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MasterChef Junior Episode 5: In a Word, Traumatizing

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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.

There's a big difference between a hobby and a profession. Cooking at home for yourself and maybe some friends or family is a hobby. Cooking in a restaurant kitchen for a roomful of diners is a profession. Tossing whatever you find in the kitchen into one pot and hoping it doesn't poison you is a hobby (or for me, a Tuesday dinner). Executing fine-dining menu items again and again is a profession. Tonight on MasterChef Junior, the competitors tried to take their cooking hobby to the next level, and not everyone made it.

For this challenge, the tiny chefs are going to take over a professional kitchen for their own pop-up restaurant. None of the kids know what a pop-up restaurant is, except of course for Samuel, but that's only because I believe he's secretly a 37 year old. I'm not a fan of pop-up restaurants because they can be a bit of a hassle to make it to before they disappear. That said, I'm sure if I'd ever gotten my act together to go to one here in New York, I'd probably be singing a different tune.

The chefs are split into two teams of three. Leading each team are the winners of the previous challenge, Samuel and Abby, the oldest and youngest contestants, respectively. When they are picking their teams of the four remaining kids, it's the first time this reality television device feels natural in all of the years I've been watching it. Seeing adults pick teams like it's a recess kickball game has always felt slightly off. Here, it feels like the only logical way to do it.

Samuel chooses Sean first, because he will "keep things organized and move like a ninja." We can all let that one slide for Samuel since he's still in middle school. Abby picks Adaiah, which probably would have been my choice. Samuel's second and last choice is Oona, leaving Logan to go to the Blue Team with Abby and Adaiah.

Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot drive the kids out to the pop-up restaurant location in convertibles. It's weird to think that the youngest competitor is so young, that four Olympics will occur before she can legally drive herself to a challenge like this.

They arrive at the outdoor restaurant in Malibu and Abby notes, "I see a red carpet, but where's the blue carpet for the Blue Team?" Her point of view is so refreshingly honest that for a second I thought to myself, "Wait, she has a point." Then I realized that I had the same logic as an eight year old and poured another glass of wine.

The judges have pre-determined the menu for the evening. This isn't a challenge in creativity, this is one in execution. For appetizers, the diners can choose between tempura zucchini blossoms with goat cheese or prawn ceviche. For the entrees, the choice is between loup de mer with a fennel trio or filet mignon with mushrooms and fries. It's a pretty advanced menu for chefs whose classmates are probably more likely to still be eating paste and chicken nuggets than a zucchini flower and raw shrimp.

Gordon and Joe show the six remaining pint-sized cooks how to prepare each dish. They move quickly, and you can tell the kids are a bit lost at times. Apparently Abby is drawing hearts and smiley faces on her paper instead of taking notes. I'm just surprised that her notebook isn't by Lisa Frank. It seems that at the end of these four culinary lessons, the only thing they've learned is how to yell, "Yes, chef!" in unison.

In a final twist on the whole challenge, Gordon announces that he will be expediting in the kitchen. These kids haven't even gone through puberty and they are working with one of the greatest chefs in the world, it's bonkers.

The diners at this pop-up restaurant are chefs, critics, and other VIPs of the LA culinary scene, which oddly includes Betty from season two of Top Chef. Some patrons will be served by the Blue Team, some by the Red Team, but both teams are making all of the dishes that the judges taught them.

While this is a big challenge for all of the contestants, it's especially hard for Samuel and Abby, who are in charge of each of their teams. I'm sure they've both been in control before, Samuel of his vest collection and Abby of what I assume is an entire bedroom full of stuffed horses. Abby notices Logan's ceviche is underseasoned, so she keeps telling him repeatedly that he needs more seasoning, more salt and pepper. Logan, unfortunately, is shutting her out like he's stuck in a miserable marriage and has tuned out years ago.

The first tickets come in and Gordon barks at the Red Team which appetizers they need to fire. When he finishes the order, the three of them are just standing there staring at him as if he didn't say, "Simon Says." He then reminds them of what they obviously had rehearsed, and they chant, "Yes, chef!" and begin on their dishes.

Throughout this show, I've assumed that for the more dangerous tasks like wielding meat cleavers or using an open flame, that adults have stepped in to help. Watching Oona dropping and retrieving zucchini blossoms from the deep fryer makes me think that's probably not the case (though I still desperately hope it is, at least from a legal perspective). My favorite contestant is struggling, and Gordon trashes her first plate for being terrible. The blossoms are falling apart and too greasy. Until she can perfect her dish, none of her teams appetizers can go out, because this is fine-dining. Well, except that children are cooking, but otherwise, yes, fine-dining.

Gordon heads to the Red Team to see how they are doing. He tastes Logan's ceviche and within seconds spits it out like this is Kitchen Nightmares or something. He asks the others to taste it, too, and everyone agrees that there is way too much salt and pepper. Hard to say if this was because Abby kept on top of him about that or he was nervous after underseasoning and aggressively overseasoned, but either way it's inedible.

The Red Team recovers from Logan's ceviche problem with a quick pep talk from Gordon and are back to firing out tickets and working together. They are working almost too together when Abby interrupts Logan's plating to try and give him a high-five for doing a great job.

Over on the Blue Team, Oona is struggling to master the fried appetizers, Samuel is struggling as a leader, and Sean is basically a ceviche robot just working silently on his own off to the side. Graham steps in to help get dishes out and get them back on track. Samuel is getting a little hyper, but probably because of the constricting chefs coat instead of his normally more movement friendly vest.

Gordon calls the Blue Team over and yells at them for not being able to do two things at once. This is the first episode where the judges have gotten really upset with the kids. They've been a little harsh in critiques in the last challenge or two, but this is the first appearance of frustration and anger. He tells all three of them to take off their aprons and go home. They decide they can actually do it and will work together to get the last first courses out.

Entrees are a reboot for both teams. The Blue Team finds its groove with Sean doing the filet, Samuel on the fish, and Oona doing the fries, which is a strange choice considering her massive problems using the fryer on her first go around.

On the Red Team, Logan is handling the fish, Adaiah has the filet, and Abby is taking the fries (via a step-stool so she can reach, of course). While the Red Team managed to get the first courses out quickly, they get backed up, particularly when it comes to the steak. The Blue Team, however, is moving quickly and efficiently under Samuel's newfound leadership. Looks like the (kids') tables have turned.

Service ends and the judges introduce the diners to their chefs for the day. One of them asks, "If you could sum up in one word what it was like to work in a professional kitchen under Gordon Ramsay, what would it be?" Adaiah says, "Interesting," because she understands the art of public relations, apparently. Sean says, "traumatizing," because he's clearly a bigger fan of the truth.

Back in the kitchen, the judges announce that the Red Team of Abby, Logan, and Adaiah, has won the challenge and is moving on to the semi-finals.

The Blue Team lost, and two members will be sent home. This is a tough one because these are the three kids I imagined would be in the semi-final, so the fact that only one of them is throws off all of my bets. I would have put a lot of money on both Oona and Sean being finalists, but unfortunately they are sent home. Also, fortunately, I don't have any money for betting on a kids' cooking show because most of my money is tied up in silk blouses and happy hours.

I'm sad to see Oona go, she was unquestionably my favorite. Oona, if you are reading this 1. You can make me chicken liver crostini any time and 2. You apparently have pretty liberal parents because these recaps aren't really for kids.

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