so much better and was clearly disappointed in what was presented. So he gave him a more stinging rebuke in order to light a fire under the kid. It did succeed in knocking Logan down; he looked pretty down afterwards. Gordon never raised his voice, never cursed or said anything obscene. Perhaps that is what disturbs some who watch it. The message is clear enough: you can do better so do better! It is drill instructor light. On the other hand, the continued harping seems pointless. Logan got the message so why did Gordon keep beating the dead horse? Because I think he was frustrated with what he saw with his dish and probably other ones as well. He had enough and decided to vent. It was at the expense of a child who may have felt brow-beaten by the time it was over.

At any rate I felt this whole episode was pointless. Other than learning the kids restaurant desires, it is neither here nor there in the entirety of the show. This is that episode, and every show has one, where they know it is something to fill the schedule and nothing more. Pun intended, this was a turkey of an episode that ought to have been scuttled. I would preferred to have seen the famous WKRP episode with now classic turkey drop in it.

MasterChef Junior:Cupcakes and Shepherd’s Pie (Episode 3)


This episode saw the kids to pair up to cook gourmet cupcakes and the elimination challenge was Gordon’s favorite foods as a kid with his mom on hand to deliver them personally. And we said farewell to some junior chefs as well.

The theme of this episode was working in teams and creativity. Cupcakes were the mystery box challenge. Not the pale imitations you find in grocery aisles but upscale version of what was once a classic treat at school food sales or church socials. Sadly cupcakes are banned now in many schools thanks to the nuttiness of new food rules (and it even limits or excludes natural or organic ones-vegan might be okay but who wants a vegan cupcake?) Each kid got to try one and were enthusiastic about eating them. However the challenge to make upscale cupcakes was a team challenge and partners were formed randomly by having a similar cupcake. So that gave us the following teams:

1. Mitchell & Abby
2. Josh & Oona
3. Sam & Adaiha
4. Logan & Sean
5. Levi  & Samuel

And since Masterchef hates to be predictable, it was a three-legged partnership. A goofy but fun way to learn teamwork, which is required in many places of life and not just a working kitchen. Oona is partnered with Josh, about the same size as her, and she worries they might be walked over. Getting stuff from the pantry is more challenging this way and a hoot to watch as they get what they need tethered to the other person. This is the first time Masterchef has done this but did it result in teamwork? Usually a team pulls together to get a common project done using all their combined efforts. Yes all the teams produced cupcakes but not one team produced a combined cupcake. Instead each team member produced six cupcakes of their own to present with the other person’s six cupcakes. Now they had to work together to select the pantry items and helped each other out in the preparation and cooking process. But in the end though judged as team it was two individual efforts rather than a unified cupcake that both worked on to perfection.

The top three selected were:

Adaiah & Sam: Orange Honey Blossom and Vanilla with Raspberry
Wow. They do look stunning. Gordon raves about their flavor and lightness. Joe says they are the type of cupcake he would spend money on.

Abby & Mitchell: Mexican Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Graham likes both but notes that on the peanut butter the topping is not over the entire cupcake. Delicious and I want some!

Logan & Sean: Joe wants a bam (channeling Emeril Lagasse) and gets it with the Lemon Basil and Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes. They even put a sugar candy icing on top. Joe raves and notices the raspberry one has a filling. Gordon is wowed as well saying it represents teamwork.

Mom is in the House
Logan & Sean win it and head back to the pantry to learn what the elimination challenge is. The good news is that they do not have to cook. Now for the task: they must select one of Gordon’s favorite foods as a kid. And his mom shows up to deliver them!  His favorites were fish finger sandwich, chicken curry, and shepherd’s pie. Right away I think the shepherd’s pie would be the most difficult. It is a great rustic dish that has become more upscale in recent years. Usually it is beef or lamb though combining meats is not uncommon along with potato mash on top. You can view a basic easy to make recipe at Martha Stewart’s web site. Sean and Logan head up to the balcony for tea and treats while the kids learn what the challenge will be from Gordon’s mom-shepherd’s pie.

It is pretty clear from the reaction that not one of them have ever made it. Fortunately they can call home thanks to the magic of Skype and a tablet. The moms give their advice and then the kids get to work making an upscale dish. Oona is missing some ingredients like tomato or cream and asks around for them. Sam screwed up his mash and starts sobbing about it. Graham comes down to show how he can fix it by making it a pea and mash potatoes. That is the difference between a novice and a chef. Every chef has something go critically wrong  and has to fix it fast. And Graham knew exactly how to fix it. And it works for Sam. Meanwhile Gordon and his mom visit Oona. Oona is using garam masala in her version. Gordon teases her about dating his son Jack. She is not interested! They seem to like teasing her because she comes across as both funny and serious. Samuel is working on a “deconstructed” shepherd’s pie. Joe is concerned about that as am I.

Deconstructed?  As he explains what he is doing, it clearly is not simply throwing the pie’s components on a plate but a sophisticated version. Okay this might actually work out. Time goes by fast and the aromas are really getting the judges excited. On the balcony, Logan and Sean say Oona is not doing so well. A thunderous crash of glass breaking in the kitchen area (where the gadgets are) indicates something has broken. Sam comes out and he is okay. But call the clean-up crew, broken glass in the aisle!

The judging showed most got it mostly right but Oona, Mitchell and Sam are on the bottom. Oona was sure it would send her home. Gordon and his mom try it. It did not look upscale but rustic, the mash was good as was the meat but Gordon notes it was greasy. Oona is tearing up at this point but Gordon reminds every chef makes mistakes and his mom reminded him to not to give up. Joe says he makes mistakes and you learn to get over it. He thought it was mostly okay but not her finest dish. Mitchell’s does not look good and Gordon says it was strange like a chopped burger. And the meat is dry. Sam’s pea and mash is good but the beef is also dry. Meanwhile Oona back at her bench is sure she is heading home.

The favorites were Samuel for his Moroccan Shepherd’s Pie, Levi with his lamb with parmesan mashed potatoes. But Adaiah tops them all with a Napoleon style Shepherd’s Pie. When I saw it, I realized how good this girl is. That takes finesse and confidence to pull it off. And the judge’s were impressed as well giving her the win for the night.

Sadly Oona, Mitchell, and Sam are called down to face the chop. Oona, who of the three had the better dish, is spared. She is relieved and says she won by the skin of her teeth. Though she admits there is no skin on her teeth! Actually the phrase comes from an English translation of the Geneva Bible (1560) specifically Job 19:20 (Phrase Finder)which says “I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe.” It is used to describe barely escaping from disaster.

Next time on MasterChef Junior: the infamous sunny side up egg challenge and they cook their signature dishes.

MasterChef Junior US:Pancake Follies and Citrus Pies(Episode 2)

We learned in this episode that (1)the Culinary Trio of Graham, Gordon, and Joe do not like having imitation maple syrup dumped all over them and (2) selecting citrus cream pies is a successful strategy to knock some competitors out of the race.

Last year there was the famous Whipped Cream Challenge. Three were selected to make whipped cream manually and then, to test if it is done right by turning over their bowls on the heads of the judges. Done right and nothing will fall out. Only Alexander got it right making Gordon and Joe getting lots of cream all over their heads.

This year they decided to make Oona,Samuel,and Sean cook up as many pancakes as they could in six minutes. The largest stack wins saving a Masterchef judge from having (imitation)maple syrup over their heads. Sean got the win leaving Gordon and Graham having the syrup poured over their heads. In the end Joe got it as well and for a moment wore a pancake beanie on his head. Gordon recounts what it felt like below:


With the pancake follies over and with the magic of television making the judges looking clean and neat again along with the cooking area, the more serious part of the show began. And for Sean it was deciding which cream pie to have the others cook:chocolate cream pie, fruit cream pie, or citrus cream pie. Pies look easy but are tricky. I wondered if these kids could pull off making a delicious cream filling and a good crust. And Sean choose the trickiest of all: citrus. Citrus is acidic so you have to really get it just right. Make it too tart and people’s lips will pucker. Too sweet will send others screaming into that not so gentle night. Undercook and it is a disaster. Above all it has to be harmonious. Sean gets another advantage to save someone and saves Mitchell. So the citrus cream pie challenge gets underway.

Can these kids pull off such a tricky challenge? Oona decides to make a passion fruit orange cream pie and seems pretty confident it will work out. Sounds good! Samuel is doing a grapefruit and rose water cream pie. Grapefruit? It would not be my first choice. And a lot of people do not care for grapefruit which is why you do not see it on a pie menu often. But hey, Samuel might pull it off. Abby says she makes pies with her grandmother. Gordon wishes her well but Abby asks him to leave so she can concentrate! Levi goes for a key lime and coconut cream pie but Graham warns it needs more lime. Josh’s also making a key lime pie but Joe is worried it is sweet. Josh has a problem though-his voice. He seems to be having trouble speaking. I cannot tell if it is just nervousness or he is getting over a cold. Adaiah is going more complicated with a orange-lemon-raspberry pie. Wow that is a lot to pull off and Gordon is a bit concerned. She is confident though since she comes from a long line of Southern bakers.

Natalie though has a problem. She wanted to cook an orange cream pie but picked grapefruit by mistake. So now it is a grapefruit coconut cream pie. Gordon is concerned and I see the signs of doom on this one. Perhaps she will pull it off. But Gordon tastes nothing in the filling like grapefruit/coconut so that increases my worries Natalie could be on the bottom tonight. Jessica comes off as the best pie baker because of her experience and also did a key lime pie. The way she did the pipping on the pie made me realize she has most of the mechanics down pat. Logan, who bursts with energy, feels great with his lime-raspberry pie. The judges themselves are amazed at the level these kids are cooking at.

The Top
Adaiah (well presented and flavors awesome.)
Oona(Gordon raved about it.)
Abby(despite using jelly beans on top, it worked!)
Levi (balanced and well presented.)

The Middle
Samuel (for not controlling spices, heavy on the cream, crust a little underdone.)
Logan (not visually appealing but delicious.)
Sam (crust underdone but otherwise good.)
Josh(crust underdone but flavors good.)

Natalie (sweet but not much grapefruit flavor and raw pastry dough.)
Jessica (not enough filling, crust uneven.)

The Winners
Levi and Adaiah

And Those Selected For Elimination
Sam, Josh, Jessica and Natalie

Sent Home
Jessica & Natalie

And now we have the top ten! Next week it is a three-legged challenge and Gordon Ramsay’s mom stops by!

My Perspective
An interesting episode that will leave cynics wondering if the kids are being coached. One of the search queries for this site is whether Masterchef Junior is fake. Consider how phony a lot of reality television is, that is a valid question. I doubt this is the case here. Simply put, it would be hard to pull it off and not have one of the kids spill the beans. The kids may be well prepared at home but Masterchef Junior wants these kids to earn their prize honestly. Still the skill level of these kids is well above the ordinary so it raises questions. However cooking has become really popular and open to all ages. We are seeing the results of many years of making cooking accessible to everyone, not just those who attend cooking schools. Shows like America’s Test Kitchen try to make good cooking possible and easy without having to rely on frozen meals or packaged ready mix foods like macaroni and cheese.

So no, I doubt the show is faked to make them cook better than they really are. That I think is part of the magic: that these kids can really cook. Oona may be small and not able to stand at her workbench without footstool, but see shows a lot of passion in her cooking. Even the judges are amazed at what they see and this clearly reflects something going on in the home. Parents or whoever are the guardians are getting them interested in cooking and letting them discover (with proper precautions of course)their skills. In short, these kids will grow up unafraid of cooking and will pass it on to their own children one day. We have sort of lost that in our modern times where families learned to cook together and often you would see three or sometimes four generations all cooking together especially at holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

But I do wish they would sort of reign in the theatrics like syrup dumping. Okay I get why they do it but need to be more creative and change it up so it appears later in the season. Or perhaps a trip to a local beach or entertainment venue might spice up such things. Other than that this show is quite good, the kids positive, and the food preparation on par with what you would see on the regular Masterchef. Heck these kids could probably run rings around some of the fools that fill out Hell’s Kitchen! I doubt Alexander would screw up a risotto or scallop dish which seems to happen regularly on that show.

Masterchef Junior Has New Kids In The House …And Yes They Are Kids

Masterchef Junior is a show that defies the odds. When it was first conceived, I had my doubts you could have a show with kids cooking. Other children based reality shows have not fared well but Masterchef Junior has managed to pull it off. Now in its second season, we ask the same question as to whether these kids are really kids. They exhibit energy, passion, and talent for cooking. Their parents and family no doubt are where it begins so these kids are not without some experience in cooking. This year they dropped the preliminary selection process and started with the top 16. They vary in range from 8-13.

Like last year the judges tend to be less harsh in what they say but clearly say whether it is good or bad. It was very disappointing for one young girl to bring up a chicken parmesan only to learn from Gordon it had not been properly cooked. Another was way too spicy causing problems for Gordon. But those that do very well get richly praised. One reason for the judges to be less harsh (aside from the obvious of being a kids show)is that all three are parents themselves. So they understand kids and what they can do.

It amazes me how creative these kids are. You have to figure they have been doing cooking for a while to be able to pull off what they do. If what we saw in the premier is any indication, we are in for a treat. Except for the judges who appear to have some liquid dumped on their heads in the next episode of Masterchef Junior.


Masterchef Junior Season 2 Starts Tonight

So here we go again. The kids are in the house and want to prove they can cook. Joe, Graham and Gordon have to be on their best behavior in dealing with these junior cheftestants.  Last year the ratings were good but this year it is up against NCIS on CBS. Will Masterchef Junior put a serious fork in NCIS and dominate? We will have to all watch and find out.

Masterchef Junior Season 2(US) premiers tonight on FOX 8:00 p.m. (7 p.m. central time).


MasterChef Junior Season 2 Update

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

MasterChef Junior will now be premiering on Tuesday 4 Nov at 8 p.m. in Utopia’s old time slot (that failing show is now banished to Friday). A new cast of very young cheftestants is ready and eager to prove they are just as good as the ones 18+. And of course our culinary trio of Joe Bastianich, Gordon Elliot, and Gordon Ramsay are going to lead them on this food journey. Unlike the other show, foul language will not be used (although Gordon did break down last year and say a rude word but then he had a whole bowl of cream dumped on his head!). And of course these being very young kids, they are being watched by a team of medics and other personnel to make sure all is well. If you want to see interviews of the kids competing, go to MasterChef Junior at Fox.com.


MasterChef Junior Ends On A High Note

The first season of MasterChef Junior is over after 7 episodes. This whirlwind competition saw some really terrific cooking from some very small kids. What made this show stand-up and make people take notice is how well it was done. Other kids reality shows have gone badly, with parents being divas and kids becoming divas. And while many shows about kids tend to exploit them, MasterChef Junior choose to treat them with respect, give them encouragement, and even when they send home the losers made sure it was done right.

Fans of Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef know that Gordon Ramsay is never afraid to say what he thinks (resulting in the usual bleep). On this show, except for one occasion when Gordon had cream dumped on his head, there was no need to bleep one word out. Joe’s stare was downgraded to a more friendly gaze and he did not dump any dishes into the trash. And Graham was mostly still Graham, though his comments less pointed than normal if the dish was below par. The judges spoke encouragingly of the kids and tried give them helpful advice.

They also avoided tricks done on other shows to elicit reactions from them (like having people lie to them to see how they react) or set-up conflicts as well. I previously commented that perhaps next season they would try to inject conflict. Thinking it over, I realize they are not likely going down that path. They simply do not need to. The formula they are using works just fine. If there is any conflict (at this is a competition so there is apt to be), it will be minimal. Doubtful we will see a younger version of MasterChef scheming characters here.

Friday we saw two rising aspiring chefs, Dara and Alexander, compete for the top prize. They used the same format as the finale for MasterChef where they set up a culinary thunder dome, have the eliminated contestants and family around, and give them 90 minutes to produce a stunning three course meal of appetizer, entrée and dessert. Unlike the regular, they only had to prepare one serving (the adults prepare three servings, one for each of the judges). During the cooking phase, Dara started having a problem feeling a bit weak and needing water. The competition stopped for a few moments (but the clock kept ticking)while water was quickly brought to her and Alexander tried to calm her down. Then the competition resumed.

The judges were floored by the food they were served. Each of them produced stunning dishes and only minor technical issues separated them in the end (Dara had a more sophisticated appetizer while Alexander’s was more simple or Dara slightly overcooked her prawns in the entrée while Alexander’s was perfectly cooked). This was very definitely a tough call which meant the winner was someone who just nicked out the win. Like one of those horse races where the winner just has the slightest edge over the other. And so Alexander became the first winner of MasterChef Junior. Dara though is by no means crying about her loss. The judges complimented her on how well she did. She walks out of there without a trophy but invaluable experience that will shape her future.

This show was overall a success and the ratings bear it out. The finale was second overall behind Undercover Boss on CBS. Last Man Standing (ABC) came in third. It never fell out of the top three during its run but I still think it runs into the believability quotient. More people watch Undercover Boss because it is more believable to them and perhaps more entertaining then watching kids cook. Also many are wondering whether or not the kids were actors, coached behind the scenes. and think the whole thing is staged. All reality shows are staged in one way or another, but how they do it makes the difference. In this case they used the tried and true MasterChef formula for selecting the kids and the challenges. And yes they use selective editing to their advantage.

Are there concerns? Yes. Parents are the ones being targeted by Fox to get their kids into the competition. It makes sense but also allows “stage parents” to offer up their kids. If you are unfamiliar with “stage parents,” these are parents that push their kids into all kinds of acting jobs often acting as their managers. Some push them into movies, or television, or even modeling at young ages. There are unfortunate examples out there of these parents who have damaged their kids so they can get fame. That being said, most parents are not in this category but they have to be careful about deciding to do this. There are plenty of people out there willing to use kids for their own purposes not to mention Internet trolls. Parents will need to really be on top of things if they go down this route. And not just the parents. The producers need to protect these kids as well and prepare them for what lies ahead. Andy Dehnart over at Reality Blurred says it best:

Producers and networks have a responsibility not just to care for their young cast members on set, but do their best to care for them after production and when the show airs, preparing them for the reality of life on and off a reality series, such as encountering criticism or ridicule from strangers online.

I began reviewing this whole show asking the question Are These Kids Really Kids? They are and they are exceptional ones at that. My other concern is that they perhaps put too much pressure on these kids to be like adult cooks. However the way they are treated on this show avoids a lot of nastiness and instead tries to induce mutual respect and good will. Cooking is one way to learn your own skills for later in life but also appreciating other cooking styles and methods. And any show that allows the three MasterChefs–Gordon, Graham and Joe–to take a cream bath knows how to tread the line between serious competition and injecting some fun into it. So I look forward to another season. I hope next year they will bring in some guest chefs like on the regular show and perhaps some past MasterChef winners as well.


Why Masterchef Junior is awesome, and very different than TV that hurts kids (8 Nov 2o13, Reality Blurred)

TV Ratings Friday: ‘MasterChef Junior’ Rises, ‘Shark Tank’ Steady + ‘Grimm’ & ‘Dracula’ Fall(9 Nov 2013, zap2it.com)

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