MasterChef Junior is quietly, goofily, one of the kindest shows on network television. Some of it is just the kinds themselves—they might be driven, but it’s not as though any of them is stomping around, saying, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win!” But some of it is also the judges, who consistently seem as delighted by the experience as the young “cheftestants,” and whose coaching and feedback can sometimes be tough, but never cruel. (Gordon Ramsay’s not bad, he’s just drawn that way.)
While Ramsay and Aarón Sánchez both offer up plenty of kind words and twinkly eyes, it’s Christina Tosi, owner and chef of Milk Bar, who seems most dazzled by the perseverance and ingenuity of her young charges—and in tonight’s episode, the role model-centric “Girl Power,” we get to see where she gets some of those qualities. There’s a spoiler in that headline, but just in case you skipped right past it, here’s a brief clip of what you’ll see tonight, and who she’s invited to join her in the MasterChef kitchen.
The Takeout spoke with Tosi and her mother, Greta Tosi Miller, about the experience of being in that kitchen, how Tosi might have fared on the show as a kid, their own reality TV indulgences, and the magnetic nature of TV accountants.
The Takeout: So, what was it like for the two of you to shoot this episode together?
Christina Tosi: This is actually the second time I’ve had the privilege of inviting my mom to the set of MasterChef Junior. I think with young home cooks, eight to 13, it’s fun for them to see that it was not too long ago that I was in their shoes, and had a parent that was cheering me on, and encouraging me to chase my passions.
TO: Why this episode?
CT: This episode for me especially, it was really meaningful, because it’s not just about a parent, it’s about female role models and female empowerment, first and foremost. One of the reasons I chose to be a part of the MasterChef Junior family was because I felt that our industry needed more female role models, and I took the opportunity really seriously because of that. Getting to be a part of an episode [through which] young men and young women across the country get to see the power of a female role model—and that that female role model could be anyone from a friend, to a mom, to a grandma, an aunt, a sister, a neighbor—was really powerful for me. My Mom’s been one of my greatest role models, so it was really cool to get to shine more light on her and the power that she’s had over my personal and professional life, which I probably don’t take enough time to stop and tell her about.
Greta Tosi Miller: I agree with the Christina [that it was really special.] All the jitters you have going into an environment that you’re completely unfamiliar with—the television production process, for me—all those jitters were gone, because I lived those jitters the first time I had the chance to participate in the MasterChef Junior experience, when Christina first came aboard, which was this huge joy. I’m an accountant, I’m a CPA. I love to see how things work. So I loved that first experience of seeing behind the scenes, and seeing how a television show was produced and the level of integrity behind it. Quite honestly, you’re going to laugh, but I was fascinated to sit back in the production room and speak with the show’s auditors.
TO: I’m not laughing! That stuff is really interesting.
GTM: I was fascinated by that, being an accountant, to understand that in the television, these things are audited to make sure they’re fair and that there’s no inkling that anyone is receiving any kind of advantage because money is involved. And being on the program for the second time was absolutely lovely, because I got to also visit with Christina’s other role models too, and to meet the other role models of the other judges. The wide breadth of impact that each of those women and young ladies have had was a pure joy.
TO: How would Christina have done if she’d been on MasterChef Junior as a kid?
GTM: Oh, she would have failed! Oh, good heavens! She would never have even been chosen in the first place! Her culinary skills were—well, I think she was born with an extra large sweet tooth. And these children, the diversity of the good they make, these incredible dishes, that’s the thing that was phenomenal to me. To see that they get an hour to come up with, devise, create, implement, and then present this gorgeous dish? Poor little Christina! She wouldn’t have had a chance. No chance at all.
CT: I would have eaten all the cookie dough and “forgotten” to put it in the oven.
GTM: Yes, she would have eaten the raw dough before it ever got to the oven.
CT: I had very different interests at that age. Or maybe very different motivators, as the case may be.
TO: Is there any advice you’d give to a parent whose kid wanted to be on the show?
CT: What would you say, mom? I’m going to hold back.
GTM: I would say instill in your children just the pure self confidence that they are capable. They’re really capable of achieving any dream or goal they set for themselves. Go for it, because I think without a child setting dreams and reaching for those dreams and those goals, they’re never have a chance. They’ve gotta be willing to do the work. That was something I noticed about some of the contestants on this season of MasterChef Junior. There was this one little girl. The judges said, “How did you learn this?” And she said, “YouTube!” Well, of course that wasn’t even available in Christina’s youth. It was fascinating, I applaud [her parents], truly, because they are exposing their children to as diverse an array of opportunities as they possibly can. That’s everything from teaching your daughter how to a hammer a nail, to solving complex math problem. Just don’t set limits for what you expose your child to in that way. And when a child fails, when there’s burnt cornflakes, teach them how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back in the game. Because a failure is not really a failure. It’s just another opportunity to learn.
CT: You can obviously hear from my mom that, not only is she the most positive person, her positivity is not all rainbows and sunshine, right? There is an honesty to the positivity that I was raised with that I think is, obviously I [can’t be totally objective about] my own experience, but I think it really is the secret recipe to it. The one thing that I always remember being raised with was variations of, know yourself and celebrate yourself. No one gets to tell you who you are and what you can and can’t do—But also this honesty of, hey, P.S., once you know who you are and what you want to do, there’s no such thing as a fast track. You have to do the work, and also you’re going to get, you’re going to skin your knees a little bit along the way, but as long as you know yourself, and celebrate yourself and you’re doing it for yourself, you’re going to get whatever you put your mind to because, because that’s what it’s about.
TO: You can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of work?
CT: Yes. The long and winding road that it takes to create, to discover your passion and then just turn it into something that you have the opportunity to do every day—the journey will always be the journey. It’s a never-ending, long and winding road. Those are things that we, from the kick-off to the season finale, that we are telling these home cooks. instilling these things in these home cooks from week to week because it is a constant reminder. We all need the role model of a great mom, a great parent, a great friend, a great sibling to help remind you of those things along the way. It’s like, if you want to know how to do this, let’s get back in the kitchen and try again. Let’s put this apron on again and get cooking.
TO: Are there other reality shows you watch?
CT: My go-to used to be MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, before I joined the team. They were the beautiful little shows that were about restoring faith in humanity and an industry that I was working so hard to be a part of and to help evolve. My other reality show is Project Runway. Because of my mother and my grandmother, sewing has always been a huge outlet in my upbringing... Making a quilt for someone—in the case of Milk Bar, sewing hundreds of headscarves for a team that needs something fun to wear their hair—sewing, creation, going from idea to execution, it reminds me of my upbringing in this really fun, exciting, new way. It’s very visceral. It’s very creative and I find that feeds me. I already know what’s going to happen on MasterChef Junior! So it can’t actually be my guilty pleasure anymore. So I love Project Runway. My girlfriend Karlie [Kloss] is the host now! She’s on tonight’s [MasterChef Junior] episode. She’s one of my female role models.
GTM: Oh, I have to start watching this now, Christina, now that I hear about it.
CT: You really should, Mom. It’s on cable, I’ll teach you how to get on.
GTM: Thank you!