Chef Gordon Ramsay seems to have half the shows on Fox these days -- Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, MasterChef. The latter, a competition among home cooks, is one of the best cooking competition shows going, partly because the home cooks don’t seem quite as affected (well, most of them don’t) as their more professional counterparts, partly because Ramsay tones down the nastiness he can show on Hell’s Kitchen, although he and his fellow MasterChef judges Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich can still be pretty tough.
In 2013, Ramsay added another show to the Fox fold -- MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for children 8 to 13. The show proved to be a word-of-mouth hit, as the young contestants proved capable of making restaurant-worthy food (with restaurant-worthy presentation). The winner, 13-year-old Alexander Weiss of New York City, pulled off such tricky dishes as French macarons, which require precision baking techniques.
The series earned a second season, which will air this year at a date to be determined (but likely fall). A DFW open call for aspiring contestants will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Holiday Inn Dallas Central -- Park Cities, 6070 N. Central Expressway in Dallas. Children 8 to 13 are eligible (preregistration is required; for info on how to apply, go here).
We spoke with Ron Mare, one of the casting directors, about what people attending the open call can expect.
Aside from the ages of the contestants, how does MasterChef Junior differ from MasterChef?
With the adults, we’re looking for home cooks. It can really be anyone. With the kids, we’re looking for kids that have a passion for cooking and are thinking about getting into the field when they get older. So let’s say with the adults that they didn’t take the path that maybe they thought they wanted to go, into the culinary world. With the kids, this is kind of giving them a jumping-off point. The judges aren’t only like judges, but they’re mentors to the kids.
What do the kids cook on the open calls?
We give the kids three simple tasks: We’ll given them a piece of celery, and have them chop it so they can show whether they properly know how to hold a knife; we’ll give them measuring cups and they have to measure out a certain amount of water, and we give them different measurements; and we give each kid one egg and say “You can do whatever you want with this egg, how ever you’d like to prepare it for the judge.” After that, they move on and talk with some executives. The executives will ask them more questions, like what other activities do they do, and [quiz them] on food knowledge. They don’t need to bring a prepared dish with them.
What’s some of the most imaginative stuff you’ve seen at other open calls?
I don’t think it’s very easy to poach an egg, and we had a kid poach an egg -- when he told me he was going to do it, I told him, “OK, I’ll go get the vinegar,” because that’s how you usally poach an egg. He said, “No, no -- I want to poach it with the ‘tornado’ method.” I didn’t even know what that was. Basically, he just spun the boiling water around in a pot until it was basically like a tornado in the pot, and he poached the egg that way, which was unbelievable to me. Most of these kids are better than I am in the kitchen.
The kids who are on the show make some pretty impressive dishes. How can you tell from these tasks that they’re capable of doing things like that?
If we move forward with them, they’ll come and do an on-camera interview and cooking demo for us. That would be past the point of the open call.
Gordon Ramsay is nicer to the kids than to Hell’s Kitchen contestants, but it does look like there’s still that reality-show competitive element going on.
I would tell people that he’s harder on the Hell’s Kitchen people because the people on that show are proifessional chefs. In his eyes, they should already know what they’re doing. People on MasterChef are home cooks. So in his eyes, they’ve never been trained. They don’t know how to do this stuff, so if they’re messing up, they generally don’t know any better. And then you get to the kids, and all of our judges have kids, so they all do very well with them, they know how to talk to them, they know how to relate to them.