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Denette Wilford Headshot

MasterChef Junior: The Best Cooking Show Ever?

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Most Canadians will remember the show Just Like Mom -- it was must-see for me back in the '80s, watching host Fergie Oliver herd young children and their mothers as they competed to see which team knew each other best; and then, the bake-off and taste tests, where moms would sample their kids' (often absolutely revolting) concoctions.

I didn't care much for the question rounds; it was the bake-off and taste tests that would have me glued to my screen. The kids were given a recipe and all the ingredients needed (and some rather unconventional ones) to whip up a little something and then their respective mothers would taste each dish and try and figure out which one was made by her child. Seems easy enough, right? I was calculating enough, even back then, to know that my mom and I would have won that trip to Disney World because my concoction would have tasted like the ocean. But I digress.

Typically, kids don't make for great reality TV (Did you happen to catch Bet On Your Baby this past summer? Didn't think so). And since I've never watched the original MasterChef, I was wary tuning into the spinoff it spawned: MasterChef Junior. Did I really want to see what food these kids were going to slap on a plate? I mean, really, how good of a cook could a bunch of eight-to-13-year-olds be?

In a word -- stellar. After that, there are almost no words -- except the verbal equivalent of my shock and awe as these aspiring chefs create spectacular, stunning dishes. And what's best? It's great television for the entire family.

Honestly, if you thought the MasterChef kitchen was too intimidating for these pint-sized culinary geniuses, think again. Three weeks in, there seems to be nothing these kids can't make. And what's crazier is, it's not like the judges, Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich, are making it easy for them.

They're making their own pasta (whaaaaat?!), whipping up macaroons like they learned how in France, rolling and cutting sushi like an itamae and even trying -- and, for the most part, succeeding -- to tackle Gordon's dreaded beef Wellington. What's more impressive is these kids are wielding knives and chopping with the skills and precision of a ninja, even though some of them need a step-stool to reach the counter. Their biggest struggles have nothing to do with cooking; rather it's trying to reach things on the highest shelves in the pantry, opening pesky jars and carrying heavy, cumbersome appliances back to their stations. At five-foot-nothing, I've never appreciated my height more.

But while I have height as an advantage, as for my kitchen skills, well, the kids have me beat. Hands down. I can make a mean lasagna but actually making the pasta sheets from scratch? Helllllll no. I make a decent brownie but a meringue roulade? Um, if I knew what one was or what it looked like, maybe (not). And beef Wellington? Considering I had no idea mushrooms and prosciutto were part of the recipe, not bloody likely. These youngsters already kicked butt in the Mystery Box Challenge. What's next?

As for the competitors, my remaining favourites are Dara, Gavin, Jack and Sofia. (Sadly, my real fave, Roen, was eliminated last week -- and not because of anything he did. In the first tag-team elimination round, his partner, Jewels went bananas with pepper's partner and turned their beef into a salt lick, thus changing the entire flavour profile of the dish.)

The one to beat? Maybe that's my only biggest problem with MasterChef Junior. At this point, it seems like it's Alexander's competition to lose. At 13, he's the oldest competitor left and I can confidently say there is nothing this kid can't make or do. And since I've always rooted for the underdog, I can't help but want him to fail. Terrible, right? I know, but he's just so damn good at everything. The other kids know it, the judges know it and viewers know it -- so if he isn't named Americas first-ever MasterChef Junior at the end of all this, I'll eat my first attempt at a meringue roulade hat.

"MasterChef Junior" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on CTV and Fox.

CTV/CTV 2 Fall 2013-14
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