I didn’t think it would work. I was expecting little fingers lobbed off, burnt milk, singed eyebrows and batter everywhere. But Junior Masterchef Australia, a spin off of (adult) Masterchef Australia, for 8 to 12 year olds is astounding. I sat watching the first show on Friday night (Star World 9pm, Mon to Friday, India) completely baffled and awed by how creative these kids were. I bet they could give the adults a run for their money.
The first season of Junior Masterchef was launched in Australia in 2010, so as always we are slightly behind in our TV viewing in India. Perhaps they thought it wouldn’t go down well here and judging by the plebeians commenting on the Star World website (“Bring back Supernatural”) maybe some people don’t appreciate good programming. I for one am very glad that Star World has something to offer other than crime shows and sci-fi dramas and crime-sci-fi cop dramas, cops who can read minds, cops who have eidetic memories (very handy when you don’t have a note pad on you or the perpetrator is about to blow up the crime scene and you have 30 seconds to memorise every little misplaced hair on the victim’s head). Every time I switch to that channel there’s a different crime or sci-fi drama in its first season, each one lasting only a season because they are probably so crappy. But it’s in asli HD (which is still a novelty in this country) so you’ll watch anything if it’s in HD.
But back to Junior Masterchef. The Australian version is always one step ahead of the others. I would not encourage watching the American Masterchef (adult) version with glossy big boobed blonde women, dramatised to death, very little cooking more reality TV and plenty of blatant product plugging by the professional chefs. If you have kids or you know young kids, you must watch Junior Masterchef with them. Frankly, I don’t know any kids that could make baklava, lamb in pomegranate and walnut sauce, crushed potatoes with a runny poached egg and truffles, gnocchi with eggplant, goats cheese wantons with balsamic glaze and fennel salad or tempered white chocolate shards. They look really happy doing it too, unlike those kids on the ESPN Spelling B who are freakishly smart but also look very repressed, stressed and probably get bullied a lot.
I don’t think I was even allowed to light the gas at age 12. But I do know that I was given unsupervised access to the oven. My mother never fails to remind me of how I violated the sanctity of her Sunday afternoon nap, waking her up to check whether the chocolate cake had 3/4 cups of cocoa or 3/4 cups of milk. When she eventually forgave me for this, I remember her being very impressed that I had volunteered to bake a cake for a charity bake sale. Then there was the Lemon Meringue Pie phase where every weekend I would make short crust pastry and lemon curd filling with puffy egg whites on top. My dad would scoff the whole thing. My interest in baking I owe solely to my mother, although I don’t think she can remember when she last baked a cake. We used to bake together a lot usually on Fridays or Sundays. Rock cakes with raisins, chocolate cakes, pies, crumbles, cookies.
The first unsupervised experimentation with cooking on the flame was pretty disastrous. My sister and I had a big fat colourful book called the SUPER BOOK. It was packed with arts and crafts, puzzles, recipies – everything to keep you busy if you dared to mention to an adult that you were bored. One morning my sister (probably aged 12) decided to make scrambled eggs with me offering ample encouragement but very little actual help. The final result looked like the cremated remains of a barbeque gone bad. She did offer them to me on a plate, with a fork but I respectfully declined. No amount of ketchup could have made those charred eggs edible.
But these kids on Junior Masterchef have taken it to a whole new level. I don’t have kids but it must take a lot of patience (I’m not sure I could do it) to have them in the kitchen. I agree it’s a great way to teach them maths and science and an appreciation for healthy food and a variety of food. It really gets to me when kids will only eat Maggi noodles or only eat instant microwaved chemically injected E number infested “food”. When I was a kid, we never even had Maggi noodles available – that was expensive stuff. In my house we were allowed to hate only one vegetable, which you were exempted from eating, but you had to stick with that choice for the rest of your days. Mine was bitter gourd (karela in Hindi, paavaka in Tamil). As the name suggests, it’s bitter. It’s fried but it’s still bitter. And you had to clear your plate – “No dams!” as my grandfather would say as he peered over the curry leaves and tomatoes from your rasam sadam and veges you tried to sneak out that get piled up at the edge of the plate. Perhaps because of this rule in our house, I’ve grown up eating and eventually liking every vegetable – but bitter gourd is still off the table. My sister unfortunately always got caught out because she hated soggy tomatoes and she hated bitter gourd. If we had rasam sadam and bitter gourd on the same day, she was in big trouble. Her preferences may have changed since as I recall she bought a packet of karela chips once.
So mothers, sisters, aunties and grandmas all over the world who can get your children to cook and eat, I salute your immense patience and special skills.
And for those of you who can cook and don’t include the little ones in your life, please watch Junior Masterchef with your kids. It might just get them interested in real food.
A real Masterchef bonanza this summer with the latest season of Masterchef Australia (adults) starting June 12th.