For the past few months, I have been watching the U.S. MasterChef edition whenever I come across it while channel surfing on television. But recently, I have been closely following the Australian Junior MasterChef edition, writing down airing times on “post-its” so I don’t miss many episodes. The kids are engaging and amazing, the adults professional (critical yet nurturing) and basically it’s a great feel good kind of show. Most people don’t realize that the series has roots as far back as 1990 when the BBC in the U.K. first started airing a version of the show. It has evolved over the years, and I gather the latest format/evolution, Junior MasterChef, which debuted in 2010, has incredible viewer ratings in Australia and the U.K. So when I got a set of emails over a week ago from ABS-CBN asking if I would be interested in “seeing if I could do anything to help with the new Pinoy edition”, I gamely agreed. In my first meeting with the producers and director, we covered a wide range of topics, but since I am not a Chef, and more importantly, my Tagalog/Filipino skills are fairly appalling, I thought things would end there… but at least I could give them ideas about ingredients, markets and some recipes.
So I was truly surprised and kind of mortified that they asked me to “judge” the first batch of 100 or so shortlisted candidates in Metro-Manila and the surrounding provinces. I had a day’s notice and I realized this could be the end of a very serious diet. Nevertheless, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I showed up on time early at the Pinoy Big Brother House where auditions were scheduled and in the setting in the photo up top, Chef Michelle and I and some of the show’s producers and Director interviewed at total of 98 kids who showed up with a sample of the food that they had personally cooked. OMG, it sounded like a cool task, but 98 bites over 8 hours? Yipes! The energy and vibes were good, so yes, I did in fact taste EVERY SINGLE dish that the kids brought in. Adobos, dinuguan, sinigangs, mechado, gulay of all sorts and several other dozen types of pinoy dishes came plate after plate after plate. There were several western style dishes as well. Considering I have not had any carbohydrates for 37 days prior to this, nor salt, nor soy sauce or patis or sugar, let’s just say I broke every single rule in my diet dozens of times over! This will set me back a week, but you know what? It was TOTALLY WORTH IT. We asked each child to tell us something about themselves, their dish, other things they cooked, etc. After reviewing all 98, a certain number were shortlisted and they proceeded later in the day to an actual live cooking test which is set up in the photo above. I don’t want to disclose what it entailed, as further auditions around the country are still scheduled, and yes auditions are still possible for interested kids who want to join.
So in addition to the 98 tastes of dishes, Chef Michelle and I had to do dozens of tastes of the dishes that the kids were asked to cook on the spot with a recipe provided and a specified time limit. The entire day took nearly 14 hours, but it flew by quickly. And I was happy to have participated in one of the earliest stages of the process for putting together the show. This may not be the more visible and glamorous part that most folks see on television, but there was a raw honesty and palpable eagerness, excitement and nervousness that already made it quite special, so early in the game. I wish all of the kids well on their Junior MasterChef journey. And for the kids who don’t make it this time, try again next year! With a grand prize of PHP1 million for the winner and lots of other goodies, I sure wish I was 12 years old again!
Disclosure: I agreed to do yesterday’s judging and consultation for free, as I didn’t want any commitments beyond the day if I didn’t feel comfortable, and vice versa with the producers/director. However, ABS-CBN did want to pay me a consulting fee at the end of the day yesterday, which I gracefully turned down. Instead, I requested, if possible, passes for my crew and their families to attend/see their favorite ABS-CBN television show with lots of actors and actresses… a fair barter, don’t you think?
P.S. I posted a rare photo of myself (taken by Chef Michelle) on the set, so you all see what I look like at 172 pounds, and after 10 hours at “work”, because I am afraid that may be the lightest I will ever get after eating so much on the set yesterday! And finally, my favorite line from one of the producers who was probably trying to pump up my spirits/ego after about the 60th dish tasted…“If Australia Junior MasterChef has “The Shark” (is that the nickname for Matt Preston?!), we have “Marketman”…. HAHAHA. Don’t worry, I won’t let it get to me permanently. Many thanks to the folks at ABS-CBN, Chef Michelle, and to all the kids I met yesterday, you were AMAZING. Keep cooking. :)