I confess to having a weakness for good food and good wine, as well as good sound. I enjoy cooking, and am not too bad at it, although I offer no pretensions to being any sort of chef. So it is not surprising that I also get a kick out of watching the TV show Masterchef.
If you don’t know the premise of the show, it goes like this. Two dozen of the best (amateur) home cooks in America are set cooking challenges by three top celebrity chefs, headed up by the fearsome Gordon Ramsey. Each week one of them gets eliminated. At the end of it all, the surviving chef wins the big prize. The thing is, the challenges these amateur chefs get set are quite mind-blowingly difficult, and in addition they have to compete under very serious time pressures. Watching the show, I always find myself thinking that the best 24 professional chefs in the country - and certainly ANY of the contestants in Ramsey’s companion show “Hell’s Kitchen” - would find the competition no less challenging.
So, to my astonishment, the producers at Masterchef came up with the notion of Masterchef Junior, where the same format would instead be opened to the 24 best chefs in America, but this time in the age range 10-13 years old. The challenges faced by these junior chefs would be no less formidable than those faced by the adults.
Here’s the thing, though. If you had pitched that idea to me before I had seen the show, I would have laughed and said that Masterchef Junior would be of marginal interest, and then only to Soccer Moms. The reality turned out to be rather different.
Instead we were treated to the sight of 10-year-olds cooking stunningly (and I mean stunningly - things I couldn’t begin to imagine taking on) complex foods, with no preparation, under the very same pressure-cooker time constraints, and held accountable to the same unyielding standards, as their adult counterparts. It blows my mind. Imagine being dined in the most expensive restaurant you know of, having a great meal, and being introduced to the chef only to find that he or she is still at elementary school. And, cynical as I am regarding the so-called “unscripted” nature of TV reality shows, I find it hard to believe that all of this is not very real.
I happen to believe that the current generation of children growing up in North America is doing so with the greatest sense of entitlement of any generation that has ever lived, coupled with the least intention of developing the skills necessary to make good on those expectations.
That said, I now know that there are at least 24 kids out there who, in whatever direction their lives and careers will eventually take them, have truly enormous - dare I say unlimited - potential.