MasterChef Junior: Ten Things I’m Thankful For
I have a not-even-trying-to-be-secret love of competition cooking shows.Â Chopped? Amazing. Cutthroat Kitchen? Alton Brown takes such wicked delight in messing with those poor chefs and I just love it. Anything involving a food truck? I am sat on my couch, probably because I want to own a food truck, or just have one parked in front of my house at all times, whichever.
But my absolute favorite at the moment, hands down, has to be MasterChef Junior. I’m a sucker for precociously adorable children, and a big fan of Adult MasterChef (which I think should be its actual name from now on, becauseÂ MasterChef JuniorÂ is by far the superior of the two) so this show is my kitchen competition dream come true.
In the spirit of the holidays here are 10 reasons I’m thankful forÂ MasterChef Junior. Team Oona!
1) It lets the judges pitch in: While on other competition cooking programs, the judges may be terse, rude, or plain ol’ foul-mouthed bullies, onÂ MasterChef JuniorÂ they’re supportive and helpful. I mean, they’re chefs; they want to cook, right? When it was clear Sam’s soupy mashed potatoes couldn’t be salvaged (causing Sam to start to melt down, as one does; potatoes are tricky), judge Graham Elliot ran over to him to lend a hand. “Strain the potatoes, blend the peas and use the potatoes as a thickener for the peas. Go!” With Elliot’s support and (minimal) input Sam was able to calm himself down and finish the dish. Bonus: I learned what to do next time I mess up mashed potatoes.
2) You can tell the judges are all dads and they are awesome: Their interactions with the young chefs are more relaxed than with their adult counterparts, and when the kids are upset, they know how to calm them down and get them back on track. When Oona messed up her shepherd’s’ pie, she was on the verge of tears. Joe Bastianich talked her off the ledge and got her to smile. He explained how she had succeeded and praised her efforts, before gently telling her how her dish didn’t quite measure up, preparing her for disappointment. This is exactly how you handle an upset child. She was still convinced she was going home, but by then she was ok with it (she stayed).
3) The judges are allowed to be themselves (more or less): Look, I have no misconceptions that, away from Hell’s Kitchen or MasterChef, Gordon Ramsay is a kitten, or, when he’s not publicly berating contestants, Joe Bastianich is a soft-spoken gentleman who would not dare let a harsh word cross his lips (I’m not sure about Graham Elliot. He seems fine on TV. Is he hiding something?) but I’m fair certain they’re not the raging douche-faces we’ve come to know. Watching Ramsay tease little Oona about marrying his son Jack, (“Oona and Jack Ramsay, everyone! Meet the bride and groom!”) while she got progressively more aggravated (“CUT IT OUT!”) was simply adorable and reminded me of being teased by my favourite uncle as a kid (Uncle Roger was relentless and I miss him). I suspect that’s more how Ramsay is when he’s at home, than the man we’re used to seeing on our televisions. Little secret? I like this guy better.
4) The Food: This seems like a no-brainer, because, at the heart of it, aren’t all competition cooking shows about the food? I’d have to answer, “No,” to that, because I’m not interested in everything that’s cooked on each episode o fMasterChef. I live in Alberta; I can grill a steak, thank-you very much. And while I’m not fascinated with every item created onÂ MasterChef JuniorÂ I’ll say this: The show is geared to kids, so the food is as well, so therefore, it is geared towards me. Pancakes, syrup, cupcakes, cream pies, mom-inspired comfort foods? Yes, please. Brightly-coloured candies and frostings and fillings and sticky-sweet desserts? Heck, yeah. A perfectly-stunning Eggs Benedict is fine for adult-themed shows, but I will take your lemon basil and chocolate raspberry cupcakes every day, Logan and Sean.
5) It’s quieter: I like some drama as much as the next viewer, and seeing a contestant I particularly dislike get a well-deserved dressing down, or the boot, is very satisfying viewing. But even I get tired of hearing Ramsay call someone a donkey (more of a Hell’s Kitchen affectation, I know; stay with me) or scream in someone’s face, or of seeing a young home-cook’s dreams crumble to dust when Joe Bastianich tells him his food is “garbage” and throws it in the trash. Sure, there’s some drama onÂ MasterChef JuniorÂ but it’s very limited, and dealt with quickly. Most of the time, too, it has something to do with those uncooperative potatoes. It’s nice to get through an entire episode with no yelling, no name calling and no screaming, unless it’s Abby encouraging some absolutely amazing pancake flipping.
6) Chef Ramsay’s Mom: Mother Ramsay comes a-visiting to just about all Gordon’s TV shows, I think. I suspect those arrivals, along with the separate visits of Chef Ramsay’s wife and kids, are part of a conscious effort to soften his public persona. Meh, it works on me. I’m unapologetically easily led. And while I’ve seen “Mum” before, again, it’s theÂ MasterChef JuniorÂ appearance that’s my favourite. She’s more at ease, and teases her son like all moms do (“Was I this good at that age?” “You’re not that good now…”) and the young contestants just lap it up. While the inclusion of Ramsay’s mother (by all appearances a lovely woman) may have been a calculated move to soften Ramsay’s image for the viewing public, it worked on softening him up to the kid contestants, as well, who seemed charmed by his mom. She was extra sweet with the young chefs who were having difficulty, and by poking fun at Gordon, was able to help the contestants realize that mistakes are inevitable, no matter who you are. Everyone has to be able to pick themselves up and just not give up. It was like having a Nana for a day, and it was lovely.
7) It gives me the feels. All the feels: It is literally impossible for me to get through an entire episode without crying, and highly unlikely that I’ll get to the first commercial break without at least tearing up. In the first episode when Sarah thought she had irretrievably messed up her potatoes (it’s always those damned potatoes) by over-salting them, she burst into tears and was practically inconsolable. Her world was over. I? Promptly burst into tears in solidarity. I have messed up a few Very Important Meals in my day (sometimes it’s the potatoes, not gonna lie) and I could feel young Sarah’s pain. THIS MEAL IS RUINED. I WRECK EVERYTHING. That is not stress a 10-year-old should be having. The only thing that made me cry more was when Gordon Ramsay came over and calmed her down and assured her that her dish was just fine; now carry on, Sarah, you have to finish up. When did Gordon freaking Ramsay become the voice of reason? Exhausting. But in a way that makes you feel really good in the end.
8) The season is shorter: It’s counterintuitive to believe I would love a show because it offers me fewer episodes than normal, but hear me out: There are too many contestants on MasterChef now. Too many. I don’t know who anyone is until the final 10 contestants, anyway, so why not just start there? It lessens the confusion for me, and lessens the possibility I’ll get burnt out by the contrived storylines before the show gets to the good stuff (Another bonus: No contrived story-lines. No manufactured villains or heroes. Just cook the food, kids!). By the time the last Â MasterChef got down to about the final 5 or so chefs, I was so sick to death of ‘villain’ Leslie and aerial dancer Courtney I wanted to throw my television into a lake. An 8-10 episode season is just about perfect, thanks.
9) With the theme raised above: You don’t have to pick a favorite/most hated in order to enjoy the show: As opposed to adult cooking shows, where you are very definitely being manipulated in one direction or another on who to root for (two years ago with underdog Luca on MasterChef, who’d been cut in the last audition round the previous year and ran perilously close to being sent home several times his winning season) or against (the aforementioned and grating Leslie, who, while presented as a giant jackhole, was an incredibly talented cook),Â MasterChef JuniorÂ is simply a show with contestants who cook and take part in challenges. That’s it. You can have a favorite, for whatever reason; I mean, I think most of us do, but it’s not integral to the enjoyment of the show, and neither is actively rooting against someone. When Leslie failed, I mocked him, which was fun, but it was also mean-spirited and unnecessary. Conversely, when he succeeded, I was disappointed, which is ridiculous because I should be celebrating the creation of a beautiful, creatively complicated dish. Why should my enjoyment of a show be tied up in actively cheering someone’s downfall? It’s nice to cheer everyone, for a change. To be legitimately happy for all the chefs, and just to enjoy the process of creation and their success, instead of feeling some manufactured anger directed at someone who is probably being edited to look worse than he is.
10) Those kids: I want to meet their parents; I really do. Just shake their hands and say, “Well done, you.” I have a son who is doing his active best to flunk out of his first semester of college and take all my money in the process, and these kids, some as young as eight-years-old, are already accomplished chefs. How did that happen? They are so focused, so ambitious and so talented already. It’s astounding. Sadly, when it comes to children and reality television, history has not always been in our favor, but these contestants are supportive of their fellow chefs (as opposed to their adult counterparts, who are actively submarining one another) cheerful, smart and precocious. There’s none of the back-talk that the adults indulge in when interacting with the judges, and, most importantly, they are actively kind to one another (when one contestant thought she had destroyed her dish, the entire contingent of young chefs converged at her station to offer support, with one telling her, “I am not leaving you until you smile.”). These kids.
MasterChef Junior airs Fridays at 8/7c on FOX.
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