Daphne Oz on ‘Masterchef Junior’s ‘Resilient’ Young Competitors & What’s Next

Masterchef Junior - Gordon Ramsay, Daphne Oz, Aaron Sanchez

Batter Up! The Little League World Series of cooking, Masterchef Junior, continues on April 5 with the 13 remaining small fries facing a baking challenge that’s as surprising as the pint-size contestants.

“I could never have been prepared for meeting these [kids], 8 to 13 years old, with the skill levels that they brought,” marvels Daphne Oz, the chef and cookbook author who joins judges/mentors Gordon Ramsay, and Aarón Sánchez for Season 8.

Those skills are on full display once the trio and Ramsay’s visiting daughter Tilly surprise the kitchen prodigies with a wall of doughnuts and a tasty task: Create a batch of 50 doughnut holes in two unique flavors. “It was mind-boggling, the combinations they came up with,” says Oz. “And the presentations!” Unfortunately, there are also some food fails, which means Oz, Ramsay, and Sánchez have to offer critiques without sugarcoating it or crushing the youngsters’ culinary dreams — especially after a Mystery Box elimination challenge involving some stinky ingredients seals a few fates.

“I learned from Gordon and Aarón that these kids are here because they love cooking and they love being able to become better chefs,” the mom of four explains. “[Out of respect], you give them meaningful and insightful criticism to help them get better. You just frame it in a way that’s a little bit more delicate than you would if they were adults.”

Deemed “as tough as nails” in the show’s promos, Oz sees her style differently: “I would say I am tough as brisket,” she quips. “But one of the things as a parent that blew me away was just how resilient the kids are, how proud they are when they do struggle [with a recipe] and then overcome, or when they learn something new.”

So did they teach Oz, who shot this “dream job” when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter Gigi, anything new? “You forget sometimes as an adult what it means to do something purely for the love of doing it,” she offers, adding that the youths’ fearlessness was both educational and inspirational. “They weren’t married to the ‘normal way’ of doing something, and that allowed them to be extremely creative as a result. To truly be willing to test yourself, surprise yourself and be bad at something is so rewarding.”

MasterChef Junior, Tuesday, April 5, 8/7c, Fox