When MasterChef screened throughout the first wave of COVID this year, it was like comfort TV: delicious food and warm characters night after night was just the ticket when the world was disintegrating.
Eventually even the show itself was forced to reflect the real world but, led by the beaming Melissa Leong, it forged ahead.
Now 10 has nimbly returned Junior MasterChef, to compensate for the production shutdown impacting shows like Australian Survivor and The Amazing Race Australia. It was a savvy idea, given producers knew they could confine filming to their Flemington headquarters (for the record the postcode actually went through some of the worst of Melbourne’s second wave).
And here they are, 14 kids aged just 10 – 14 years old, wide-eyed and talented beyond their years. They include 10 year old Ben who excelled at the show’s auditions but still doesn’t have his scouts cooking badge; 11 year old Georgia who reads cooking books instead of storybooks; Laura, 13, who wants her very own restaurant (she’s already designed the logo, floorplan and menu); and Ryan, 11 son of 2018 MasterChef winner Sashi.
On offer is a trophy and a $25,000 prize (oddly the cash doesn’t rate a mention -is it tacky?). There are also subtle changes this year: the immunity pin has been switched up, the music scoring is a little lighter and there is social distancing and elbow bumping aplenty.
But it’s the food we are here for. And on that front the show does not disappoint. What these kids serve up as signature dishes would put a Plate of Origin adult to shame.
Ben cooks S’mores, “I want to take it to the next level”; Dev draws upon his Indian heritage; 12 year old Filo reckons “You can never go wrong with lobster”; there’s even a paleo chocolate cheesecake from 14 year old Tiffany.
Like the audience, Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen are simply stunned at the level of skill -some dishes would even be at home in the adult cook-off.
There are moments when the hosts are a tad Play School in their enthusiasm and storytelling, but the rewards outweigh any concerns.
Goodness knows what kind of dishes will be served up by the grand final.
As 13 year old Georgia reminds us, “You can achieve whatever you like if you really put your mind to it.”
Junior MasterChef airs 7:30pm Sunday – Tuesday on 10.