At the end of the ninth episode of this season of "MasterChef Junior," which aired on Fox last month, then-10-year-old Abir Bhatia stood among his three other somber-faced teammates who placed in the bottom during that episode's baking challenge.
With his teammates being marked safe one by one, Bhatia was ultimately eliminated, following final critical remarks from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
"Now let's be honest, one of your desserts tonight looked like something I'd pick up after a walk with a dog," Ramsay told Bhatia and his teammate A'Dan Lisaula, also 10 at the time. "The dessert was somewhat overcooked and completely missed the mark."
Ramsay proceeded to announce Bhatia's elimination from the show, as the San Ramon youth sighed in resignation.
Three years since the original filming of the show before the pandemic in 2019, Bhatia -- who is now a teenager at the end of his time at Gale Ranch Middle School -- said it was hard at times watching himself at a younger age throughout his appearance on the show.
"It's almost embarrassing to have to watch myself mess up something that now is super easy for me because I've had three years to learn and grow as a chef and a person, so having to watch those episodes and see myself screw up is … hard," Bhatia said in a recent interview with DanvilleSanRamon.
Upon returning home from the show, and ever since, Bhatia has been committed to honing his baking skills in particular, during his development as a chef and young adult in the years since the show's filming.
"The first thing I did when I got home was try to make those cookies again," Bhatia said. "And they turned out a lot better. I don't think Gordon would have spit those out. But since then I've also been doing a lot of work with other flavors and other international cuisines."
"I think when I was on the show, I was pretty limited as a chef in terms of what I could and couldn't cook. But now I think I'm a lot more comfortable with any sort of ingredient, which is something that a master chef needs to have," he added.
Overall, Bhatia said that he felt that he was able to express himself and showcase his skills at the time while on the show. What was illuminating, however, was the reaction of a widespread viewership to an experience that on Bhatia's end, was entirely different for contestants than audiences.
"I think getting to spend those few months in LA was a shot of the real world, in terms of seeing all the cameras and the lights and the action, and what goes on behind the scenes," Bhatia said. "I think that was a really eye-opening experience, to see that everything is not always how it seems on TV or on social media."
Bhatia added that the experience has translated into his own reactions to media since returning from the show, and given him an eye toward the ways in which stories are presented to an audience compared to how events actually transpire.
"I guess just don't believe everything you see," Bhatia advised. "I think 'MasterChef' was definitely one of the realer ones, but watching other shows like 'Jeopardy!' and 'Survivor', you just have to keep in mind that everything in the media is slightly different than what it seems like on TV, and people are just people. They aren't characters. They aren't meant to be mean or meant to be nice. They're all just trying to live their life."
He added that this is especially true for him and his castmates on "MasterChef Junior", who were going through the process of filming while young and away from their families for long periods of time.
In addition to the lessons in critical-thinking about various forms of media from his time on the show, Bhatia forged relationships with fellow contestants that have enabled him to continue getting a peek behind the scenes, as the remaining episodes since his elimination have aired.
"After I was eliminated, those ones are the best, because there's still that element of surprise, like I don't know who's going to be in the top, who's going to win, who's going to be in the bottom, and they're all my friends too," Bhatia said. "So after the episodes I text them (to) see what they were thinking beyond the screen."
Since focusing on his baking skills, following his elimination during a baking challenge, Bhatia is now seeking to start his own small baking business, having applied for a permit with the city of San Ramon prior to the show's airing. However, he said there were no updates on the permitting process or launch of the business since then.
"We bought containers, food labels … logo stickers, but we still haven't gotten the licensing," Bhatia said. "I think the city likes to take their time with a bunch of stuff."
In the meantime, Bhatia is focused on his other interests as well, including practice for swim team and playing piano in his limited spare time. As high school approaches, he said he is also aiming to maintain the momentum he's had in middle school.
"Now I have high school to focus on," Bhatia said. "I'm definitely really academically focused through middle school, and I'm hoping to keep that going through high school and not lose that focus -- keep the grades up, healthy relationships, those things are really important."
Although Bhatia said he couldn't see himself competing on most reality or game shows, he noted that he would consider another cooking show in the future.
"I think a cooking show, definitely, because it was just such an amazing learning experience and I still have a lot to learn," Bhatia said. "That kind of an opportunity would be amazing, but a trivia show would not."