Welcome to an exciting new show where frightening celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay torments children as they cook. In the audition round tonight, 24 kids aged eight to 13, discovered through a nationwide search of talent agents’ rosters and Craigslist casting calls, will present their seafood, pasta or dessert dishes, leading us to question how any normal eight-year-old knows how to make anything more elaborate than slice-and-bake cookies.
The judging panel, which includes equally terrifying adults Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot, will knock off competitors until they have a winner or one of the kids’ parents pulls a Texas-cheerleader’s-mom move.
The mesmerized kids enter the set and meet Gordon, who inflates their egos even more. One kid describes himself as having a sophisticated palate. I’m sure he never gets beaten up. The parents then arrive to watch from the balcony, carrying their wills in case they need to be revised. Joe shows them all the Master Chef Junior trophy, which looks like a giant drinking glass. They receive aprons with their names on them. There is at least one Sofia, a Jack, and an Amanda.
The first challenge: They are split into three groups of 8 and get 60 minutes to cook a dish in a category assigned by a judge. The first group gets seafood. This is the only time I have ever seen children gasp with joy at the sight of fish. They rush to the pantry for ingredients as the narrator intones their fate if they fail. Some kid sees truffle oil. Doesn’t she watched Chopped?
Almond-crusted Chilean sea bass. Sushi. Whole snapper. Home-made taco shells. These kids will all burn out before high school.
The sea bass is up first, with curry yogurt sauce. They like it. Seared ahi tuna is by Roen, who looks like he writes poetry about having sex with satyrs. No one can believe he’s 12. Mina offers coconut-crusted shrimp and a cactus salad. She eats at Chili’s. Daniel is rushed through. The snapper needed less scoring. These judges are something else–a kid actually cooked an entire fish with sauces, and they’re complaining about an extra slit in the thing’s side? Jack, with crab cakes, wants to open up a restaurant but does not want Joe as his partner. Kid has read the trades. Franco made Gordon proud with his scallops, something you don’t hear from your average mentor. Molly’s fish tacos with pomegranate salsa do well.
It turns out kid reality show contestants say the same things as grown-up ones: “I came here to win.” “I don’t want to go home.” “I’m worried–my dish could be the one to go.” It also turns out that Graham Elliot looks just as awful in orange pants and a too-tight vest as he does on regular Master Chef.
Franco, Justin, Mina, and Daniel must step forward. They are not moving on. They look crestfallen, but will cook again, they all insist like Scarlett O’Hara. The next group is called upon to make pasta. Sara says, ominously, “Anyone can do pasta, right?” Then Joe tells them they have to make their own. Troy is unconcerned, since he started making semolina pasta when he was four, while the other kids were playing with Lincoln Logs and watching Finding Nemo eight times in an afternoon. Dara says, “I’m 12 and they expect me to make something that would be made in a restaurant by a 30-year-old.” I like her.
One little twerp is making tortellini. “In an hour?” cries Gordon. “How old are you?!” THEY ARE ALL CHILDREN, GORDON, THAT IS THE POINT OF THE SHOW. Then he starts trying to fix up a girl chef with the boy behind her. Sexist bastard.
Dara, who wears a giant red bow like Minnie Mouse, who never cooked for Mickey, made herb and cheese spaetzle. She starts crying while the judges taste it. Graham asks why. I think it’s because she has to look at him up close for the first time. Tommy brings up pumpkin ravioli with creamy alfredo sauce. STOP SAYING YOU CAN’T BELIEVE HOW YOUNG THEY ARE. Especially because alfredo sauce is no great feat of culinary imagination. Next is vegetarian lasagna made by a girl named Sage. You can just picture her parents, who vacation on an ashram, use organic laundry products, and put their dog on a vegan diet.
The next girl made gnocchi with tomato sage cheese sauce. Fettuccine with scallops is next, prepared by smug Troy. I suppose he bred the scallops, too, and threw the plates on his potter’s wheel. Bara also made fettuccine, while having to live with the name Bara. Gavin made tortellini, which he once ate at a deli and decided he could make himself. Just like when I was 12, saw a radio, and then built one. Finally, Noah brings chicken milanesa with fettuccine, as well as a lisp and stress.
Noah, Sara, and Sage are out. Is that other girl named Jewels? There should be legislation to prevent that kind of thing.
The next group gets to make desserts–surprisingly, Graham’s favorite part of the meal. Alexander likes to make French pastries, which is appropriate since he looks like Louis XIV. One girl tells Gordon that girls make the best chefs because even in the olden days, they cooked while men just watched TV. Well, “olden” is relative. Alexander made pistachio macarons with dulce de leche filling. He’s 13, but with that punim, he looks at least 23 with a fluid retention issue.
Sarah made molten lava cake. There’s tense music, slo-mo, and a cut to commercial before the defining moment as Graham slices into it to see if it oozes properly. Not exactly Who Shot JR? but they’re working with what they have. It molts and everyone heaves a sigh of relief.
Mini apple pie is next, with undercooked apples and not sweet enough whipped cream. Sadness for the underachiever. Ethan made chocolate truffles, a little grainy, but come on, he’s 11 years old. Amanda made a salted caramel brownie that is undercooked, but with excellent caramel. There’s always a however in these, so no one feels bad, although you know the tightly wound ones will go home and self-harm with their Henckels paring knives anyway.
Kaylen comes up with mint lime cupcakes. Joe looms over her, asking if she thinks they’re restaurant quality. They’re cupcakes, can’t they just be birthday party quality? Nathan has produced a meringue roulade with balsamic seasonal berries, which explains why he has no friends. He is among those who did not make it, and starts to cry. “You’ll see me again,” he declares defiantly in the talking head, but the plaid vest kind of reduces the dramatic effect.
Now we have our top 12. The real competition can start! The first mystery box challenge will bring on everyone’s worst bout of colitis next week. See you then!