Grub Street will confess it’s on the fence about MasterChef’s American iterations, given Gordon Ramsay’s involvement. But MasterChef Junior is not without its charms — in fact, perhaps because it’s devoid of much of the conflict that’s become commonplace in other cooking-competition shows, it’s downright endearing. So, with that in mind, here’s Junior superfan Libby Hill to recap it all this season.
If you watch enough of Gordon Ramsay’s TV shows you’ll begin to notice a strange phenomenon: He repeatedly manufactures ways to get his family members into episodes. His wife and children show up on Hell’s Kitchen, and his mother makes repeated appearances on various iterations of MasterChef. It’s as if Ramsay is not-so-subtly trying to beat back the idea that he’s as foul and hateful in real life as he appears on television. “Look at all the people who love me!” these cameos scream. “I am definitely not a horrible monster!”
I remain unconvinced.
That said, tonight’s episode of MasterChef Junior featured Ramsay’s mother as a guest judge for the final challenge, and she seemed to be a perfectly lovely woman with a good sense of humor, a lilting accent, and bright-blue eyes identical to those of her spawn. Ramsay and his mum seem to have a sweet relationship that consists largely of him seeking her approval and her batting him down with passive-aggressive dismissals.
But that all comes later. Of more immediate interest is how closely this show hews to becoming a complete OSHA nightmare. It’s bad enough that the younger kids must cook while perched atop tiny boxes that they have to move around their stations in order to simply reach the various prep surfaces, but that pales in comparison to this episode’s challenge, which involved strapping the children together in pairs and forcing them to bake cupcakes. There’s a reason people aren’t asked to scuttle around kitchens and operate stoves during three-legged races.
But putting aside the potential for disaster, this experiment also proves that something strange happens when you strap children of this age together, especially if they’re in boy-girl pairs: They get really, really, really obnoxious. At some point the episode starts feeling less like a fun-loving romp with kids in the kitchen and more like the back of a family’s minivan on a cross-country vacation, siblings punching each other until somebody cries. (Usually one of their parents.)
All of which is to say that this was not the most enjoyable challenge the show has ever put together. Yet some of the pairs managed to turn out ridiculously competent cupcakes. The winners were Logan and Sean, who had two picture-perfect cupcake varieties, lemon basil and chocolate raspberry, the latter of which even had a fancy caramel-candy sugar decoration. These boys were then awarded with an advantage advertised as “GAME CHANGING,” though it was merely the ability to force the other kids to make fancy shepherd’s pie. (The lesson here, kids, is that people will often overpromise and underdeliver. Get used to it.)
Of course, approximately none of the children had any idea how they would go about making shepherd’s pie, so it was the perfect opportunity for the judges to instruct the wee ones to pull out their MICROSOFT SURFACE tablets and use SKYPE to call their mothers for some product placement advice. The kids got their help, the show got its advertising dollars, and everyone was happy. The challenge itself proved to be problematic for at least one young challenger: Upon realizing he’d added too much milk to his mashed potatoes, Sam started practically hyperventilating from the effort it took for him not to break down in tears, all while using a butcher’s knife to peel fresh potatoes. As a viewer, you felt for the little guy. Thankfully, Graham was able to calm him down before anything terrible happened.
Sam wasn’t the only one who struggled with the challenge, as judge-favorite Oona also ended up in the bottom three. But let’s be honest: There was never a realistic possibility that Oona would go home because she’s pretty clearly been getting the reality-TV “finalist (if not winner) edit” from day one, but her first failure in the kitchen showed another fascinating facet of the precocious child type. She was upset, clearly, if not devastated, but more than anything she was clearly disappointed in herself. Even so, she displayed a remarkable level of composure for a child. All of the underperforming children did, actually, proving themselves much more stoic than most adult reality-show contestants, who tend to flip out at the drop of a hat. These kids were cooler than all that, but Mitchell and Sam had to go home all the same.
Tune in next week, when the show will ratchet the adorable up even further by asking the children to color. And make eggs. Everyone likes eggs.