You would think that having the First Lady appear on a cooking competition show would bring with it a host of obstacles.
But according to Robin Ashbrook, showrunner and exec producer of the long-running MasterChef series, having former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama as a special guest on Thursday’s episode of MasterChef Junior was a painless process.
Tonight’s (March 16) episode of Fox’s MasterChef Junior features Obama, alongside Modern Family mom Julie Bowen, sharing messages of healthy eating.
It was easier than one might expect to have the former First Lady’s involvement. Ashbook says the process began at a function in New York last year that focused on healthy eating for kids.
“That’s when the conversation really started,” says Ashbrook. “But there was no real direct approach from us to them, or them to us — it was about a message that we both shared. As America’s premium cooking show, we could provide a platform for Michelle Obama to spread a message of healthy eating.”
Obama was heavily involvedin putting together the show’s mystery box of ingredients — inspired by the White House kitchen garden — right through to the prize, which had the winner personally invited to attend a White House state dinner.
The shoot was done last year, while President Barack Obama was still in the White House. Obama appeared on a number of shows during her tenure as First Lady, including Jeopardy, Restaurant: Impossible and The Biggest Loser.
While Michelle Obama’s appearance on the show is certainly a milestone for MasterChef Junior, Ashbrook says it’s in line with what he tries to accomplish with all celebrity appearances — that is, feature an individual that has broad appeal, whether an eight-year-old viewer, or an 88-year-old.
“Because our audience is so broad, only our big, broad guests work for us,” he explains. “I might be a huge fan of a certain music artist or a certain chef, (but) they have to be known by all of America for it to work for us.”
Fortunately MasterChef Junior‘s success has made it so Ashbrook is easily able to book those star spots.
“Our show is now so big now it would be strange for us not to have huge names on our show, and this one is no exception,” he says. “This show is proof of how set in the American psyche we are of the best American cooking show. There aren’t many others that will have Claire Dumphy and Michelle Obama in the same episode.”