How Gordon Ramsay’s
Mix precocious 10-year-olds with a famously volatile host and add large knives and open flames.
How MasterChef Junior’s recipe for trainwreck TV instead became a heartwarming twist on the cooking competition show.
The 12-year-old boy standing in front of Gordon Ramsay has just started to cry. He’s wearing a floral bow tie, a plaid collared shirt tucked neatly into slim black jeans, and a bright white apron tied at the waist with his name embroidered on it in all caps, “LOGAN,” along with the logo of the show on which he is one of the final eight contestants,MasterChef Junior. His two front teeth are gapped, and his sandy blond hair is parted way over on one side. When he grows up, Logan wants to be an oceanographer, an astronaut, a chef, and a garbageman. The restaurant he plans to open someday will be called “O’s Underwater Bistro” and it will have special bubbles, some “executive bubbles” and some “romantic bubbles,” where customers will dine floating around underwater separate from the main restaurant, like in submarines.
But today, Logan has overcooked and underseasoned the rice in what he says would be the signature dish at his underwater bistro. The 82-pound, 4-foot-11-inch boy from Memphis, who, unlike some of the other contestants, can actually see over the cooking counters on the MasterChef set, has had one hour to create this dish, presumably without any adult assistance. And though his perfectly seared steak has “nice char and color,” the plate overall is too simple — lackluster, Ramsay says. As the British celebrity chef tells Logan that “the judges have come to expect more from you, young man,” a tear so giant that even I can see it from behind the cameras 30 feet away drops off Logan’s cheek and hits the floor. The boy’s shoulders curve forward, his head drops, and he’s sobbing.
Producers backstage stop whispering into their mics. The cameramen are still and tense. No one likes to see a child cry. But then Ramsay, who has seven Michelin stars, 25 restaurants, and a reputation for calling the cooks on his TV shows things like “miserable wee bitch” and “you fucking donkey” does something unexpected: He steps forward, hugs the child, and tells him it’s going to be OK, that he did his best. When Logan returns to his station, no longer crying, the other children comfort him and tell him he’s a great cook.
In spring 2013, when Fox announced it was going to air a kid-centric spin-off of its amateur cooking competitionMasterChef with 8- to 13-year-olds, it sounded horribly annoying — like a desperate attempt to revive a played-out format. The built-in precociousness of the concept was off-putting: 12-year-olds talking about Sriracha foam. And who wants to watch kids being mean to one another or judges hurting their feelings? “Fox’s Junior MasterChef to find newer, younger chefs to disappoint Gordon Ramsay,” wrote the AV Club.
But when the show debuted last fall, it was absolutely delightful. Now, three episodes into its second season, it’s still so good. MasterChef Junior’s first season was the highest-rated broadcast show in its Friday evening time slot among adults 18 to 49. It performed especially well in DVR and got good reviews. This season it is upgraded to a coveted Tuesday evening spot and averages a solid 5.3 million total viewers.