“MasterChef Junior”: The 8 to 13 Year Olds Support Each Other and Are Spot-on
For anyone interested in cooking shows, you really will enjoy this post. Culled from the TV show “Master Chef”, it is an in-depth description of the various participants (a.k.a. “Junior Chefs) and their aspirations; it tells a bit about every one of the 8 contestants.
It’s delightful how these young kids support one another – for instance, when one young chef (a boy) is critiqued for preparing a dish “too simple”.. well, the other kids rally around him and make him feel better.
It is a good show; I’ve watched and enjoyed it, and it scored a HIT among adults 18 to 49. Airing on Friday night it was a highly rated broadcast show, and then it moved to Tuesdays.
It’s delightful when these youngsters show real enthusiasm as a new challenge gets revealed. They love to be creative, and are genuinely HAPPY to be on the show – despite having to stand on boxes to work on their creations! Go figure..
Mix precocious 10-year-olds with a famously volatile host and add large knives and open flames. How MasterChef Junior’s recipe for trainwreck TV instead became a heartwarming twist on the cooking competition show.
The 12-year-old boy standing in front of Gordon Ramsay has just started to cry. He’s wearing a floral bow tie, a plaid collared shirt tucked neatly into slim black jeans, and a bright white apron tied at the waist with his name embroidered on it in all caps, “LOGAN,” along with the logo of the show on which he is one of the final eight contestants, MasterChef Junior.
His two front teeth are gapped, and his sandy blond hair is parted way over on one side. When he grows up, Logan wants to be an oceanographer, an astronaut, a chef, and a garbageman. The restaurant he plans to open someday will be called “O’s Underwater Bistro” and it will have special bubbles, some “executive bubbles” and some “romantic bubbles,” where customers will dine floating around underwater separate from the main restaurant, like in submarines.
But today, Logan has overcooked and underseasoned the rice in what he says would be the signature dish at his underwater bistro. The 82-pound, 4-foot-11-inch boy from Memphis, who, unlike some of the other contestants, can actually see over the cooking counters on the MasterChef set, has had one hour to create this dish, presumably without any adult assistance. And though his perfectly seared steak has “nice char and color,” the plate overall is too simple — lackluster, Ramsay says. As the British celebrity chef tells Logan that “the judges have come to expect more from you, young man,” a tear so giant that even I can see it from behind the cameras 30 feet away drops off Logan’s cheek and hits the floor. The boy’s shoulders curve forward, his head drops, and he’s sobbing.
Producers backstage stop whispering into their mics. The cameramen are still and tense. No one likes to see a child cry. But then Ramsay, who has seven Michelin stars, 25 restaurants, and a reputation for calling the cooks on his TV shows things like “miserable wee bitch” and “you fucking donkey” does something unexpected: He steps forward, hugs the child, and tells him it’s going to be OK, that he did his best. When Logan returns to his station, no longer crying, the other children comfort him and tell him he’s a great cook.
In spring 2013, when Fox announced it was going to air a kid-centric spin-off of its amateur cooking competition MasterChef with 8- to 13-year-olds, it sounded horribly annoying — like a desperate attempt to revive a played-out format. The built-in precociousness of the concept was off-putting: 12-year-olds talking about Sriracha foam. And who wants to watch kids being mean to one another or judges hurting their feelings? “Fox’s Junior MasterChef to find newer, younger chefs to disappoint Gordon Ramsay,” wrote the AV Club.
But when the show debuted last fall, it was absolutely delightful. Now, three episodes into its second season, it’s still so good. MasterChef Junior’s first season was the highest-rated broadcast show in its Friday evening time slot among adults 18 to 49. It performed especially well in DVR and got good reviews. This season it is upgraded to a coveted Tuesday evening spot and averages a solid 5.3 million total viewers.
Seeing Ramsay’s gentler, helpful side is reason alone to watch. But the kids are the real stars because they (and the producers in the control room) turn the reality cooking show on its head by making it more heartwarming than cutthroat — they actually are here to make friends. They are more than happy to lend one another ingredients and help during the challenges. They often cry when anyone is sent home because they are sad for their friend.
They release piercing screams of delight when a food for the next challenge is revealed (“Yaaaay! Pancakes!”), and collapse on the floor with relief when they aren’t sent home. And there is a visual spectacle: They have to jump to reach ingredients in the pantry and stand on boxes to cook at the counters; the scale is off. Meanwhile, the dishes they make are very impressive and just messy enough to be believable. Basically, everything they do and say is ridiculous, and yet it makes so much more sense than what adults do on television.
While we may know better than to believe everything we see on reality TV, the question remains: Are these kids as good as they seem? And if not, would that make the show any less fun?
Like many of our reality shows, MasterChef is a European export. The adult version is based on a BBC show that initially ran from 1990 to 2001, and the brand was exported globally. More than 40 countries have adapted the show — there’s a MasterChef Italia, MasterChef Pakistan, MasterChef China, and more. The kid spin-off was first introduced in 1994 in the U.K. and has been produced in 15 different countries.
Even so, the American show’s executive producers Robin Ashbrook and Adeline Ramage Rooney, who also produce on the adult version, say they had a hard time getting Fox to sign on for Junior.
The not-distant memory of CBS’s failure with Kid Nation must have been a consideration. The 2007 show put 40 children ages 8 to 15 in a New Mexico ghost town and asked them to create a viable society without adult supervision, then was canceled amid allegations of child abuse, child labor law disputes, and a New York Times article about the insane contracts the parents signed. That same year, Bravo ordered eight episodes of Top Chef Junior with 13- to 16-year-olds, which never aired. (Bravo did not respond to a request for an explanation why.)
“You could go to anybody in the world and go, ‘Right, so we’ve got Gordon Ramsay,’ and they’d go, ‘But he shouts at people,’” Ashbrook says. “And you’d say, ‘And we’ve got this show with ovens and knives and hot dishes — and then we’re going to do it with kids.’ So on that pitch you’d be like, ‘You’re fucking out of your mind.’”
In 2012, while taping the third season of adult MasterChef, Ashbrook and Rooney taped a mystery box challenge with a group of kids — each got a box with the same surprise ingredients and had to create a dish. They sent the tape to Fox. It worked.
When the casting call went out, the press was especially critical that the kids would be as young as 8. But Rooney says having younger kids for MasterChef Junior was essential.
“Once you get to 14 to 17, they might be more skilled, but they’ve also kind of shut down a lot more,” she says. “So they’re not as good for TV, frankly.”
The rest of the show is almost identical to the adult version of MasterChef, which just aired its fifth season. The other two judges are New York restaurateur and winemaker Joe Bastianich and Chicago chef Graham Elliot. The set’s the same, the format’s the same, and the production, editing, and culinary team are almost exactly the same.
“We want it to be a show that is co-viewed with parents and that our Hell’s Kitchen fans would watch, so we didn’t want to neuter Gordon,” Rooney says, referring to one of Ramsay’s other four shows currently on Fox in which he verbally abuses aspiring chefs cooking in competition for a job at one of his restaurants.
The Gordon Ramsay who appears on MasterChef Junior is a completely different judge — helpful, goofy, and sweet — so that you start to understand why some of the people who work for him show an irrational-seeming loyalty in the face of his insulting tirades and long list of scandals.
“Firm but fair. I liken it to a soccer coach,” Ramsay says of his attitude toward the kids on the show. “If you want your child to succeed — a ballerina, become the next basketball superstar, or play for the Dodgers — then you will push them.”
The eight kids who remain in the competition on Episode 4 in Season 2 stand in a row in front of a stage where the three judges are also standing in a row. They’re on a set on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles where they’ve been staying at a nearby hotel with their parents for the first two weeks of the three-and-a-half-week production. They’re ready to find out what the first challenge of the episode will be.
Ramsay’s voice has more bravado and is much louder than the other judges’. He wanders around set with an enormous, devious presence that makes even off-camera moments feel like reality TV.
A production guy coming from the behind-the-scenes kitchen rolls a cart near the set and tells me to be careful, please don’t put your coffee on this. Covered by a cloche, this plate is handed to the judges a minute later when they announce the challenge.
“There is one ingredient that every chef relies on,” Ramsay says. His voice rises with booming excitement to build the moment where he lifts the cloche: “It’s simple. It’s glorious. And delicious! It is an…egg.”
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