MasterChef Junior airs Thursdays (at 8 p.m. ET) on Fox

By Patrick Gomez
May 11, 2017 04:43 PM

Patrick Gomez is a senior writer for PEOPLE. He was invited as a VIP guest to a “MasterChef” event that was filmed for the current season of MasterChef Juniors.

I love to eat. In the same way that Oprah loves bread, I love to eat. There’s nothing better than an amazing meal with people you love. So when I was invited to attend a MasterChef event, I jumped at the opportunity to dine on dishes cooked by chefs overseen by the incomparable Gordon Ramsay.

When I arrived at the beach setting of the pop-up restaurant built for the dining experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ramsay is known for being hard on his reality show contestants, but that tension has resulted in stress-induced mistakes as often as it’s yielded amazing meals. But I had high hopes for the amateur chefs that would be cooking for us that day.

What was being kept a secret was just how amateur the chefs were that day. You see, I wasn’t at a normal MasterChef taping. After we dined on our two-course meal, it was revealed that we were in attendance at a taping of MasterChef Junior and our dishes had been prepared by young chefs from across the country.

Gordon Ramsay with MasterChef Junior contestants
Courtesy Fox

When the tiny chefs came running out from the kitchen at the end of our meal, I looked at the faces around me and everyone was in complete shock. There had been issues with the dishes — there was an evident lack of attention to detail in the plating and the amount of seasoning varied from plate to plate — but all-in-all I’d been impressed. I couldn’t believe kids cooked that meal. It was certainly far better than anything I could have cooked at their ages — or even now.

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It doesn’t make the episode but after they entered the dining area, we all got to ask questions of the contestants. I was struck by their poise and their obvious love cooking. It was clear they felt the stress and pressure of the competition, but at the end of the day they were kids having the time of their lives doing something they loved.

I’m sure those young contestants were growing into better chefs but — more importantly — it was evident that they were growing as people, too.

Watch Gomez’s episode of MasterChef Junior Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.