Small-screen sound-off: MasterChef Junior
World-renowned chef and professional trash-talker Gordon Ramsay will resume his television dominance Thursday nights on FOX with season five of “MasterChef Junior.” Ramsay understands his foul-mouthed reputation and uses it well – he once put a slice of bread on each of Julie Chen’s cheeks and forced the talk show host to admit that she was an “idiot sandwich” in a skit on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” Fortunately, he tones down his anger for the eight- to 13-year-olds competing for a $100,000 prize.
The show begins with 40 kids from across the country, but only the top 20 earn a white apron that ensures them a spot to compete for the title of “MasterChef Junior.” Ramsay and co-judge Christina Tosi, an award-winning pastry chef, will be joined by guest stars like The Muppets, Martha Stewart and former First Lady Michelle Obama, who were all previewed in the premiere of season five.
While Ramsay is the face of the show, the real stars are the unbelievably talented children. These junior chefs are vibrant as they make decadent dishes like salmon en papillote, pan seared scallops and southern breaded pork chops.
“The kids have this insane fearlessness,” Tosi says, speaking to Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times. “They haven’t yet learned to build up their walls; they aren’t ashamed to say they don’t know the rules of cooking; they’re not afraid to humble themselves to the learning process.”
And compared to the contestants on “MasterChef,” the equivalent of “MasterChef Junior” but with adults who frequently try to undermine each other’s efforts, the kids are quick to encourage one another, even checking in on their competition to embolden them to do their best. Their ability to look at their competition as peers rather than competitors is refreshing in today’s combative climate.
Watching these kids cook makes a college student, who struggles to find the right amount of chicken flavoring to put in his ramen noodles, feel defeated. The children use flair and elegance when handling kitchen instruments that most parents would never let their kids get close enough to touch. The meals they produce, often with the assistance of a stool behind their work station so they can reach the counter, are unbelievable and consistently shock the judges.
Nine-year-old and self-proclaimed seafood expert Donovan – who learned how to make Chinese-inspired dishes from his babysitter – wowed the judges in the season premiere with his pan seared salmon with hoisin ginger sauce, bok choy, ponzu sauce and jade rice. Nine-year-old Syd earned a white apron by making salmon en papillote, muttering “I believe in myself” while she worked.
Ramsay and Tosi are wonderful with the young chefs. They talk to the kids with the maturity that they deserve, complimenting them when they succeed, offering criticism when they could have done better and comforting them when their emotions get the best of them. Ramsay shows his softer side when addressing the contestants, and his mild demeanor is refreshing compared to the anger viewers see on Ramsay’s other shows like “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Viewers of “MasterChef Junior” will learn much more than cooking from the young contestants. The junior chefs teach people of all ages to be themselves and motivate the people around them. Learn from these kids. Do not be an idiot sandwich.