MasterChef Junior: TV Review
Friday at 8 p.m. on Fox, beginning Sept. 27
Shine America, One Potato Two Potato
Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot
Gordon Ramsay reveals a lighter, kinder side as he encourages the young home cooks, ages 8 to 13, to hone their already formidable talents.
The only thing junior about MasterChef Junior is the size of the competitors. Their dishes, as all of the judges point out, rival those made by regular MasterChef competitors who are at least two or three times their age. The 24 pint-size prodigies, ages 8 to 13 years old, first compete in group rounds that end with half of them being eliminated after producing a seafood, homemade pasta or dessert dish. Yes, homemade pasta. Go ahead and step aside, the kids have work to do.
The Gordon Ramsay of MasterChef Junior is not the red-faced, explosive personality with the scathing one-liners as in his myriad series on Fox. Here, he calls all of the children "winners" right off the bat, and he and fellow judges Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot are kind and encouraging to all of the junior chefs, even if their scallops are overcooked or their truffles too grainy.
The result is a family-friendly mix of competition series suspense and a genuine desire to see the kids succeed. Though there are a few eye-roll-worthy moments from some ("I believe I have a very sophisticated palate," one boy says), others are delightfully able to keep up with Ramsay's quips. When he teases one girl about the fact that a boy there has been eyeing her up, she tells him politely she's "not feeling it" because she's too busy. When Ramsay persists with "Just keep him on the side, like mustard," she fires back: "I hope one day when I do have a boyfriend, he's not just mustard."
The competitors are serious about their cooking, but they also squeal in excitement over every aspect of the competition. While their adult counterparts may have their eyes trained on the cash prizes, the kids gush over the showstopping fact of having aprons with their names on them. Yes, it's adorable -- until their skill sets prove to be terrifyingly good.
Overall, the quality of the dishes -- and the children's knowledge -- is truly amazing (almond-crusted Chilean sea bass and homemade sushi are two of the first dishes, followed by homemade gnocchi, tortellini and other advanced creations). The show's fun atmosphere is also encouraging and educational, a nice change from other competition series. "Nice" is the operative word -- so far, MasterChef Junior seems to be taking its cues from other positive-reinforcement series like The Voice and America's Got Talent, and a quieter Ramsay is certainly not a bad thing.
Ramsay is right to change with the times or risk being left behind. One tiny competitor, age 9, tells him women make better cooks because, "even in the olden days, they cooked while the men sat around watching TV. No offense to you." "No offense to me?" Ramsay says with a laugh. "Am I from the olden days?" "Yes," she says matter-of-factly, firing up her Molten Lava Cake without missing a beat.