11/04/2014 10:41 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

'MasterChef Junior' Review: The Kids Just Keep Getting Better

There's something quite magical about 'Junior.' If you haven't watched before, you would just assume that there's no way this group of eight-to-12-year-olds could chop with the precision of a ninja, much less have the finesse to make a plate presentable. But they do. They really, really do.


W.C. Fields famously said, "Never work with children or animals." So perhaps he wouldn't have been a fan of "MasterChef Junior." Everyone else, on the other hand, won't be able to resist the Season 2 premiere of the hit reality competition, which features both kids and live chickens, ducks and turkeys. Oh, my.

Prior to the "Junior" debut in September 2013, I had never watched the original series. But, oh, those kids. They were so amazing that I figured if the young people could cook like that, then adults were going to be just as great. I ended up watching "MasterChef Canada" and "MasterChef'" Season 5 and needless to say, I'm hooked.

As they were premiering Season 1 of "MasterChef Junior," Elliott recalled that they weren't sure how the series was going to be received "because no one had really done anything like this." But soon enough, everyone involved saw how it resonated with so many people and in Season 2, the kids will be "from all different corners of the map" with "different styles."

As for the challenges in the upcoming season, he admitted it was fun for the judges and producers to come up with new, exciting stuff, particularly for this new batch of kids.

"When we judges sit down and talk to producers it's really what we would like to see and do as well, so there's an equal amount of input," says Elliott. "But with 'MasterChef Junior' it's what's going to challenge them, because everybody knows they were way more advanced than any of us thought going into it. It was 'How do we make it harder? How do we make it more fun?' And if you have kids you can think of so many different ideas and challenges that would be really cool to watch and do."

There is something quite magical about "Junior." Kids really are the best ingredient for a series like this. If you haven't watched before, you would just assume that there's no way this group of eight-to-12-year-olds could chop with the precision of a ninja, much less have the finesse to make a plate presentable to judges Elliott, Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich. But they do. They really, really do.

Their dishes aren't just restaurant-quality; they're fine dining restaurant quality, the kind that would easily fetch $30 or $40 in one of the aforementioned judges' restaurants. And the best thing about these kids isn't just their cooking abilities -- this latest crop of future chefs and eatery owners and cookbook writers are entertaining. We all know that kids say the darndest things, but combine that with their talents in the "MasterChef" kitchen, and what they have here is gold.

Take Abby, for instance:

"We have our youngest competitor ever, she's eight years old, and she wants to open a restaurant where it's a restaurant in the front and a veterinary clinic in the back, because she loves animals and wants to help them while people eat," reveals Elliott during a conference call with the media. "So, stuff like that is just brilliant." Hear, hear. I mean, that's not the kind of excellence you're going to get with regular old grown-up home cooks.

This time around, the 16 junior chefs are vying for the $100,000 grand prize as well as the esteemed "MasterChef" trophy. Season 1 winner Alexander Weiss has walked away with far more than just money and a trophy; his life has changed drastically.

"I've been able to travel around and my cooking skills have gotten so much better since the show, and it's kind of changed the way that my family and I think of food and eat food, and since the show it's brought it to a new standard," says Weiss. "And that's what's really cool about it. It forces me to try to top what I've done before and I think that that will really help me in the future for a restaurant." Yes, he's only 14 but clearly mature and so, so awesome.

Not only is the series hilarious, fun, action-packed, suspenseful and perfect for the entire family (we're talking 4 to 104, people), but it has so much heart, it just might break yours. Competition is hard for anyone but for these kids, the pressure is most likely beyond anything they've ever experienced. There's one girl in the pilot ... well, I won't spill, but anyone will feel for her. Graham describes those tearful moments as "super sad," but the takeaway for the children is that they're "going to realize that [they] had an awesome experience and are going to be friends [with the other contestants] for a long, long time."

Elliott adds: "There can only be one winner. We wish we could give out blue ribbons to every single person, but that's just how it goes." My compliments to the chefs -- and the creators -- of one of the best shows on TV.

"MasterChef Junior" premieres Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV Two and at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

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