MasterChef Junior: a delightful, joyful, and extremely formidable antidote to 2020...

After a nine-year hiatus, MasterChef Junior is back on Australian television.

Tiny people make Szechuan pepper meringue shards and talk about Davidson plums. Ten year olds learn how to make fresh ravioli on YouTube and put the rest of us to shame.

It’s surreal and calming, and surprisingly just what I want from TV in 2020. Sometimes all you have to do is watch a trumpeter-playing boy scout make some fancy smells!

MasterChef Junior candidate Ben plays the trumpet.
This is ben I would die for him. Photo: Network Ten

At the premiere on Sunday evening, 14 young chefs entered the MasterChef kitchen. You have been selected from nearly 2,000 children from across Australia and will compete for a large, shiny trophy (“It looks freshly cleaned!” Screams one child excitedly) and a prize of 25,000 US dollars.

But the money and the recognition aren’t really the point. Nobody desperately wants to make a big breakthrough in the industry or keep their restaurant afloat in a global pandemic. The show has a simpler, uncompetitive, and more joyful goal: to be an antidote to the more stressful parts of MasterChef: Back To Win last season.

Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen are back from their first (and well-received) season in the franchise and are back to judge the Mini-MasterChefs. At the beginning of the episode, the kids gather with a guardian and wait for them to show up on a red carpet like Willy Wonka from the chocolate factory.

It’s a nice reference until you remember one kid turning into a blueberry and then exploding and another drowning in chocolate.

A still image of MasterChef junior.
Run for your life boy

The judges are all great here. Jock, who has four children of his own, has lost his edge. Mel is as bright and fascinating as ever. And Andy is absolutely in his element. The former MasterChef winner who became a judge lost a lot during Back To Win. In my own live blogs, I’ve called him a big toddler at least once. But here, oddly enough, that’s an advantage. He has the energy of a great elementary school teacher: he knows exactly how to talk to the kids and get them excited.

Of course, the kids are the real stars. In this opening episode, we meet Filo: a little giggling boy who makes a perfect lobster in the morning. He chooses this dish because he “likes exoskeleton animals” and eats lobster “a few times a week with his family”. OKAY.

Filo, a candidate in MasterChef Junior.
Excuse me sir, we are in a recession.

Then there’s Ruby playing Harry Potter flute solos at her local market to make money by buying cooking utensils from the Op-Shop. Ryan, the cute little son of 2018 MasterChef winner, Sashi Cheliah; and Vienna, which bakes an unbelievable lemon quark cake because it’s her little brother’s favorite food.

Vienna’s brother donated her bone marrow when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She has a framed photo of him next to her while she cooks.

It’s incredibly cute. But before you think the show is too sugar-sweet, please know that they also include this gratuitous shot of another contestant, Georgia, kicking her little brother into the next week with karate:

Master Chef Georgia in Karate Equipment joins her little brother

There is no bad judgment among them on this first immunity challenge. The biggest mistake is a slightly overcooked fish, and not just because the judges are loose.

There are two well-deserved winners of the first immunity challenge: Laura and Dev. Laura wants to one day own a restaurant called “5 Chairs” (named after the number of people in her family). She pulls a real Reynold with a lime granita with white chocolate mousse, macadamia crumb and a Szechuan pepper meringue sliver.

Dev loves to cook for his family. He celebrates his North Indian heritage by serving a feast of lamb mughlai curry with saffron rice, cucumber raita, coriander chutney and smoked chicken kebab. All in just 75 minutes.

Melissa Leong disguised as an old person.
How old do I feel when I watch this show. Also: Melissa Leong for some reason.

I’m sure it’s partly because I’m still living under Victoria’s endless lockdown, but I’m so excited for the episodes to come. From old sitcoms to the Great British Bake Off to

am deep in comfort viewing mode. And while it undermines my confidence in my cooking skills, Junior MasterChef is wonderfully comforting.

• Junior MasterChef continues on Monday, October 12th at 7.30pm at 10am

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