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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Top Chef Junior, a spin-off of the long-running Top Chef franchise, is a family-friendly cooking competition. It features a dozen contestants, all under the age of 14. The show is hosted by chef Curtis Stone and actress Vanessa Lachey. The kids must complete a variety of challenges -- one contestant is eliminated in each episode, which can result in some tearful goodbyes -- until the winner is crowned Top Chef and takes home $50,000. Some kids display more anxiety than others while competing; this may be a little stressful for some young viewers. There are occasional kitchen mishaps (a burned hand, a nicked finger), which are swiftly handled by on-set medics. The kids display positive attitudes toward the competition and the judges, and the judges do a terrific job of providing honest critiques without being too negative.
What's the story?
Amateur cooks from across the country have been competing on Top Chef for over a decade now, so it's not surprising they've chosen to shake things up a bit and do a kiddie version of the show with TOP CHEF JUNIOR The format is very similar to the original, with the dozen contestants (all aged 11-13) making their way through a variety of cooking challenges ("Quickfires," "Restaurant Wars," etc.) as they race toward a $50,000 finish line. Hosts Vanessa Lachey and Curtis Stone offer support and guidance, while a rotating roster of guest judges like Tiffany Derry and Richard Blais (both former Top Chef stars) provide gentle yet honest critiques of the contestants' dishes. Each episode includes an elimination challenge, and the last chef still cooking will go home with the Top Chef Junior title (as well as the cash prize).
Is it any good?
This series is especially fun, since the contestants are so genuinely enthusiastic about food, and come from a generation that has grown up viewing chefs as rock stars. It's impressive as heck to see an 11-year-old displaying cooking skills that are beyond that of many adults out there -- when was the last time you made duck using the sous vide method? -- but they're still kids, which means their emotions can run a little high at times. Some of the contestants handle the time constraints and stress of the kitchen better than others; one child sobs when he fails at skinning a fish, realizing he's a bit out of his depth and won't have time to plate his entire meal.
Sensitive younger viewers might get a little emotional watching their fave contestants be eliminated, but the contestants themselves are so sweetly encouraging of one another in times of victory and defeat. You can tell these kids have a genuine camaraderie as fellow foodies, which their parents make grateful comments about, as well. (Despite celebrity chef culture, not every kid in middle school is name-dropping Thomas Keller.) Likewise, the judges strike the perfect balance between critic and mentor, which encourages the young chefs to hone their techniques without leaving them feeling too discouraged. Top Chef Junior is a great choice to watch as a family, and could even encourage some dinnertime experimentation to boot.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the contestants on Top Chef Junior display good sporting conduct. These kids are competing against each other for a cash prize and bragging rights, yet they still manage to be supportive of one another and show great teamwork. Why is this an important character strength?
What would be the most challenging part of competing on a show like Top Chef Junior? Would it be the time management issues? Competing against a friend? Worrying if the judges will like your dish?
How do you feel when you see a contestant you like being eliminated? Is it hard to understand why the judges came to their decision? What could the contestant have done differently, if anything?
- Premiere date: October 13, 2017
- Cast: Curtis Stone, Vanessa Lachey, Gail Simmons
- Network: Universal Kids
- Genre: Reality TV
- Topics: Cooking and Baking, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-G
- Available on: Streaming
- Award: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: May 06, 2020
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