MasterChef Junior: Are These Kids Really Kids?

Update 28 Sep: The Friday television ratings are out.TV By The Numbers at reports the premiere of MasterChef Junior was number 1 at the 8:00 p.m. hour beating out the premiere of Undercover Boss, Last Man Standing (a show I liked until they fiddled with it and changed a cast member), Michael J. Fox Show, and Perfect Score.

When I heard they were considering a kids version of MasterChef, I cringed. The success record of shows that try a junior version is not pretty. American Idol tried it and never did it again. We saw parents acting like divas, kids trying to be divas, and the American Idol judges trying to be serious about judging young children singing the hits. It was a mess. And The Amazing Race tried a family-friendly season. Except it turned out those families could be just as competitive and sometimes just as nasty as some in the regular season. And so it it appears MasterChef’s turn to go the kid route. I ask myself why. Like Del Shannon’s Runaway, I keep hearing why, why, why in my head.

From what I learned before the first episode aired, it was clear they were going to hold these kids to the same standards of the regular MasterChef. Which means these kids really have to know how to cook. This is not opening a can or using a box mix to make a cake here folks. Safety wise it means a full brigade of medics are right there to watch those kids should they cut themselves. And the judges, while mostly the same as in the regular series, have to hold back on the nastiness they might throw out in the regular show when something nasty is put in front of them.

Fortunately most of the kids presentations in this preliminary round were all good with some surprising exceptional cooking. It made me realize that some of these kids are learning to cook very young considering the techniques we saw. One kid brought up an exceptional looking sushi dish that a trained sushi chef would nod approvingly at. Perhaps this demonstrates a major shift in our culture where so many kids are interested in cooking food as a possible career choice. The Food Network and other places have made chefs and cooking more popular. Actually it is good thing kids learn to cook food. It is something that will carry with them all their lives and possibly pass on to their children.

MasterChef Junior is not a cooking school but a real competition. And it looks like the judges–Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot, Gordon Ramsay–are going to demand high standards from these kids. They might not use the nasty looks or comments they would use with adults, they will still have to tell them when a dish is unacceptable. Or send a kid home when they are on the bottom. I did wonder when they were judging the dishes whether they were being totally honest at times. Then again when a dish did not quite meet expectations they did tell them what was wrong with it. They seemed very surprised by the quality of the dishes prepared.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the entire season. Right now I am still not entirely convinced this was wise or needed by MasterChef. Clearly they must have done some research and found a market for this show. However judging from what I saw in the season opener, it looks promising.