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MasterChef Junior Week 4: Dream Big or Go Home

To thoroughly enjoy the wonder that is MasterChef Junior, please welcome Alison Leiby, who will be here every week to take us through the season.

It feels like a cruel joke to air a new MasterChef Junior just two days before Thanksgiving. I'm mentally preparing to have my mediocre-at-best mashed potatoes verbally decimated by judgmental family and friends, but first I have to see kids who can't even go to the movies alone perfectly sear duck breasts? What kind of mind games are they playing over there at Fox?

Eight tiny chefs remain in the competition at this point. Before any of them can even pick up a pan this episode, the judges ask them what they would do with the $100,000 prize. This seems misleading because they have no idea that almost half of it would need to go to taxes, nor do they probably know what taxes are. Adaiah would buy a wall full of amazing guitars, a grand piano, and a dirt bike, which makes me think she has a "cool" dad. Oona says she'd go to Vegas. Not sure what a nine year old thinks is waiting for her in Vegas, but go nuts, kid.

Abby answers, "I'd buy a bunch of horse posters and put them in my room." When Joe Bastianich asks her why she wouldn't buy actual horses she says she doesn't have enough room in her backyard. Also, horses are just living, red-blooded dinosaurs who for some reason are casually around humans despite being dangerous monsters, but that's just my opinion.

The early challenge in this episode is to make as many perfectly cooked, sunny-side up eggs as possible in ten minutes. Abby is nervous about the challenge because she's "not very advanced in the egg department." Neither am I, Abby, but that's because I'm a woman over 30. Josh talks about the challenge with an unending stream of egg puns to the point that I think he's probably more likely to write for a reality show than to win one.

To complete as many eggs as possible, most of the chefs are using all four burners at once, simultaneously frying up at least four eggs. That kind of multitasking is hard, sometimes I can barely hold one wine glass in each hand. Oh who am I kidding, I'm great at that. The problem with this challenge is they don't just have to be cooked, but they have to be perfectly cooked. Broken yolks and burned undersides are disqualified.

Samuel calls Gordon Ramsay the pickiest inspector of a fried egg he's ever seen, which makes me think breakfast at Samuel's house is not the most fun meal of the day.

Time's up and the judges come around to see which eggs made the cut. At the bottom of the group is Abby with only two successful cooked eggs. Just above her with four each are Adaiah and Oona. Josh and Levi each completed five eggs, Logan completed six. The top two in the egg challenge are Samuel with 8 and Sean with 10.

Just like in every episode, a success in the first challenge leads to an advantage in the second. This is an important lesson for kids to learn young and then have to remind themselves almost every second of every day once they enter the workforce. The advantage in this challenge is that the number of eggs each chef prepared is the number of ingredients they will be able to use for their next dish.

Poor Abby, with only two ingredients at her disposal, starts crying for the first time in her entire run on the show, which is shocking because she's eight years old. Gordon immediately runs over and hugs her to tell her it'll be okay. I'm glad he acted fast, because otherwise I was about to get out of bed and run toward my television to comfort her, which is only about four feet for me thanks to living in a studio apartment. Abby then quickly regroups and regains her positive attitude, though.

The dishes the pint-sized chefs must make is what they think will be their signature dish at the restaurant they will each hopefully run one day. Abby explains that her dream restaurant is actually half restaurant, half veterinary clinic. The idea coming from an adult would be cost-effective, if not a bit morbid, but from an eight year old girl it's really cute and inspired. She wants to call it "Horses and Courses," and while I absolutely hate the equine involvement, I can't hate on the rhyme.

The contestants all rush (some of them skipping) into the pantry to get their ingredients. Two of the eight of them are preparing duck, one of whom is Samuel. He also shows a schematic of the front of his dream French-Asian fusion restaurant, and then puts his notebook back in a briefcase like he's onto his next investors' meeting. I still can't tell if he's twelve or 47.

Oona, determined not to be on the bottom again after she had a taste of it last week, is preparing scallops two ways: seared and crudo. Logan, often creating beautiful and ambitious dishes, is working on a soy foam. He has a molecular gastronomy kit at home. When I was his age I think I had a sand art kit at my house where you essentially poured colored sand in bottles, so yeah, like, same thing I'm sure.

Despite his at-home molecular gastronomy set-up, Logan is struggling with aspects of his dish. Like the last single girl's ego at a bachelorette party, his foam keeps deflating. Samuel also struggles because while he intended to pick up zucchini to make a pasta with it, he accidentally grabbed a cucumber. Honestly, kudos to him for even recognizing the difference and that he would have to take the dish in a new direction. I once dated a guy who might go his whole life not even knowing they are two different vegetables, so Samuel's mix-up is not a huge deal.

The first to serve the judges is Abby, who had the biggest disadvantage with only getting to use two ingredients. "Maybe she'll pull it off and be the biggest success in human history," says Oona, with the sarcasm of someone three times her age. Abby made broiled salmon with asparagus five ways: broiled, sauteed, fried tops, fried bottoms (sure), and asparagus soup. Gordon cuts into the salmon and it is cooked flawlessly. It's so perfect that he gives her a high five and raves about the dish. Joe finds her soup to have lots of flavor and depth, which is impressive considering it's pretty much just asparagus.

Next up is Sean. He had the most ingredients at his disposal with ten. He prepared an ancho-rubbed ribeye with paprika crema and potatoes. The steak has a nice sear, but is unfortunately overcooked, though Graham Elliot loves his sauce.

Levi's salmon is also overcooked, though his vegetables are excellently prepared. Adaiah, with only four ingredients, smartly chose to do a yogurt crusted lamb chop with sweet potatoes and orange sauce that all work together beautifully. Josh made a curried duck a l'orange, which is unfortunately overcooked like many of the other contestants' proteins, though he had a nice sauce.

Oona had only four ingredients, though Gordon tells her it looked like she had so many more. Her scallops two-ways are halfway there. The crudo with ginger oil and cauliflower puree is nice, but the seared versions are rubbery and overcooked. Apparently, a scallop should only need a 90 second sear. You couldn't even log on to AOL with a dial-up modem in that amount of time. Also, that reference is older than any of the chefs on this show, just to give some perspective.

Logan's worried about his dish, which is a flat iron steak in a soy and ginger marinade with bamboo rice. He spent four of his seven ingredients on spices, which shows on the plate as it looks very spare, and not in the fine dining way. While his steak is beautifully cooked, the judges expected more from him, especially in terms of presentation. Gordon is tough on him about this, the toughest we've seen him be all season, and Logan starts to cry. But this isn't regular MasterChef or Kitchen Nightmares Ramsay where he screams a string of expletives so long you wonder if he even requires oxygen anymore or has evolved past that. No, Gordon gives him a hug and tells him, "That steak was great, we just thought you'd have something more because we know what you can do."

Last up is Samuel, who also has concerns when approaching the judges on account of his zucchini cucumber mix-up. He prepared a five spice seared duck with arugula pesto marinated cucumber and brocolini puree. Gordon loves the dish. The duck is cooked perfectly, the flavors are on point, and his mistake worked in his favor because the judges love the cucumber element. He and his vest are beaming with excitement at the rave review.

Gordon announces that Abby and Samuel have the top two dishes of the evening, but unfortunately four chefs especially struggled with this challenge: Josh, Levi, Oona, and Sean. They are called down to the front of the kitchen, and after an unnecessary commercial break, Josh and Levi are sent home.

The end of this show is almost always emotional because the kids almost always cry. The judges and other mini-chefs are always so kind and supportive and sincere that it really does rival, at least in heart-warming-ness (a new term I have made up), even the best dramas on television.

Gordon asks Levi, who is looking at the floor through tears, what has been the best part of this competition. Levi answers that it was meeting Ramsay, who then responds, "The feeling is mutual." Levi's crying, Gordon's kind of crying, I'm crying. It's really a lot. I'm going to play that scene on loop for the rest of the night, but I'm going to need to end this recap here because if I do that I'm pretty sure my tears are going to short out my laptop, and unlike these kids, there's no $100,000 prize with my name on it (but there are some students loans).

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