The fifth season of "MasterChef Junior" premiered on Fox on Feb. 9 with children ages 8 to 13 competing in cooking challenges in hopes of winning the MasterChef trophy and the $100,000 grand prize. Watching them reminded me of the Kids Cooking Class I observed at The Cooks Marketplace in January. Eight boys and girls ages 11 to 19 each dreamed up a menu based on four ingredients in a mystery basket that they had to use - matzo wafers, preserved lemons, sweet potatoes and coconut milk - and a choice of ground pork, pork tenderloin or chicken breast.
In addition, from the pantry they could select from an array of spices and staples, like flour, sugar, canned goods and vegetable oil. From the refrigerator, they could draw from fresh herbs, vegetables, eggs and milk. Cooking stations, with cutting boards and knives, were set up for each student, and they had access to all the equipment in the well-supplied kitchen. They were given instructions, cooking tips and assistance from Cortney Smith, the vice president of the culinary store, and her assistant, Betsy Hailes. (Parents were welcome to stay and watch, although most left and came back in time to dine with their children.)
What sorts of recipes did the pint-sized chefs come up with? Here are a few of their ideas for some of the four ingredients.
Lincoln Hexter, age 12, made cauliflower "rice," a salad dressing using juice from the preserved lemons, and roasted sweet potatoes seasoned with curry powder "for sweetness," he said. He cubed pork tenderloin for his entree of spiced pork with coconut curry sauce and served it over the "rice."
Pretty amazing for a boy who said he wasn't interested in cooking "until this year."
"This is my first cooking class," said Lincoln, who is home-schooled. "I just like to tinker in the kitchen."
Another young chef in the class managed to whir matzo wafers in a food processor to fashion a pie crust, which she filled with boiled and drained sweet potatoes that were pureed with coconut milk.
"I'm going to make a simple meringue for the top," she said.
Pressley Arnold, age 13, prepared fried chicken using crushed matzo wafers and coconut milk. She sliced the chicken breast into strips, like chicken fingers, rolled them in the matzo crumbs, then dipped them into the coconut milk and back into the crumbs before cooking them in hot oil. Clever!
Logan Fairhurst, 13, focused his attention on the seasoning. He sprinkled a ground pork patty liberally with curry powder, cumin and smoked paprika. Then he doused it with a generous shot of soy sauce before mixing it all up and reshaping it into a new patty. He later decided to break up the patty and use the crumbled meat on a matzo wafer, like a hot pork flatbread.
When he cooks at home, he's a dessert guy.
"I love to make chocolate desserts," he said.
Sisters Terri and Ellie Hannig, ages 19 and 16 respectively, made chicken dishes garnished with strawberries.
"I live in a house with five roommates," said Terri, a college student in Denver. "I have to cook for myself."
Just like the kids cooking their hearts out on "MasterChef Junior," the children in The Cooks Marketplace class had a great time and loved digging into the food they created.
It's amazing to see how well all of these junior chefs know their way around the kitchen. It's never too soon to start learning to cook. Visit the thecooksmarketplace.com for a complete list of upcoming classes for children and adults.