And while they’ve been around for some time, most of these shows were targeted to adults. Why expose kids to risks of burns and cuts in the kitchen, after all?
Judging from the popularity of cooking shows tailored for kids these days, that’s a risk even their parents are willing to take. Well, with culinary careers being piping hot these days, who can blame them?
Here’s a look at some cooking shows and movies that you and your kids can watch to get inspired in the kitchen.
“Junior MasterChef Australia.” Format: Reality show
From the first telecast of this reality cooking show featuring 8-12 year olds on Star World, I was hooked. It’s fascinating to watch young chefs like Sophia and Pierre cook with total ease the dishes that mere mortals like us have never even heard of, like Pettole (Italian doughnut) or Lamb Wellington with Spinach and Mushroom Duxcell.
Each week, the young contestants do cook-offs in creative challenges. One week, they faced off in a boxing ring converted into a kitchen for a tag-team challenge to cook a prawn tortellini with sautéed marron, pumpkin puree and prawn oil. In another episode, they had to recreate and design a chocolate cake of Australian food stylist and cookbook author Donna Hay. Their basic cooking skills were also put to the test with speed and accuracy challenges, such as whipping cream by hand or shelling as close to 300 grams of peas as possible.
What makes the show refreshing to watch is the lack of drama and backstabbing that most adult cooking shows lather on to up the ratings. The kids seem genuinely happy for each other when they do well, and pull together during team challenges. The judges are also very encouraging and always make it a point to say something positive about the dish, even if an ingredient was missing or it was a tad overcooked.
The show was the top program in Australia when it first aired, and has proven a hit here as well. A Pinoy edition of “Junior MasterChef,” the first adaptation in Asia, will be hosted by Judy Ann Santos, and is set to air on ABS-CBN soon (see story on page 11).
“Iron Chef.” Format: Reality show
Perhaps the pioneer of all culinary game shows is “Iron Chef,” a dramatically styled cook-off featuring guests challenging one of the show’s resident Iron Chefs in a timed cooking battle built around a specific theme ingredient.
The Japanese edition was first broadcast from 1992-1999, while “Iron Chef America,” which became a surprise cult favorite in the US, aired on the Food Network starting 2005.
The reality show follows the style of sports tournaments, with reporters giving a running commentary on the action taking place in “Kitchen Stadium,” slow-motion replays of killer cooking moves (ex. quick slicing skills or a dish being momentarily engulfed in flames) and a mad dash for the competitors to finish at least five dishes using the theme ingredient in 60 minutes.
Dishes are judged by celebrity food critics for taste, plating, and originality in the use of the secret theme ingredient.
Though it may seem like a challenge to translate some theme ingredients (ex. tuna or beer) into a range of dishes from appetizer to dessert, especially under time pressure, the kitchen geniuses still manage to dish out amazing and beautifully plated creations. Broccoli ice cream, anyone?
“God of Cookery.” Format: Live action movie
Before the martial arts comedy flicks “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle,” Stephen Chow released the little-known movie “God of Cookery.” The 1996 Hong Kong film revolves around an arrogant celebrity chef who rigs competitions so that he can sell food products to run his business. However, after he is exposed by a competitor, he finds himself taken in by rival street food vendors and rebuilds a name for himself. He rises to victory by learning true cooking skills.
The humor of the movie may be too crass and low-brow for younger kids, but older audiences will find the whole martial arts/cooking concept and exaggerated reactions among the judges during the tournaments hilarious.
The movie itself is a parody of “Iron Chef,” with lots of kung fu action thrown in. Chefs use superior knife skills to cut up ingredients mid-air and “internal skills” to channel their inner strength and fuel stove fires to cook in a matter of minutes dishes that would normally take days to cook. For fans of “Iron Chef” or cheesy kung fu flicks, this movie can be considered well-done.
“Ratatouille.” Format: Computer-animated film
The main motto in this heartwarming tale of a rat who dreams of becoming a chef is that “anyone can cook.” The title refers to the French vegetable dish served in the film, and is a wordplay on the movie’s main character as well.
This 2007 animated movie revolves around Remy, a French rat gifted with a sense of smell and who has a great passion for cooking. Because of this, he accidentally uproots his family from the French countryside to the sewers of Paris, and finds himself living beneath a restaurant made famous by his culinary hero, Auguste Gusteau.
When Remy helps the restaurant’s garbage boy Linguini create a soup that wins rave reviews, he is taken in as a secret chef in the restaurant and his culinary adventures begin. The food and cooking scenes in this movie are accurate and the food looks simply delightful.
Despite the fact that rats in the kitchen are a nightmare to most chefs, this Pixar/Disney movie won best animated feature film. The movie is often cited by cooking experts as inspiring kids to explore the joy of cooking and join cooking classes and workshops.
“Cooking Master Boy.” Format: Anime series
This anime series follows the adventures of Liu Mao Hsing (better known as Mao), the youngest Super Chef, in a tour of China on a quest to learn about different cooking styles.
The series is set in a fictional “Era of the Cooking Wars,” when aspiring cooks aim to become the best chef in China. Cooking is held in such high esteem that serving a bad dish can land you in jail. To complicate matters, an evil mafia-like “Underground Cooking Society” threatens all that is good in the culinary world. Thirteen-year-old Mao is bent on acquiring new skills and “legendary cooking utensils” so that he can stop all their nefarious plans.
Each episode features a cooking battle, most often seen in official cooking tournaments or random cook-offs when some new character challenges Mao. The cooking techniques and final dishes are often highly exaggerated – imagine food emitting glowing dragons or blinding light when finally unveiled.
Like “God of Cookery,” this movie shows extreme reactions among people tasting the dishes: they often find themselves suddenly surrounded by dancing fairies and harp-playing muses after a taste of a particularly good dish.
However, viewers can actually follow the recipes featured in each episode, like Golden Fried Rice or Fantastic Mapo Tofu.
Another anime series in the same vein, “Yakitate Japan,” features more realistic baking techniques of breads and pastries.
So, to paraphrase the Iron Chef’s esteemed Chairman, “With an open heart, an empty stomach and a TV/Movie Guide, I say unto you ‘Allez cuisine! •’”