So along with all the other “MasterChef” variants out there, the Australian licensors have unleashed “Junior MasterChef AU”, in which the contestants are all 8-12 years old.
OK, I’m not a parent, and don’t have any day-to-day contact with kids, so my initial reaction was “hmm – maybe a couple of steps above grilled cheese and smores”, which was about where I was at when I was that age (I wasn’t allowed to go near a stove until I was about twelve, and was not allowed to touch a power tool until I was fourteen, so I think my personal experience is probably somewhat skewed). I didn’t really start cooking creatively until I was living on my own dagnabbit…
So, it came as an absolute shock to watch a bunch of *children* produce dishes that are, in every way, equal if not superior to the dishes that have been produced by the adult MasterChef contestants I’ve seen. Steamed snapper with sweetened soy sauce and julienne veg by a ten-year-old… Perfectly prepared Thai fishcakes with sides by a NINE-YEAR-OLD.
Sure these kids aren’t going to be working “the line” in a professional kitchen any time soon, but they’re knocking out dishes that you’d happily pay for in a restaurant. While I was watching this I felt, in the words of Anthony Bourdain, like abandoning pretty much everything and just signing up for one of those “Drive the Big Rigs” courses. Yeah… Hauling produce cross-country is about all I’m good for if this is any indication.
But seriously – I’m just astounded, and I mean COMPLETELY astounded, watching these youngsters. They don’t *sound* the way I’ve imagined kids should sound – they’re just like adults in every respect except for size and corrective-dental-work. Maybe it’s because they’ve spent too much time watching cooking shows. Perhaps they’re parroting back the kinds of reactions they’ve seen from the adult contestants they obviously admire (when a ten-year-old says they’re “floored” because a well-known food critic has entered the room, it gives me pause – I didn’t even know that food critics existed at that age).
Then I wonder if perhaps it’s just fundamentally true that we can’t relate to younger generations from a personal perspective because their world is so wholly different from our own. You so often hear clichés like “they grow up so fast…” Perhaps the more accurate statement is “They know so much more than we did at that age.”
There are two things these kids lack – a desire to make their cooking needlessly complex, and the cynicism that abounds in adults. I don’t see that as a negative. It makes me feel old watching individuals who haven’t been broken by the world around them yet, and it also makes me feel a bit melancholy that I never had the opportunity to have children of my own.
Then again… with my luck I’d have ended up with a brilliant entrepreneurial twelve-year-old busily cooking Meth in the basement.