Well, it's the second week and we're down two kids, which would be awful odds on a field trip to the Smithsonian, but it's par for the course on MasterChef Junior. The kiddo cooks pour into the MasterChef kitchen, which from the B-roll, always looks way more like the kind of overpriced restaurant where they host a Real Housewives reunion show than the studio for the best cooking competition on TV.
Before we really get going, here's a friendly reminder that this season I am awarding points and establishing The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking throughout the season. Check back to last week's recap to see who is in the lead. It's anyone's game at this point (mostly because there is absolutely no logic or reason behind the scoring).
Fresh off of their wins from the last episode, Jesse, Sam, and Addison get to compete in a special challenge (+2 each for getting to ride that victory wave a little longer). Graham Elliot explains, "It's a super-sweet challenge that may have you a little frosted." Oh Graham, is it also not a piece of cake and will the loser get their just desserts and ugh, whatever, I'm out of puns but you guys see what's happening here.
The challenge revolves around Christina Tosi's favorite thing to make — the cupcake. But instead of baking, the three competitors will have to fill piping bags with icing and frost as many of the 60 cupcakes lined up at each of their stations as they can in 10 minutes. It's a tall order for four-foot-tall chefs, but they're up to the challenge.
Gordon Ramsay announces that before they start, there's one more twist, as giant piping bags of frosting descend from the studio rafters. Each kid is paired with a judge, and winning the challenge means that their judge is protected from having a lifetime's worth of sugar dumped on their heads in frosting form. Jesse is playing for Christina, Sam for Graham (this choice felt phonics based), and Addison for Gordon.
To judge the challenge is last season's winner and bow tie enthusiast Logan. Maybe you, like me, were thinking to yourself, "Hmm, I wonder what Logan has been up to in the last 10 months?," then you've come to the right place. All that's happened since we last saw him is that his voice dropped a few octaves and he COOKED AT THE OSCARS? Like, in what world is that the logical next step here?
After some teasing from Gordon, Avery notes that Logan was the cupcake king last season and Addison is the cupcake queen this season, so they are a match made in frosted pre-teen heaven. Then they all laugh too hard, turn beet red, and shriek a little because not one contestant is old enough to understand any of it. Six points to Avery for being well on her way to become the next Patti Stanger.
Jesse really wants to win the challenge for Christina, saying, "I'm confident that Christina's pretty dress won't be ruined." Ten points to him for appreciating that super cute turquoise shift.
The three start packing piping bags and hastily icing the cupcakes, all trying to frost them perfectly as the rest of the contestants and judges scream at them from the sidelines. Nothing is more stressful than having onlookers yell commands at you when you're trying to do something. There's a reason we don't have a screaming section in offices full of people yelling advice about how to fill out a purchase order. It's unpleasant and leads to bad work. I'm amazed any of these kids got one cupcake frosted.
Time's up and Logan judges who made perfect cupcakes. This feels a bit like having a 23-year-old come to a college and tell the seniors who seems fit for an office job. What does he know? Yet, he's judging, so that's that. Addison has the fewest completed cupcakes with 10, meaning Gordon is definitely getting doused in frosting (+2). Second place is Jesse with 11 (+3), which means Christina is getting frosted, too. Kyndall pleads, "No, take off the shoes first!" about Christina's patent t-strap heels. Five points for appreciating a nice pump, though it doesn't make a difference because she and Gordon get covered in frosting like it's a diabetic You Can't Do That On Television.
Obviously Sam and his mohawk won this challenge with an impressive 29 perfectly frosted cupcakes. Naturally, even though Graham was saved from the piping bag, Gordon and Christina did what they could to cover him in frosting, too. The whole scene is pretty traumatizing just thinking of them trying to get clean, especially their hair. I once got hummus in my hair (don't ask) and it felt like days before I was back to baseline.
Thanks to television magic though, the judges clean up and are back to deliver the elimination challenge to the pint-sized cooks. While the first part of the show dealt with the outside of a dish looking pretty, the next challenge is all about what's inside. Specifically what's inside a scallop shell. Ian is all about this challenge because he "loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooves" seafood (+10).
The tiny chefs are charged with making a dish that features scallops that they also have to shuck themselves. A quick tutorial with Gordon is great, but the thought of 10-year-olds jamming knives into crustaceans makes me clench my fists until my knuckles are whiter than the checkout line at Whole Foods.
Sam, luckily, doesn't have to get his hands dirty with the rest of the kids, because he won the cupcake frosting challenge and gets to treat himself to a Tosi-made giant cupcake in the mezzanine. If I were him, though, after going through hell with 30-some cupcakes, I wouldn't want to see another one again for at least three years.
Armed with a five-minute tutorial and some super sharp knives, the little chefs start shucking scallops. Amaya opens her first one and says an adorable "Hello!" (+7 for undeniable cuteness). Some of the kids jumped into the messy challenge head and hands first, while others had reservations. Chad looked at the slimy insides of one scallop and said, "Yeah, I'm putting on some gloves." (+6)
Of all of the contestants, Ian had the most trouble shucking the scallops. After trying a few he was reduced to some serious tears (his end and mine). All of the other kids in the kitchen — despite having their own struggles — are encouraging him, so +1 for everyone for being supportive. Gordon came to the rescue, though, and helped him get the shells open. Ian ended up putting out a great dish of pan-seared scallops on zucchini cakes. Nine points to him for regrouping and pulling off the challenge.
Nate, the self-described "seafood maniac," does a pan-seared scallop with cauliflower mash. Christina asks if he's ever dived for scallops. He answers, "Nope, but I've crabbed for crabs" (+7 for using "maniac," one of my favorite words).
This is Vivian's first scallop rodeo (which I now wish was some kind of real thing). She had the smart idea of pairing the protein with bacon and corn, but she unfortunately didn't properly sear it. Adam chimes in while she's prepping with a helpful tip, "You gotta cook your scallops last, a little advice" (+6). He's kind of like if Clippy the helpful paper clip from Microsoft Word came to life, but as a kid from Brooklyn who really understands cooking seafood.
Annabelle burns her scallops so badly that they look like Kade's flaming marshmallows from last week. She scrambles to find more scallops so she can start her dish over, and Avery comes to the rescue and gives her two. Five points to Avery.
The judges love Tae-Ho's seared scallops with risotto, brussels sprouts, and pepper salsa almost as much as Tae-Ho loves martial arts.
Poor Chad struggled with this challenge. While it's possible his "Italian Surf & Turf" (a.k.a. spaghetti and meatballs with two small scallops) tasted good, it certainly doesn't deliver for the challenge of highlighting the delicate seafood. I like where his head is at because there's really never a time I don't want spaghetti and meatballs, but it just didn't work.
Annabelle also continued to struggle after burning her scallops, which was one of her two preparations. Her scallops two ways were ceviche (kind of), and pan-seared. The ceviche was actually just a bowl of water with raw scallops floating in it.
After tasting all — well, most — of the scallop dishes, the judges go off-line to convene. Ugh, sorry to use "off-line," I know this isn't a board meeting at a tech start-up, but sometimes corporatese is just too easy to use. We can circle back and regroup later to talk about long-term strategy OH GOD I AM SORRY WHAT IS HAPPENING?
The best dish of the challenge belongs to Tae-Ho, so 50 points for that. Unfortunately, Chad and Annabelle are both sent home. As the kids all hug the departing chefs, Tae-Ho says to Chad, "You're wearing a MasterChef apron. Hold your head high." Give another 50 points to Tae-Ho for being the best 12-year-old in the history of reality television, if not the world.
I cry, you cry, we all cry because this show is the best.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 121 points
2. Tae-Ho, 108 points
3. Avery, 36 points
4. Jesse, 33 points
5. Ian, 25 points
6. Adam, 24 points
7. Sam, 18 points
8. Addison, 15 points
9. Kyndall, 14 points
10. (Tie) Nate, Vivian, Zac, and Amaya, 10 points
14. Mia, 5 points
15. (Tie) Corey, Derek, Jaeclyn, JJ, Kaitlin, Kamilly, 3 points
21. Chad, -42 points
22. (Tie) Kade and Alexander, -45 points
24. Annabelle, -48 points
*Please do not check my math, it was done without a calculator and after a wine dinner.