Masterchef Junior Cookbook: Bold Recipes and Essential Techniques to Inspire Young Cooks
Can your kid become a MasterChef? The MasterChef Junior Cookbook would sure like them to try—but they might get burned. Literally.
The TV show “MasterChef Junior” pits 8 to 13-year-old chefs against one another in a Gordon Ramsay–judged cooking competition that begins its sixth season this year, and is casting for a seventh. The cookbook encourages young chefs to prepare a diverse selection of Michelin-star-worthy adult food with new cooking techniques.
I assigned a few recipes to my partner’s 10-year-old brother, Sam Widseth, for validation. If he could do it, then I’d say the cookbook was doing its job. Sam is an attentive, quiet kid who lives with his family in northern Minnesota; he and his 22-year-old brother Luke loved the idea of bonding over a cooking assignment. They cooked the pan-seared chicken with shoestring fries, the pork chops with apples, carrots and mustard sauce and the gnocchi with brown-butter sage sauce and tomatoes.
The experience was fun, Sam told me, “but it was hard. I didn’t like the cutting part because I was afraid I would cut myself.” The book has no basics section and little instruction on using knives or appliances—just tips scattered throughout. The cookbook uses hard-to-find ingredients, sometimes requiring online ordering, and several recipes call for appliances you might not have, like pressure cookers or stand mixers.
Then there were instructions that scare even more experienced cooks, such as “Sear the pork chops in hot oil.” Said Sam’s dad, Greg, “With someone who’s 10, pan searing pork chops in high-heat oil is challenging.”
The Widseths mainly had good things to say about cooking the recipes together, though. “Sam has never had a gnocchi before, let alone one he’d made himself,” said Luke—they ended up tasting good, albeit looking more like logs than pillows. The recipes were trial-by-fire, and Sam picked up the required skills regardless.
My partner and I also recipe-tested—with varying levels of success and some pain. We prepared braised pork belly with an apple cider glaze, a side of balsamic-glazed carrots and poached pears with a red miso glaze and Meyer lemon cream for dessert. The carrots and pears tasted fantastic, though we folded some confectioner’s sugar into the unsweetened Meyer lemon whipped cream. What nerd likes sugar-free whipped cream?
The pork belly spelled catastrophe. We couldn’t figure out how the recipe’s pressure cooker instructions applied to our Instant Pot’s functions—we went with the meat preset. We seared our two-pound slab of meat in three tablespoons hot oil. Grease popped as we juggled the jiggling mass into the cast-iron skillet, and burned our faces and hands. This recipe wasn’t adult friendly.
The book could have used a more realistic focus on children whose arms barely reach the stovetop. If you want to teach your kid to cook and eat like a MasterChef, they’ll need to learn the basics first. This cookbook is less about offering instructions than it is about showing kids that they can enjoy good food.
“When we made the pork chops, [Sam] didn’t think he’d like the sauce when we put in the mustard,” said Greg. But when I asked Sam about the dish, the first thing he said was, “I liked the sauce.”
In the Kitchen with Gonzalo Ingram, two-time “Master Chef junior” contestant
Season five featured Whitestone resident Gonzalo Ingram, now 14 years old. Born to a Peruvian mother, Gonzalo relies heavily on his grandmother’s influence and heritage to infuse his cooking with South American flavor. He was eliminated in the season’s fifth episode during a team challenge cooking steaks for first responders, but came back in the ninth for a chance to return. He impressed the judges with Korean-style chicken thighs featuring a gochujang sauce, and was invited back. He was eliminated again in the following episode for failed macarons. I visited him to ask some questions, and enjoy his shrimp causa rellena.
How did you learn to cook?
I started out cutting vegetables for my mom. As I got older, I told her I wanted to start cooking alongside her with the recipes she’d been doing.
When did you begin developing your own style?
When I was 8 years old I started taking my own spin on classical dishes from Peru. We have a dish called causa rellena. Usually it’s round and stuffed with chicken or tuna salad. I made shrimp cocktail causas and instead of making it round, I made it square. For the plating, I put the sauce below the causa, then I put a quail egg and avocados on the sides and corners. I put two shrimp on top, then another to make it look like a mountain of shrimp. Then I put some lettuce or arugula on and an edible flower next to it.
What was your proudest moment of the show?
The proudest moment was when I was able to replicate Gordon Ramsay’s scallop dish for my top 20 cut. I was scared. There was a lot of stress but I was happy with how it turned out. I got a lot of feedback from Gordon Ramsay.
What did you think of him?
He’s very nice. He teaches you a lot. Even if he’s stern with you, he’s doing it out of tough love. He wants to see you succeed.
How did the show impact you?
I feel like through all the mystery boxes it opened up my mind to these endless possibilities of what you can do with the ingredients at home. I used to be stubborn about not substituting ingredients but after that I said “Screw it, I’ll have some fun with it, substitute this for this and experiment with flavors.”
Will you grow up to be a chef?
I want to open a food truck called “Food Around the World,” after the “shot heard ’round the world.” I want to make it an international food truck with dishes from each heritage. If an immigrant
The MasterChef Junior Cookbook. By MasterChef Junior and Christina Tosi (Clarkson Potter, 2017)