Junior Masterchef Challenge

If it seems we’ve gone a bit quiet, rest assured that’s not the case … last weekend was about as far from quiet as you can get! It was the three-day Queen’s Birthday Weekend and we weren’t going away, so decided to host my niece and nephews for the first ever Junior Masterchef Challenge.

I know, I know … what were we thinking?!? Well, before you conclude we’ve obviously taken up crack smoking in our spare time, there actually was some thought behind the process.

First of all, the TV show is a ratings behemoth that is slaying everything in its path, and it’s sparking a new interest in cooking amongst kids – which can only be a great thing, right? (Except for those poor mothers who are now regularly being rated on their “plating up” ability). The more kids learn to cook, the more likely they are to cook for themselves during life, which means less takeaway food, less expense, less obesity, better quality eating, etc etc.

The second was my oldest nephew has just started high school and one of his classes is Food Technology (which I suspect differs fairly little from what we always knew as domestic science) and is starting to develop a bit of an interest in food. Thirdly, it would mean giving my brother and sister-in-law a break for the night … the chance to get out without having to find a babysitter. And finally, I found these absolutely gorgeous Masterchef-branded aprons and – as it tends to do – my imagination took over. More detail and photos after the jump.

We decided we’d pick up the kids after their dinner on Saturday night, have a movie-night and sleepover, then prepare and cook all day Sunday. Their parents and grandparents were invited over to serve as judges on the meal on Sunday night.  Prep would involve not only standard mis en plate but getting up early to go to the markets and buy the food, which would create lots of individual challenges that would also allow us a little one-on-one time with each child.

We did provide them with the menu and recipes, on the grounds that it would allow us to make sure each child cooked something within their ability, and each child won a prize at the end – a cookbook which was once again suited to their age: a kids cookbook for the youngest and a “blokes cookbook” for the almost-teenaged oldest.

Each child had individual challenges:

  • decor for the youngest
  • providore for the middle child, and
  • front of house for the eldest.

Decor meant getting up  at (gulp) 5am with me to go to the flower markets and then set the table and decorate our “pop-up” restaurant.

Providore meant getting all the ingredients – from the fish markets, the wholesale butcher we use and the supermarket (with an added challenge of locating all the ingredients on a list within a 15 minute timeframe – I may never shop any other way).

Meanwhile front-of-house required the eldest to vacuum and dust the apartment (method to my madness!), naming our “pop-up restaurant”, preparing an iPod playlist for the evening, and serving as both maitre de and sommelier. (Naturally the wine was bought by us!)

The parents among you will no doubt be shaking your heads, and we certainly did learn some lessons of our own. The difficulty in keeping kids focused long-term was one of them; in retrospect we would have been better to pick the kids up after lunch and just go flat-out all afternoon. But of course then the weekend wouldn’t have given my brother and sister-in-law the night off, and we couldn’t have done all the market thing.

The second big lesson was that it’s foolish allowing the kids to take a break mid-day and watch a movie  (Shrek IV for the youngest) or play Playstation for the two boys. And the third and final lesson was that being childless, while occasionally a thing of regret for us, does have its own advantages … we get to give them back!

It was a huge weekend – totally exhausting,  frustrating in parts, but also incredibly enjoyable to see these three kids experience the fun and satisfaction that comes from feeding great food to people you love. And as I remarked to Scott afterwards, in some ways the biggest gift of all was not to the kids themselves, but to us – watching the pleasure and pride on my brother and sister-in-law’s faces as they watched their kids proudly serve them a meal they cooked themselves.

The recipes stand on their own and I’ll incorporate them in a separate post.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the family viewing we’ve planned of an iMovie I’ll make from the footage we shot of the weekend, into which I’ll cut snippets from the real Masterchef program. Only this time, I think the catering will involve home-delivered pizza!


~ by swalloworspit on June 20, 2010.

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