The things they let kids do these days

The highs. The lows. The tantrums. The rewards. The moments that transcend opposition. The moments that break your heart. The furtive glances to the galleries, forever seeking approval. The eyes raised in hope towards the adjudicators, forever seeking support. The sweet smell of success. The sickly sweet smell of soiled trousers.

No, I’m not talking about Parliament Question Time, but the second season of Junior Masterchef. Junior Masterchef, whose title hints at the existence of a Senior Masterchef, which is something I suspect we all secretly wish for. Contestants mixing up their ingredients with their medication. Using their colostomy bags to pipe cream on the top of a three layered cake made entirely from replies to their letters of complaint to the ABC about the Chaser or “that ribald young Cundall on Gardening Australia”.

But back to Junior Masterchef. This week was the first week, where the contestants were slowly and painfully whittled from 50 to 20. Those who were chosen in the top 50 were a cross section of a highly multicultural society. There were the cute ones, the ones who were cute, and the children who resembled some startled cute little deer. Clearly, ugliness and cooking skills are mutually exclusive. Though to be fair most children under 13 are cute, as it is puberty that is the real uglifier and equalizer. This is why we don’t have a Teen Masterchef.

Gary introduces Anna Gare as the queen of the kitchen, which has Matt Preston consulting his lawyers for breach of trademark. He then introduces Matt Moran as the Duke of the Dutch Oven. Suddenly we get a glimpse into the kids’ lives of horror, as we see their parents menacing eyes, which seem to say, “You won’t fail me again and live to tell the tale” but just could as easily be saying “I’m so proud of you”. I get those two confused.

Matt Moran has the children yelling “YES” and “YES CHEF”, leaving himself open to allegations of grooming. Gary confirms again that numeracy will be a wasted skill when he explains that this year the top 12 will consist of 20.

For the first challenge all 50 are given 90 minutes to cook the dish of their choice. Madi informs us that she’s cooking trout en pappiotte but laments the difficulty of making the parcel and affixing the correct postage to it. Harry comes across as a seasoned professional when he slips in how much he loves his Nanna, who suspiciously taught him how to cook. In the midst of this Gary claims the children are “on fire” but this turns out to be a baseless claim designed to frighten the parents. Mireade, a red head with Indian heritage, explains her curry recipe, to a background of slightly Indian music, for no apparent reason other than the backing track came as a multicultural set. Greta informs us that she cooks at home about 4 times a week, a claim that draws the attention of child labour officials.

Meanwhile, Kieran tells us that he’s cooking with a very rare form of cottage cheese, called “kwa” made from mixing full cream milk with the sweat from the inner thigh of Himalayan wet nurses. Jimmy uses words like ‘kerfuffled’ and wears a wide brimmed hat, instantly raising the hopes of viewers following on twitter that it’s okay to be cruel about Jimmy. Suddenly Anna claims that “it’s smelling fantastic in here”, a sentence rarely used in relation to a room full of twelve year olds.

And so to the tasting. Anna congratulates Madi on making her potatoes look like scales, and is even more amazed when they accurately measure her weight. Harry’s paella is a hit, while Dee struggles through life with a girl’s name. In the end Harry is the first through to the top 20, though judging by the beetroot like colour of his face, there will be concerns regarding his blood pressure.

Next up come Jimmy, Tom and Evie from Peter Gilmour’s group. Also known as the Gilmour girls. Evie made a duck ravioli, but it turned out the duck was on a low carb diet and refused to eat it. The judges though were under no similar restraints and declared it the finest use of an Italian classic since the Maastricht Treaty. Jimmy was next with his spring chicken pinwheels. Gary said, “if you could improve anything, it would be that hint of dirt you get at the back of the palate, but other than that I love it”. Finally, Tom made the classic amateur mistake of referring to the judges as creepy, but they didn’t hold it against him as they awarded him the second apron. Tom claimed he was freaked out and felt that he no longer had to “touch his heart to feel it pumping” which is the way to feel your heart pumping recommended by 9 out of 10 body dysmorphics.

In the next group, Gary declares Greta’s beef dish either brilliant, or amazing, when in fact the word he was really looking for was raw. Matt Moran starts telling Mireade about a curry he’d eaten the other day, perhaps suggesting that hers tastes a couple of days old. Gary then asks Zak if he’s excited which forces Zak to mix his metaphors when he says he’s “on top of the moon”. Strangely, Zak then takes the opportunity to take a pot shot at his mother’s cooking , drawing an uncomfortable fake laugh from Justin North. Unfortunately for Zak his individual beef wellingtons turn out to be just like all the other beef wellingtons. Anna Gare ignores the raw beef and even rawer pastry when she describes the dish as “spectacular”. However, she did give us a glimpse into the shadowy wastelands of her mind when she stated that she was surprises to see beef inside when the beef wellington was cut in half. Presumably, she had expected to see Chilean miners. Anyway, unsurprisingly, Greta’s dish was thought to be the best, and as such she was awarded the third of the fabled cotton/polyester aprons made in Bangladesh.

Following on from the festival of the cow comes Kylie Kwong’s group. These kids were forced to cook without meat, and therefore flavour. Indigo was first and, in keeping with her name, cooked something that sounded exotic but tasted like Western Sydney. Marcus made zucchini boats, though it did sound like he said “bikini boats”. Perhaps he did. I mean, puberty does beckon after all. Steven made mini-polenta burgers, which lent support to that old adage “vegetarian food tastes like shit so make it look and sound as close to meat as possible”. And of course, this was enough to put him into the top 20.

Finally, the sweets come out with Zumbo’s group. Kane was able (LOL!) to present a pear and chocolate sticky date pudding. Anna said she loved Kane’s sticky date and so won’t be allowed in the same room alone with any of the children in the future. Caroline made an apple and rhubarb crumble, presumably by undermining their foundations. Kieran went all French with his Coeur a la Crème, which means “creamy heart” for those of you who can’t speak French and therefore don’t know whether I’m right or not. And it was Kieran who picked up the night’s last apron for his dairy based organ dish.

Following Sunday comes Monday and some more cheap and tawdry aprons to give away. This time, the challenges are more fun and by fun I mean lame. The first challenge involves cooking a healthy fast food item in 80 minutes. Suddenly a giant cloche is lifted to reveal a dispirited Matt Moran forced to work in a fast food restaurant just to get some meagre television exposure.

Fintan takes some time out of his busy schedule of living under four leafed clovers to cook a healthy pizza with dollops of unhealthy goat’s cheese. Mireade makes healthy deep fried salt and pepper squid with healthy deep fried wedges and a despicably fat laden green salad. Suddenly we’re back to Fintan as tears stream down his cheeks because he can’t get his pizza dough off his hands. Matt Moran intervenes and according to Fintan “saves my life” however he doesn’t “save the judges” from possible food poisoning as we watch Fintan use his hand, the same hand he uses to cook, to wipe his nose.

Next up we see Alisha cooking her “Mexican” hot dogs. Now, no one wants to be unkind to children, but undoubtedly we all hope she grows into those teeth. Then we see her mother, and we know all hope is lost.

Matt Moran suddenly screams “If George were here, he’d be saying boom boom shake the room”, failing to explain that the reason for George’s absence was his use of the phrase, “boom boom shake the room” during a tour of quake ravaged Christchurch. Alisha then explains that an undercooked sausage could mean the end of the world, though I don’t remember one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse being an undercooked sausage. How on earth could it ride a horse? Possibly it is one of the seven signs though.

Finally the clock ticks down to zero and Gary orders the contestants to “step away from their benches”, an instruction used in only one other reality TV game show, Master Magistrate. Gabrielle’s Fajitas del pollo turn out not only to be a searing indictment on the political football that is Mexico’s water polo team, but tasty as well. Alisha presents her Mexican hot dogs, as well as her Mexican milk shake without milk, or Mexicans presumably. Matt Moran notes that it is also without flavour.

Moving on, as Anna tries Lucinda’s fish tacos, she congratulates her on creating “a very healthy dish”. No chance then. Anna unfairly targeted Jade’s limitations when she claimed that she couldn’t have cooked her sticky ocean trout better. How would she know, she’s only just met her? Marcus then surprises everyone by being the tenth contestant in the healthy fast food challenge to cook chips.

Someone whose name may have been Coy made pizza and garlic bread which Gary said had “bags and bags of flavour. Shopping bags to be precise”. Someone whose name was definitely Michael made pizza with salad, with Matt claiming the salad was the healthiest thing he’d tasted all day, leaving unsaid the fact that it was also the worst. Jimmy with the hat, Fintan and Mireade were called up next, and it is a credit that everyone Jimmy passed suppressed the urge to trip him over. Gary said that he couldn’t think of anything that could improve Mireade’s salt and pepper squid, and must have been kicking himself an hour later when the word “flavour” came to mind.

With the tasting out of the way, it comes down to the aproning. Mireade gets the first one, for her squid. Mireade’s mum said that Mireade “had this dream for a long”, presumably referring to the dream where she’s flying and suddenly she loses the power to fly and falls and falls and falls and then wakes up. Next to get a coveted apron is Marcus, who hugs Gary with delight and his arms. Following Marcus is Alisha, and when Gary asks her how she feels, she confirms that it’s mainly with her hands. The last one awarded an apron is Jade. Her mother cries. Aprons are held in high esteem in that family.

So with 9 of the 20 places taken, we move onto heat three, which introduces a new range of children. Suddenly Greensleaves is playing in the background, and while those with a deep knowledge of English renaissance history might have expected a challenge involving some relationship to the era of Henry VIII, to the rest this signifies ice cream. And true to form a Mr Whippy van drives into the studio, with Gary in the back. The challenge involves making ice cream in 80 minutes, and the pantry is revealed to be a winter wonderland of fruits, nuts and other ingredients to be used in the making, but unfortunately no Ice Magic.

Dee of the girl’s name is back, as is Indigo of the bogan name. All of a sudden Dee claims to have “caught a smell coming from the oven” but he was quick enough to catch it and put it back in. Chandler, who in heat one hadforgotten to turn the oven on, is also back trying again.

When it comes time for the tasting, the judges say pleasant things in an effort not to appear as the cruel intolerant individuals I am not sure they are. And then it is time to hand out the aprons. Caroline is the first to be awarded one, ostensibly because she was able to put a brown smear on her plate and not once say skid mark. Dee is next for his parfait, followed by Indigo who managed to prove the existence of God by saying “I was just saying please say my name, please say my name” quickly followed by Matt Moran saying her name. What God it proves the existence of she wasn’t willing to reveal. Finally, Chandler is selected, causing him to exclaim that “this is probably better than Christmas, Easter anything”. However, Chandler is only 11 and in 5 years he will legally be able to try something that he may decide is better than an apron.

And so ends the first week. With only 5 spots left in the top 20, we can look forward to similar infantilizing by the judges in the second week.

Junior MasterChef – Sun/Mon 7:30pm, Ch10.