Have you ever wondered what it’s like behind the scenes of Gordon Ramsey’s reality TV show, MasterChef Junior? We sat down with Westchester County mom, Aviva Sisitsky to find out what it’s like to be a mom of a MasterChef Junior contestant. Her son, Kyle competed in MasterChef Junior Season 7. She gives us a peek into what it was like for Kyle to be a MasterChef Junior contestant and what it was like for her to be a parent on the show.
Tell me how this all started. How did Kyle start cooking?
Kyle started cooking by watching his maternal grandmother make holiday dinners and asking if he could join her. He is an avid reader, so he read tons of books about cooking. He also has a love for math and science. And you know, there is a lot of math and science involved in cooking. I remember he was in my kitchen making a mess baking a cake, but it was delicious. Word caught on quickly that he could really cook and he was asked to bake for the school book fair when he was in 4th grade and his cakes sold quickly!
How did Kyle get into MasterChef Junior?
One day Kyle mentioned to me that it would be fun to be in MasterChef Junior. As a gift for Hannukah, I registered him for the MasterChef Junior casting call. They were casting for MasterChef Junior Season 7 at that time. We had to go to Philadelphia for the casting call because we were away on vacation during the New York casting call. I went in with the attitude of “What are the chances he will make it in the show.” But, I thought I’d support him and he’d learn to go after your dreams. I am a first-generation American, and growing up my parents told me to study hard first and to following my dreams second. My husband, on the other hand, is all about loving what you do and following your passion and has always supported the kids in whatever that was. We made it a family trip. I thought, at least we’ll get to see the Franklin Institute and have a great time in Philly.
What is the MasterChef Junior casting call like?
The MasterChef Junior casting call was intense. You walk into a room with what seems like hundreds of kids with their parents. They give you a number and tell you what time to come back. His number was 137 by 10 am, which should give you an idea of how many kids there would be by the end of the day! They called Kyle into a room. Parents were not allowed in. They tested him on basics like how to measure ingredients and water. He had to cook an egg. He had to cut- julienne, chop…that sort of thing.
After he was done, we decided to grab lunch across the street. As we were crossing the street I got a phone call from the show asking us to come back the next day to cook again. We were staying in a hotel at that time so we had no access to a kitchen to prepare the night before. Fortunately, my husband had a friend in town and he let Kyle use his apartment to test his recipe. We went to Whole Foods to buy all the ingredients and Williams and Sonoma for the frying pan, knife and spatula. The next day, we went to the callback. Kyle made pan-seared salmon with a citrus side salad. He cooked on camera, they talked to him while he was cooking. I think they wanted to see whether he could talk and cook at the same time. Luckily, Kyle doesn’t get flustered. At one point he dropped the salmon and had to scoop it back up. He did not skip a beat. I think that Kyle just being his genuine self got him on the show.
When did you find out Kyle made it to MasterChef Junior?
We were out of town for Spring break when we got a call from MasterChef Junior inviting us out to LA. They told us to pack for 8 weeks! They gave us an idea of what kind of clothes to bring. I borrowed some of the clothes from my friend’s son. In the end, they provided most of his wardrobe except for the green shirt he wore in the first episode and his shoes.
When you found out Kyle made it to MasterChef Junior, how did you prepare him for the show?
Kyle is a self-taught cook. He learned to cook by watching a lot of videos like the Gordon Ramsey Master class and reading a lot of cookbooks. So I didn’t have to do much to prepare him for MasterChef Junior. The only thing I did do was call a mom from school who is also a chef and I asked her if she could teach Kyle how to hold a knife properly. Kyle never had formal knife handling class and I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose any fingers in the process. I dropped him off at her house and she taught him knife safety- to curl your fingertips under, so that if the knife is too close it hits your knuckles instead.
What was the MasterChef Junior taping like?
We went to LA for the taping of MasterChef Junior along with 65 other kids. We all stayed in the same hotel. It was very structured. All the kids had school every day, there was a teacher on set. At the end of the 1st week, they asked everyone to pack up and one group was asked to go home and the other group was the 24 kids that made it to the show.
Being on the show was a lot of work (Kyle had to get a California work permit!) It was pretty much 6 days a week. A bus took us back and forth from the set every day. Some days started really early and some ended late at night. Since everybody stayed in the same hotel, the kids swam in the pool and had a chance to bond. Sundays were dark days. We all hung out together on those days and went on excursions to Malibu, Santa Monica pier, an aquarium. The kids had a great time.
What is life like for you Post-MasterChef Junior?
For me, when I got back from taping MasterChef Junior, it felt like I had to learn to re-enter society. I had the same regimented environment for 1.5 months with other parents. I think when you leave a regimented environment, there is some adjustment involved in being independent again. The nice thing is I gained a whole other set of friends. Being thrown in that environment, you really get to know each other. I guess it’s a little bit what you see in the military- we were in the trenches together, we cried together for our kids, we laughed, and we supported each other.
Even post-show, the parents all supported each other. We had a few issues with our kid’s public Instagram accounts. There were some overzealous fans wanting to meet our children. We had to block and report what was happening, even to law enforcement in a few cases. The kids also still keep in close touch and support each other from afar. We flew to Seattle for one of the girls’ Bat Mitzvah and many of the kids flew to NY this past November for Kyle’s Bar Mitzvah. There is a special bond that they share with each other, no matter how much time goes by.
Does Kyle get recognized?
I remember the first time Kyle got recognized. He was doing a promo shoot at the hotel in LA. He had his apron on and when he walked through the hotel lobby, there were several young girls with their phones asking to take photos with him. At first Kyle thought it was strange that these girls wanted to take pictures with him. I told him it’s because they recognized him in his MasterChef Junior apron. That was his first taste of being recognized.
He still gets spotted now. A group of kids at the movie theater recognized him and approached him for pictures, sometimes at Chipotle he’ll be randomly recognized. He represented the school at the National Geographic Geography Bee competition in Albany and was recognized there too by other kids. He is very modest about it though.
Would you do it again?
I would. When I think back, I remember the kids were exhausted and it was a lot of work. Then when I think about the experience and friends that Kyle and I made, I think, yes, I would do it again. When these kids see each other, they jump on each other, cry with happiness. Kyle had tears in his eyes when he came back for the finale, which we all saw on camera. It was a mini-reunion for them. He was so happy to root for all his friends.
How does it feel to be watching MasterChef Junior leading up to the episode where Kyle was eliminated?
We had mini-watch parties every week with friends and family. When the show aired, we would be watching the episodes for the first time like everyone else. We didn’t know what parts would get aired so I was always worried about how he was going to be portrayed on TV. So in a way, it was almost a relief when he got eliminated from MasterChef Junior because I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. When he was off the show, he received a lot of positive support from his friends and fans and the show really did a great job of capturing who he is, a great cook and an awesome kid.
What’s next for Kyle?
I still get emails from the production team about new shows. If someone calls about a scripted show, I’d consider it. I like scripted shows because you know how many episodes there are and you know what’s coming. He also did a production for Buzzfeed in NYC called Amateur Adult Chef vs. Kid Celebrity Chef. It got 1.3M views, which is crazy!
What do you love most about being a parent of a MasterChef Junior contestant?
I love the lesson I learned through the process: Trust your kids and let them be themselves and follow their passions. Kyle taught me that all it takes is a belief in yourself and courage, and you just might learn that there is nothing you can’t do. That is what is amazing to me, he just went for it and made it happen. I could never have stood under the heat of those lights and before Gordon Ramsey and keep it together the way he did. I’m truly amazed by him, he’s the bravest person I know. I can’t take credit for any of it. It was all him.
What is your least favorite thing about being a parent of a Master Chef Junior contestant?
Leaving my other 2 kids at home for a month and half was not easy. I couldn’t go home and I didn’t know how long we were staying in LA. The 3-hour time difference was difficult for communicating. I couldn’t Skype with them on set because there was no privacy so I had to wait until we got back to our hotel to call them. But there were days we got back to our hotel pretty late eastern time, so the kids were asleep. It’s not easy but it was a family decision. It’s amazing to see how supportive my younger kids were of Kyle.
Do you have any tips/advice to give other parents with aspiring young chefs looking to become the next MasterChef Junior?
My advice for other parents is that if there is something your child is really passionate about, let them try. But know that it’s a lot of work and it affects the whole family. Doing a show means you are sharing your child with the world. You never know what will happen on camera. You can’t control what is put out in the public domain and you won’t be able to get rid of it. You have to be ok with that, which means knowing who your child is. We got lucky that Kyle maintained his decorum even when he was under pressure. Also, it’s important that the kids understand that these experiences are simply things that our kids do, it isn’t who they are. If they understand that, when the curtain closes, they can easily move on to the next exciting thing, as opposed to wondering whether they are still relevant.
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