Since its inception 11 years ago, Top Chef has spawned 14 seasons, a cruise ship experience, a video game, a cutlery line, two cookbooks, and a handful of spinoff series. And now, the Top Chef expanded universe is growing a little bit bigger with the addition of Top Chef Jr., a program that’s being touted as one of the main attractions on the brand-new Universal Kids cable network (this space on the dial was previously home to Sprout, another family-oriented channel).
The program is hosted by Curtis Stone, the acclaimed LA-based chef/restaurateur who is now a ubiquitous presence on cooking competition shows, and actress/former beauty pageant model Vanessa Lachey. The format is roughly the same as the original Top Chef, but there are a few kid-friendly surprises like an “eat it or wear it challenge,” wherein poor Curtis gets doused with what looks like Dijon mustard:
You’d never see this on regular old Top Chef, but maybe that’s part of this show’s appeal.
Like all competition programs, the success of Top Chef Jr. will likely depend on whether or not the contestants are compelling on camera. Judging by this introductory clip, it looks like the producers have found some pretty charming kids:
Here’s a brief dossier:
Kenzie: Blue asymmetrical haircut. Black belt in Taekwondo. 12 years old. “My flavors and my personality are very bold.”
Owen: Mr. baritone. He wants to open a “three Michelin-starred French-inspired restaurant” eventually. Owen is 13.
Fuller: Baby faux-hawk. He was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 3. Clearly knows a thing or two about grilling over live flames. He’s just 13 years old, but Fuller has already worked in a professional kitchen before.
Milo: The Picasso of the crew. “I’m definitely a very creative chef in and out of the kitchen.” 13 years old.
Katelyn: An Italophile with a brûlée torch. “I’ve got something to prove.”
Max: A laser-focused New Yorker, Max (11) is possibly the most precocious of the bunch. “My dream is to create an Indian and Italian fusion restaurant.”
Audrey: Definitely the one you want on your team, to boost morale. “People do underestimate me because I am pretty silly.” 11 years old. Loves archery.
Fernando: The youngest chef in the kitchen (he’s 11), but looks unflappable. Likes math and science.
Jasmine: This 13-year-old loves to garden and dreams of opening a farm-to-table restaurant someday. As she mentions in her intro, Jasmine has a rare bone disorder. Maxine: A salmon-cooking prodigy from California. Maxine (13) hopes to own a world-fusion restaurant when she grows up.
Rahanna: Another Californian with a taste for fusion. “My food dream is to open a restaurant [that’s] California-fresh with Mexican and Creole.” Rahanna is 13.
Henry: His dad got him the French Laundry Cookbook, and he loves to make fresh pasta. Henry, like many of these junior chefs, is also 13.
The food that these tykes cook looks pretty much exactly like what the adults prepare on the regular Top Chef. Guest judge Graham Elliot recently told the Hollywood Reporter: “These kids at 13 are good enough to theoretically be a sous-chef at a restaurant.”
Although some of the previous variations to the Top Chef formula didn’t last for very long, Chopped and MasterChef both managed to launch successful kid-centric spinoffs, so perhaps there’s hope that Top Chef Jr. will stick around. The show premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on Universal Kids, and it’s also going to be available on the network’s app.