1. Life & Culture

One of TV's sweetest shows<i> MasterChef Junior</i> is back for Season 2

Contestant Samuel is one of many little chefs who seem to have mellowed notoriously abusive curmudgeon judge chef Gordon Ramsay in MasterChef Junior. &#65279; &#13;Fox
Contestant Samuel is one of many little chefs who seem to have mellowed notoriously abusive curmudgeon judge chef Gordon Ramsay in MasterChef Junior.  Fox
Published Nov. 1, 2014

Gordon Ramsay, that verbally abusive curmudgeon responsible for some of TV's most mean-spirited (and popular!) shows, presides over one of the season's sweetest series, returning Tuesday for a second season.

That would be MasterChef Junior, and if you missed the brief first season that aired a year ago, consider tuning in to catch the second one.

MasterChef Junior is set up exactly like Ramsay's massively popular MasterChef franchise, a competition between home chefs vying for the title of MasterChef under the shrewd judging eyes of Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot.

But the Junior version is better than the original in every way. Why? The chefs are all between the ages of 8 and 13 years old.

Kids make great contestants: It should come as no surprise that the 16 kids Fox has cast for this show are extremely adorable. Oh, look, that one has to stand on a stool to reach the counter! This one says she's been cooking since she was 2! But it goes beyond that. These kids have no filter, and unlike when adults on reality shows have no filter, it results in a rare and comforting honesty. These cheftestants say "thank you" all the time, they cheer on their competitors, they say things like "Cooking is my favorite thing. I would rate myself on a scale of 1-100, a 96," and "I want to change the minds of culinary thinkers in our world." They're also super encouraging of one another. From one young chef: "I mean, I wish they picked me, but Mitchell's dish looks pretty tasty." Also, when one girl has a breakdown (tears and all!) in Tuesday's premiere, the entire group of competitors rallies around her telling her to persevere. That would never happen on regular ol' MasterChef.

And they bring out the best in the judges: Ramsay thrives on his crotchety persona, as a vein-popping shouter on Hell's Kitchen or the incredulous snob on Kitchen Nightmares. On MasterChef Junior, though, he's a completely different person. Soft and warm, he seems delighted to work with children, coaxing the best out of them and helping them when they need it. "I have three daughters," he tells that sniffling girl in the premiere, "and they always cry in the kitchen, but they cry with laughter, so I'm not leaving till you laugh." Gordon, is that you?! The young chefs also have a positive effect on notorious downer Bastianich, who's normally unnecessarily rude to everyone he encounters. Not here!

Plus, the cooking is seriously good: You'll be shocked at how talented these kids are, especially the 8- and 9-year-olds, considering they haven't even had motor skills for a full decade. (One precocious 9-year-old says, "This is kind of my first big adventure in my childhood.") Okay, maybe you'll be a little dubious, too; is that little girl really allowed to use a brulee torch by herself? The first episode alone includes kid-prepared items like Sriracha foam, chicken liver pate and wild rice topped with a fried egg. They sear apple juice-injected pork tenderloins, say things like "I need grapeseed oil!" and create a vibrant chicken wing glaze from fish sauce. All the food looks immaculate, too. Sure, maybe it tastes like garbage and the overly effusive judges are lying through their teeth, but could you even pronounce Sriracha when you were 8?