The adults have left the kitchen.
But don't expect kiddie food from the junior chefs taking over – the ones chopping, slicing, sautéing and baking their way through "MasterChef Junior," which premieres Friday on Fox. The cooking competition pits 24 kids between ages 8 and 13 against each other, all vying for a $100,000 prize. During the season, contestants will prepare seafood, pasta and dessert dishes, and then present them to the judges in audition rounds. Those who continue on will face challenges like preparing a three-course meal at a fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles and making beef Wellington as a tag team.
"The cookery is out of this world," judge Graham Elliot exclaims in one preview from the new reality show. "This is probably the best molten lava cake we've ever had on 'MasterChef,' and it was made by a 9-year-old. There are pastry chefs twice as old as these kids wishing they could cook as good as them."
Indeed, the competitors are fiercely driven foodies who may look out of place at the fancy restaurants they "take over" during show challenges – but easily prove they handle cutlery the way some kids handle video game controllers. U.S. News talked to restaurateur Joe Bastianich, who's judging "MasterChef Junior" alongside chefs Elliot and Gordon Ramsay. He opened up about what to expect and why he was impressed. His responses have been edited:
Why should we tune into the show's premiere Friday?
Well, the interesting thing is that it's definitely not dumbed down for kids. We figured that if we were going to do this show, we were going to use the same level of ingredients and challenges as we do in "MasterChef" – and treat the kids, as much as possible, the way we would the adults. And I think we were able to do that, which is a big success.
So the dishes weren't simplified for the younger chefs?
No, not at all. And the level they could rise to is amazing. Sometimes they were even better than what we've seen from the adults. These kids are ambitious – it's a serious competition for them. They're serious about winning, and they're very serious about their cooking.
Did any dishes or moments in particular stand out to you throughout the season?
The kids' baking techniques really stood out – things like making macaroons and molten lava cakes. And then also their ability with luxury ingredients. We had some pretty sophisticated kids; they know their way around the kitchen.
Why are you an advocate of getting kids into the kitchen?
Aside from the health reasons and family issues, it's just a way to get people to spend more time together and teach kids about food, nutrition and where food comes from. There are only positive things to come from it.
Do you enjoy cooking with your own kids?
My kids are immersed in the food and wine world. I don't really shove it down their throats, but to the extent they want to participate in it, it's always around them. It's kind of like one of those things where a painter's house is never painted. My kids kind of live and breathe it, and I don't think they feel incredible enthusiasm for it, but maybe it will come with time.
[Read: Building Your Kitchen Confidence.]
If a mother wants to introduce her kids to healthy food, what should she do?
The key is teaching them about ingredients and how to source those ingredients. If you're lucky enough to have a garden, spend time there. Or go to the farmers market. Take them to the source; don't buy prepared food. Take them to the fisherman or the butcher, and teach them where ingredients come from, how to treat them with respect and how to transform the food. I think that's really where the health comes in. If you force the issue of eating healthy, you're probably fighting a losing battle.
Did you learn anything from the kids throughout the season?
These kids have so much enthusiasm, and they're so resilient. They learn from their setbacks and come back stronger, so in a lot of ways they have some advantage over adults.