Little cooks spice up the broth

We watched, enraptured, as dimpled, nine year-old Siena, prim and proper Pierre, lovely Sofia, eventual winner Isabella and runner-up Jack participated in cook-offs to compete for the title of the first ever Junior MasterChef Australia.

That was in May. Five months later, George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Anna Gare are back, waiting to be enthralled by some of Australia’s youngest cooks. And if the first episode is anything to go by, we’re in for a bite-sized treat this time round too.

From Harry, who makes the profound, and oddly endearing comment, “small people can do big things,” to Tom, who “wants to open a hockey bar, where you can eat, have fun and then play hockey all day,” the contestants are a mix of everything that’s fascinating about pre-teens making dishes that you and I can hardly pronounce.

The episode begins with 50 excited kids competing in groups of five in simultaneous 90-minute heats, each headed by a “culinary heavyweight” (food critic Matt Preston’s words, not mine) who also decides the core ingredient that group will cook with.

Each of the mentor-chefs —Kylie Kwong, Justin North, Adriano Zumbo, Shaun Preston and Peter Gilmore, then has to pick the top three dishes from his/her group, which the three judges then taste before deciding who takes a place in the Top 20.

From the word go, the creativity and skill on show here is staggering. There’s everything from apple pie pizza (really?) to trout with potato slices arranged as gills, competing with the sparkle in the eyes of these miniature contestants.

We wouldn’t want to be outing one of these delightful kids, just like Gilmore says he wouldn’t. Stories emerge that your mother will wag a finger at you for — some kids cook four times a week, while others “try out” recipes they see in restaurant menus.

There are moments when the chef-judges also prove why they are the life of the show. Chandler realises, with five minutes to go, that he’s forgotten to turn on the oven. The tears well up when a comforting Gary recounts how he did the same thing as an apprentice, before telling him, “Cook it, we’ll taste it after the challenge.” “I didn’t feel like crying anymore. I felt like keeping a smile on my face,” says Chandler, and you smile too.

Season 2 will make you, and possibly your pre-teen child, sibling, niece or nephew want to enter the kitchen and whip up a storm. Or it’ll make you smile, and that can’t be too bad either.

Recipe Ready

Junior Masterchef Season 2 contestant 12 year-old Alysha Bernard shares her recipe for Burmese Chicken Curry:

250 g rice stick noodles
2 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
5 cm piece ginger, peeled
2 table spoons peanut oil
500 g chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, chopped
1 tea spoon salt
500 ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon chilli powder
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 spring onions, sliced
1/3 cup coriander leaves, chopped
2 table spoons garlic flakes
2 tablespoons onion flakes, fried
3 lemon wedges

ØPlace noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water and cook for 5-6 minutes or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water
ØPlace onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor and process until smooth. Add a little water to help blend if needed. Heat oil in a frying pan, add the onion mixture to the pan and cook over medium to high heat for five minutes ØAdd the chicken and cook until evenly browned. Add salt, coconut milk, chilli and fish sauce and bring to the boil
ØReduce heat and cook, covered for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally. Remove lid and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes until sauce has thickened
Ø Serve curry on a bed of rice noodles, topped with spring onions, coriander, garlic and onion flakes and lemon wedges
Notes: Preparation: 10 minutes; cooking time: 40 minutes; serves 3-4 

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