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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Food & Dining

Kids in the kitchen: You must be this tall to ride the TV chef trend

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They’ve come for our children now.

Fresh out of celebrity chefs — or at least what barely passes for one these days — television has discovered a new pool of underage talent to exploit for our culinary voyeurism.

Over on Food Network, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri pitted apron-wearing middle-schoolers against each other on this summer’s “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off.”

This was the junior version of the same tired concept in which adult quasi-pseudo-I-guess-they’re-still-famous celebrities such as Cheech Marin, Taylor Dayne and Joey Fatone battled to see who could get more screen time to revive their flagging careers.

With Rachael and Guy as mentors, as the network describes the show, “eight adorable kids square off” and cook in a series of challenges “that would stump most adults.” The grand prize was guaranteed, they said, to “kick-start the career of one talented kid chef.”

First of all, no one under 30 knows what kick-starting is. Kids push buttons today. It’s not their fault. We built a world that can be operated with a thumb.

Second, no. Just ... no. A person too young to drive should not have a “career,” in cooking or otherwise. [See: Bieber, Justin] And I don’t want to deal with the guilt of sitting on my couch while kids run around a kitchen with knives and open flame.

Joining in for the TV ’tween fun, Fox has retooled its “Master Chef” franchise with Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot and contestants ages 8 to 13.

Get the joke? Gordon is a meanie and Joe is a scowler and kids are crybabies.

LET’S SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN!!!

Ha. Ha. Ugh.

Here’s what I know: Kids can be great home cooks when taught properly. Their imaginations produce delicious surprises when they combine ingredients in playful ways. My son’s interest in food led us to enroll him as a middle-schooler in the Young Chefs Academy. Soon, he was making baklava. It was fun and great eating in my house until he discovered girls. Then the baklava suddenly stopped.

I also know that right around 1995, parents started using Food Network as a visual pacifier. It was safe, relatively nonviolent and, in some cases, informative and instructive. Sure, those parents were still ordering Domino’s Pizza for dinner, but their hearts were in the right place.

Just like there are kids who have no idea what a typewriter is — or a newspaper, for that matter — there are many who have never known a time when chefs weren’t celebrities. In their minds, it’s no big deal for a spiky-haired food dude to own a Maserati.

So maybe I’m way off base. Maybe I didn’t push my boy enough. Maybe I should have barricaded him in his room with posters of Paul Bocuse and James Beard, forced him to read nothing but M.K. Fisher and Auguste Escoffier, and taught him to cook goat heart terrines while wearing a blindfold. Maybe if I had filled his head with Lyonnaise potatoes instead of “The Lion King,” he’d be on the verge of a TV career.

If I had, he’d be just the right age for such shows as shows:

“The Sriracha Kid.” A skinny Italian boy from the Bronx and his patient Okinawan mentor dodge high school bullies during their search for the best soba noodles.

Or...

“Ariane Bourdain: No Crustaceans.” The daughter of famous TV bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain tours the world with and discovers new food allergies. Adrien Ripert, son of chef Eric Ripert, is a frequent guest.

Or maybe...

“Cafeteria: Unlunchable.” A Danny Bonaduce child-lookalike drinking performance-enhancing juice boxes goes from school to school trying to find one student who has ever taken more than two bites of Michelle Obama’s healthy school pizza.

Nah. No one would ever watch that. That’s too much to swallow, even for a kid.

jhouck@tampatrib.com

(813) 957-5191

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