Adults aren’t the only ones who like Top Chef, Chopped, and MasterChef. That’s why we have Top Chef Junior, Chopped Junior, and MasterChef Junior, which are all focused on kids as the stars in the kitchen.
While my son might not be interested in trying out for a spot on national television at the moment, he definitely enjoys watching the shows with me and loves to experiment with his own dishes. That’s why I thought a great way to keep him interested in culinary pursuits while also arranging a fun activity for us both would be to set up a reality TV-style cooking competition for him.
When I told my son about the idea, he loved it and was ready to go right away.
However, I wanted to make sure I had some cool ingredients for him to use, so I hopped over to the grocery store to see what I could find. I first headed to the rack of produce that was reduced in price because it was on its last days or had a bruise or two — always a great way to get a deal on food if you intend to eat it soon and don’t mind minor imperfections — and grabbed a single lemon and a Roma tomato. I also bought some dill and cashews as well as smoked turkey breast slices, naan rounds, and garlic hummus. I already had peaches from the farm as well as waffles, which I wanted to include in the challenge.
While professional-level chefs usually get one or two odd ingredients in the mix to throw them off, I wanted to challenge my son but not mess him up. I wanted this experience to be fun and encouraging, so I stayed away from anything too weird. Perhaps if we do this again in the future, I’ll amp it up a bit and add a few things that are new and extreme.
Back at home, my husband agreed to judge alongside me so that we’d have two people offering their opinions on the dishes. And with that, we were ready to go.
Read on to find out how I set up a reality TV-style cooking competition for my kid and how it went down.
The Challenge and Rules
The Challenge: Three rounds where the chef (i.e., my son) will be presented with mystery ingredients. The first round will be an appetizer, the second round will be an entrée, and the third round will be dessert.
The Rules: The chef has 15 minutes for the appetizer round, 20 minutes for the entrée round, and 15 minutes for the dessert round. The chef must use all of the mystery ingredients and can use anything else found in the kitchen.
Round 1: Appetizer — Available Ingredients
- Garlic hummus
- Naan rounds
Round 1: Appetizer — Preparation
My little chef started with two pieces of naan and laid them out on a plate. He then spread on a bit of hummus before grabbing some Havarti (a smart move since it’s a favorite of one of the judges) and placed it on the naan. From there, he put some cashews in a bag and grabbed a little pan to give them a good whack, crushing them down to smaller bits. He put a little pile of nuts on top of the Havarti, and I figured he was done.
But instead, he placed one of the naan rounds on the other one to create a little sandwich. I was somewhat concerned when he took out the mayo next, but he spread only a tiny bit on top so that when he sprinkled on a few more nuts, they would stick.
Since he had a few minutes to spare, he took a moment to consider his dish and decided that it needed more. He pulled out some lettuce and (after giving it a good wash) tucked a bit inside the sandwich. He also added a little pepper on top, and with that, he was done.
Round 1: Appetizer — Final Dish
The final dish for our appetizer round ended up being a hummus, Havarti, and cashew mini sandwich. My little chef cut it in half for presentation’s sake (and to make it easier to eat) and sprinkled a few more nuts around the plate to make it look even prettier.
Round 1: Appetizer — Judging
The Havarti was nice and creamy, as was the hummus. The cashews went really well with the hummus and added a crunchy texture, which was lovely since everything else was so creamy. The lettuce added a bit of freshness and a pop of color. It was a light appetizer that I would certainly eat again. I could also see adding some grilled chicken or a big juicy tomato to make this a main course kind of sandwich.
Overall opinion: A success!
Round 2: Entrée — Available Ingredients
- Smoked turkey breast slices
- Roma tomato
Round 2: Entrée — Preparation
For the entrée round, my son immediately went for the tomato and sliced it up before placing it in a pan with the dill. While those were frying up, he grabbed some mayo and added a bit of garlic sauce, which he spread on a couple pieces of bread. He then went to check on his tomatoes and sprinkled on a bit of salt before placing them on the bread with a little bit more of his sauce on top. He added some of the turkey slices but felt like his creation was a bit lacking, so he put the entire thing in the pan to toast up. Finally, he sliced it in half and decided that it was ready.
Round 2: Entrée — Final Dish
For presentation’s sake, the chef decided to place one side of the hot sandwich over the other. He also laid a bit of dill on top and presented his dish to the judges.
Round 2: Entrée — Judging
It was delicious! The smoked turkey went perfectly with the tomato and garlic sauce that my son had whipped up, and toasting the entire sandwich made everything warm and creamy.
Overall opinion: Another success!
Round 3: Dessert — Available Ingredients
Round 3: Dessert — Preparation
Round three started with more slicing as my little guy cut up the peaches and then popped them in the blender. He also squeezed in some lemon juice and almond milk before hitting the pulse button. When he had a nice, smooth mixture, he poured some on top of the waffles and spread it around. He then squeezed lemon juice directly on top of the waffles and added peach slices and his lemon wedges.
While he originally finished off his dish there, he later decided to add a little vanilla ice cream to kick things up a notch.
Round 3: Dessert — Final Dish
The finished dessert dish smelled incredible thanks to the fresh peaches and lemon. It was also pretty darn cute, although I have to admit that I made a little joke about the peaches looking like adorable fruit bums (my kid rolled his eyes in response, of course).
Round 3: Dessert — Judging
The smell of the peaches and lemon filled the entire kitchen and made my mouth water. The fruit was so fresh and tasty, it was a perfect complement to the toasted waffle.
However, I did think that the dessert would be even better if there was cinnamon or icing sugar on top as well as a little ice cream served along with it. When I mentioned this, my son ran to the freezer because we did indeed have vanilla ice cream. He put some on the waffle, and I was definitely right — it was lovely!
Overall opinion: A final success!
My kid’s final thoughts: It was fun!
I then asked if he wanted to do it again and, if so, would he like me to do anything differently next time. His answer: I’d like to do it again, and I’d like to do it the same way.
My final thoughts: I was really impressed. I was fully expecting (and willing to sample) some freakish Franken-food, but my son managed to put together three incredibly tasty dishes. Not only were they NOT horrific to try and were, in fact, yummy, but they were also things that I would actually make (or, rather, ask my son to make) again.
As for the challenge, we both had a lot of fun with it and will definitely be doing it again. And if you have a little chef in your home, I absolutely recommend giving a fun reality TV-style cooking competition a try.