The original MasterChef series began airing its first season in the U.K. in 1990, taking the world of cooking shows by storm. The American version debuted in 2010, and U.S. reality competition cooking shows haven’t been the same since. But once its younger sibling, MasterChef Junior, was introduced in the U.S. in 2013, a new show was in the spotlight. That’s right, kids have taken over the MasterChef kitchen.
MasterChef Junior was taken on by Fox and has filmed eight seasons as of 2020, and viewers can’t seem to get enough. The show starts off with 24 boys and girls, all between the ages of 8 and 13, vying to show off their culinary prowess. From the very beginning, the show was a hit as these impressive little chefs show viewers at home that just because they’re little or they’re young, doesn’t mean they can’t whip up a mean dinner or an elaborate dessert
But what’s happening with MasterChef Junior behind the scenes? What are these kids doing about schooling while they’re on the show, and what exactly is the prize they win at the end of it all? And are they really that good in the kitchen? We decided to take a deeper look. This is the untold truth of MasterChef Junior.
The kids on MasterChef Junior still go to school while filming
As any teenage television star could probably tell you, being cast on a screen (big or small) doesn’t allow you to get out of school. And the MasterChef Junior crew has had a plan in place to continue schooling for their contestants since the beginning.
When asked about the first season, executive producer Robin Ashbrook told HuffPost that the inaugural season took almost three weeks to film. So, you can imagine no school district would allow a child to be out of school for that long. According to Ashbrook, there are classrooms right next to the kitchen so mandatory class requirements can be fulfilled, in between the four hours of filming each day.
And those schooling requirements have stayed in place as the show recruits new contestants, although the timing requirements have changed significantly. According to the casting requirements, the contestants selected must be available for filming for close to nine weeks, missing a whole lot more school in their hometown. However, the requirements do note that a teacher will be on set during filming to fulfill school requirements during that time.
At least if the whole cooking thing doesn’t work out, they still have reading, writing, and arithmetic!
Parents of MasterChef Junior contestants are on set too
As if the filming requirements for the kids weren’t complicated enough, producers throw parents into the mix as well. But, if you really think about it, putting a child on a plane alone to film a show for hours on end is probably not the best idea.
According to the MasterChef Junior casting requirements, if selected, the child competing and one parent will need to be available during the entire timeline of filming. So, not only is the child making a huge time commitment, as well as working around schooling, the parents are leaving work for weeks on end to support their child on the show.
When asked about parental inclusion on the show’s first season, executive producer Robin Ashbrook told HuffPost there was a chaperone on set at all times. “They were at all times able to see what was going on in the kitchen,” said Ashbrook. “All of the parents actually sat together and watched what happened. They really bonded. It certainly wasn’t a Dance Moms atmosphere.”
The prize on MasterChef Junior is ridiculous
When it comes to cooking shows, the prize purses can certainly vary. On one hand, you have The Great British Baking Show only dishing up a trophy and a cake stand, while MasterChef hands out a whopping $250,000. But again, MasterChef is made up of well-trained adults. Close to the same prize amount though, MasterChef Junior hands out a trophy and an astonishing $100,000 to the contestant between the ages of 8 and 13 who wins. But what’s a kid to do with $100,000 before they even hit their teenage years?
As it turns out, the winner is awarded a trophy and a check, but that money is inaccessible until the child turns 18. Season seven winner, 13-year-old Che Spiotta told Parade he already was thinking of what to do with his money when he could finally access it. “I will definitely save some of it,” he said. “I will get a nice gift for my mom because she helped me so much through the whole thing. She was out in L.A. with me and she organized everything, so I will get her a nice gift.”
Gordon Ramsay is actually really nice to the kids on MasterChef Junior
Out of any of the food television show stars, Gordon Ramsay has, perhaps, the most interesting personality to try to understand. After years of watching MasterChef, with Ramsay’s very straightforward and blatant critiques, or his yelling at chefs on Hell’s Kitchen, the idea of him hosting a version of a cooking show entirely devoted to kids was pretty difficult to grasp for many viewers.
But Ramsay has certainly shocked viewers over the past seasons, showing a caring side to him that many hadn’t seen before. He’s given the kids plenty of constructive feedback throughout the course of the show, even hugging some of the contestants when they’ve had a particularly rough day
Season six contestant Evan Estrada confirmed Ramsay’s soft side when filming MasterChef Junior when he told the Chicago Tribune, “He’s absolutely amazing. He is not mean at all. He is super fun. He loves to joke.”
There have been some accusations of bias on MasterChef Junior
As it goes with any reality cooking show, there has to be one clear winner and the rest of the contestants will be eliminated along the way. And, in theory, those contestants should be judged based on their culinary skills or the specific requirements of each challenge. But some MasterChef Junior viewers haven’t been so convinced.
Caroline Framke published her concerns in The Atlantic, noting a confusing scene from the show’s second season. According to Framke, the end of the season showed a pop-up restaurant challenge in which Oona, a 9-year-old girl and Sean, a 12-year-old Asian-American boy, were competing on a team with their leader, Samuel, a 12-year-old white boy. After Samuel had made huge missteps during the competition and failed to serve as a good team leader, he was still the one to stay with judge Graham Elliot at the time stating “you were the one that looked the most comfortable in that environment.”
Framke argued that the show was “a microcosm of the same old exhausting gender and race biases ingrained in daily life” causing other viewers to ponder how fair the judges really are each season.
The kids appearing on MasterChef Junior may be prepped ahead of time
If you’ve watched the show, time and time again you’ve seen the kids helping each other out in the kitchen. If they can’t carry their own mixer, they’ll do it together. It’s not exactly in a child’s nature to be terribly competitive, and that can be seen on this show. But what if they were prepped ahead of time, so they were, indeed, quite confident of their competition skills far before filming begins?
After the second season began to air in Australia in 2011, the Herald Sun reported that the “reality” of the show may not be all that real. The production company behind the show, Shine, told the Herald Sun that the contestants did receive some information about challenges ahead of time, but not the recipes.
Parents of a contestant anonymously told the Herald Sun that the young chefs know what they will be asked to cook ahead of time, allowing them to work on the dishes at home. “The kids act all surprised but they have had the recipes for weeks,” the parent said.
Whether they’re receiving tips ahead of time or full recipes, it does make you wonder. After all, the kids certainly don’t seem to crack under pressure too easily on the show.
Gordon Ramsay doesn’t mind when the kids cry on MasterChef Junior
When it comes to reality cooking shows, things get heated. Contestants have meltdowns when making the simplest of mistakes during a challenge, or they cry when they’re sent home. And while you see a bit of this on cooking shows with adults, you definitely see it on a show focused on 8 to 13-year olds.
But crying may actually be encouraged on MasterChef Junior, as the judges let the kids know it’s okay not to hold it back. Gordon Ramsay, one of the judges for the show told Deadline that it’s healthy for the kids to cry when they receive a critique in the kitchen.
“Bottling up emotions can lead to dangerous things,” said Ramsay. “I think crying is healthy.” Former judge Christina Tosi told Deadline that it was her goal not to make the kids cry, but in reality, it’s inevitable. After all, when you want something bad enough, it’s got to make you a little emotional, right?
The MasterChef Junior audition process has quite a few steps
Although auditioning for a reality cooking show can sometimes seem just as simple as cooking an elaborate dish and catching the process on camera for submission, the MasterChef Junior requirements are a bit more complicated. Castings are set up as pre-registered open calls, and MasterChef Junior’s casting requirements note that not everybody that shows up will be given an opportunity to audition. But with the large numbers of kids they see at open calls, one can imagine things might get a little busy.
According to Kelli Hendon, whose daughter Kate ended up on the show, there were close to 300 kids at the casting she and her daughter went to in Atlanta.
Kate and her mom told The Randolph Leader that part of the process was to cook an egg and to cut food with a knife. After making it past that first try out, she was called back to Atlanta to make a dish for the producers and it was filmed to see how well she did in front of the camera. The next step included interviews, psychological evaluations, background checks, and even video tours of her family home, but she didn’t know if she had made it just yet. Finally, Kate was called to California for a final audition of 48 kids, and she was one of the 24 selected to be on the show. Talk about a long, complicated process for young kids to go through.
The judges on MasterChef Junior are parents too
It’s hard to imagine putting three adults in a room with 24 kids, and allowing them to critique their mighty masterpieces along the way. After all, this is a spin-off of MasterChef, and the competitions and critiques on that show are tough. But perhaps the selection in judges was all part of the plan, as all of the judges on the show are, in fact, parents too, and they probably understand a thing or two about kids.
Gordon Ramsay, known for his harsh critiques on the adult-version of MasterChef has five children of his own, including a newborn as of April 2019, and the show’s newest judge who came on in Season 8, Daphne Oz, has four kids of her own. Aaron Sanchez told Parade in a 2019 interview that since he and Gordon Ramsay are parents, they might be better equipped to work with the kids on the show.
“Maybe because Gordon and I are parents and we understand the patience level it takes with kids, how they retain information and how long it takes to improve, so I never get frustrated,” he explained.