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Cooking curiosity: 'Chopped Junior' contestants check out what's in the baskets

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Andrew Warren / TV Media
Ted Allen hosts "Chopped Junior"

Ted Allen hosts "Chopped Junior"

Kids love surprises! I think it's all part of the curiosity of youth, the need that kids have to always be exploring. To paraphrase a favorite kids cartoon character, it's all about taking chances, making mistakes and getting messy.

That's probably why the competitors in "Chopped Junior" tend to do so well with those mysterious basket ingredients that "Chopped" is so famous for. A new season of the pint-sized competition gets underway Tuesday, June 25, on Food Network, with a bunch of new baskets and a group of new competitors ready to tackle them head-on.

Ted Allen hosts each episode as four contestants between the ages of 9 and 15 enter the "Chopped" kitchen eager to see what ingredients are hidden inside of the iconic baskets. These aren't your run-of-the-mill kids, though: they're all maestros in the kitchen, with palates and skills far ahead of what most of their peers can boast.

Besides the age of the contestants, the competition is more or less classic "Chopped." In each round, the contestants are each given a basket containing four mystery ingredients, each of which must be featured in their dish. Once time runs out, the plates are presented to a panel of judges, who then rate the dishes based on taste, presentation, creativity and use of the basket ingredients before chopping one of the contestants and sending him or her packing.

Of course, while the contestants in "Chopped Junior" may be skilled, they're still amateurs and a far cry from the professional chefs that compete in the regular "Chopped." While the judges' standards are definitely high, they do pull their punches a bit more than they do in the adult version -- after all, you can't expect a 9-year-old to have the same level of expertise as a culinary school grad!

What the kids do have, though, is way more experience and skill in the kitchen than a lot of adults do, and watching their faces light up with curiosity, joy, confusion and terror when they crack open those baskets and see what's inside is a delight to behold. The latest season of "Chopped Junior" premieres Tuesday, June 25, on Food Network.