We're back for another week of MasterChef Junior, or as it's known in my apartment, Maybe I Do Want To Have A Kid. The kiddie pool of contestants keeps getting smaller, but there are still plenty of talented chefs with absolutely no filter competing for the title. Let's get into it and start randomly... err, scientifically assigning points to the Definitive and Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking.
When the chefs arrive in the kitchen there are no judges in sight, which could be the beginning of a very wild and likely very dangerous unsupervised episode. Fortunately a giant mystery box at the front of the studio rises to reveal three astronauts who are obviously hosts Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Christina Tosi. There are complicated suits, fog machines, and an American flag, which I think means that MasterChef Junior currently has a bigger budget than NASA.
Gordon reveals that when he was growing up he wanted to be three things: a soccer player, a chef, and an astronaut. Hey, at least he got to really be one of those. When I was little I wanted to be thin, rich, and married. I'm currently batting zero on that.
Many of the kids want to be astronauts when they grow up, so they lose their minds when the special guest astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson comes out to answer their space-related questions. My only question for her is, What's it like to be a weightless woman? It sounds amazing.
Back at their stations, the tiny chefs lift up their mystery boxes to reveal the space-themed challenge. I was hoping for Dippin' Dots (you know, the ice cream of the future from 1997), but the challenge is actually to make a dish highlighting cheese. The reasoning is that the moon is mythically made of cheese and not because cheese is OUT OF THIS WORLD. I'm sorry. I just love cheese (both the food and the hacky joke style). Ian had apparently never heard the whole "the moon is made of cheese" story and seems to believe it to be scientific fact (+5).
Now that we've gone two full episodes without even meeting a half dozen of the contestants, the producers decided to start featuring them a bit more. First, we get to meet Kaitlyn, who is doing something different and making lemon ricotta cookies with ricotta buttercream and a lemon glaze. Two points for sophistication and creativity and not just making a quesadilla like I would have. Oh, and one more point for being from New York and bonding with Christina over frosted cupcakes.
JJ is taking a page from my book and going the route of cheesy, Mexican goodness with his enchiladas. Three points because I'm sure he, like me, believes that melted cheese is a way of life. While explaining his dish and the smokiness of the gouda to Christina, he just eats a handful of shredded cheddar mid-sentence (+20).
Time's up and the judges call the top three dishes to come up to the front, probably because if they tasted all 20 cheese dishes the show would need to go on a several-week hiatus for everyone to get back to 100 percent.
First up is Addison with her three-cheese ravioli with ricotta, mozzarella, and asiago topped with a manchego basil pesto. Kaitlyn also gets called to the front for her cookies, which Graham absolutely loves. The final dish of the three is JJ's enchiladas with cheddar and gouda, topped with a parmesan crisp. When Christina asks why he made such a technical addition to the dish he answers, "I like crispy cheese and I like enchiladas, so why not?" (+4)
Despite that answer, it's Kaitlyn who wins the challenge for her lemon and ricotta take on sandwich cookies. Way to go, girl. You went from not really being in the first two episodes to winning a challenge (+3).
Now for the elimination challenge. Gordon and Graham wheel out a cart of fresh fish. One kid yells "Holy mackerel, that's a lot of fish!" but I can't figure out who so I can't give that kid all of the points. Feels like Ian, but I need to be incredibly judicious with this scoring system.
The challenge is pretty straightforward: make a dish using one of the fish from this mini market. Kaitlyn doesn't have to compete since she won the mystery box challenge, but she does get to play fishmonger for the day and hurl giant salmon and tuna at her fellow chefs.
Before picking their proteins, Graham offers to show the group how to properly filet a fish. But he's not going to slice up some yellowfin or tai snapper. He brings out a giant moonfish to cut up for the kids. The fish weighs 115 pounds, making it too heavy to be a Hollywood ingenue.
After watching Graham perform what could be the sea creature-only version of Botched, the kids pick their fish and Kaitlyn chucks their choices at them from her pedestal of challenge winner. Plus 2 points for her apparent strength.
Kya, the world's oldest eight year old, is making salmon confit with daikon puree, of course (+2). I just learned what daikon actually is, like, six months ago, and she's in second grade. Feeling pretty good about my life.
In this episode we finally get to meet Jaeclyn and her leopard print fedora. She dreams of opening a restaurant called Taco Palace, so +6 because now I want to go there.
With only 10 minutes remaining, Ian hasn't even seasoned his fish or heated up his pan. He predictably has a meltdown for a second and then gets on track thanks to Graham and Christina's gentle coaching. Plus two because I, too, am a procrastinator. I regularly wait until right before a deadline to do something, like write an article or have a baby.
First up for judging is Avery and her pecan-crusted halibut with sweet potato mash and sour sauce. The plating and flavors and execution all impress Gordon. When he asks why she chose pecans and halibut, her answer was that those are things her dad likes. She's a daddy's girl (+4).
Despite having a pretty sweet name and concept for a restaurant, Jaeclyn's fish tacos with lime sauce fail to impress the judges. She confesses she didn't taste them because she doesn't actually like fish. That's a problem but also, I totally get it. She's a kid. She's not going to voluntarily eat something she doesn't like. That's something you do when you're a 32-year-old staring at a bridesmaid dress and holding a kale juice saying to yourself, "Only five more days." Plus 3 points for her honesty and also handling the criticism like a champ.
Derek's dover sole with potatoes, sunchokes, and smoked paprika aioli wows Graham with its complex flavors (+3). The judges also love Kya's salmon confit with daikon puree and cucumber sunomono (+2).
Unfortunately, Vivian's tai snapper over ratatouille and lemon sauce doesn't have the same effect. The fish is soggy, the vegetables are undercooked, and the overall concept just doesn't work. Kyndall had similar issues with her branzino with rice, parsnip puree, and roasted vegetables.
Nate is next with his seared yellowfin tuna with green beans and cucumber noodles. He's pretty confident and notes, "I love my dish so much I would probably marry it if I had the chance" (+3). Christina loves the Asian flavors, which Nate is happy about after noting that he's "not really Asian" (+2 because we know, Nate). She claims it's the best fish dish she's had on MasterChef Junior, which is high praise. Her only criticism is that he should have used a bigger plate, though in his defense, it looks like way more food on a smaller one and that's always a good thing in my book. He runs back to his station yelling, "I feel like Rocky right now!" (+10).
Last up is Ian and his seared yellowfin tuna with mashed potatoes and asparagus. He surprisingly won his race against the clock and Gordon loves the fish, especially the sesame seed taste. Ian claims he didn't use any sesame seeds, which shocks Gordon because he can definitely smell and taste it. This goes on for a few minutes before Ian remembers he used sesame OIL to cook the fish, so that must be it. It's been a big day for him, learning that the moon is made of cheese and that sesame oil comes from sesame seeds (+5).
The winner of the fish challenge is Nate, who yells, "Hashtag best day ever!" after his victory (+3). Give this sound byte machine his own television show already. I love him.
The bottom three of the day are Vivian, Kyndall, and Jaeclyn. Sadly, Vivian and Kyndall are sent home and the fedora-topped Jaeclyn lives to cook another day.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 123 points
2. Tae-Ho, 109 points
3. Avery, 41 points
4. Ian, 38 points
5. (tie) Nate and Jesse, 34 points
7. JJ, 29 points
8. Adam, 25 points
9. (tie) Sam and Kaitlyn, 19 points
11. Addison, 18 points
12. Jaeclyn, 13 points
13. (tie) Zac and Amaya, 11 points
15. Derek, 7 points
16. Mia, 6 points
17. (tie) Corey and Kamilly, 4 points
19. Kyndall, -36 points
20. Vivian, -40 points
21. Chad, -42 points
22. (Tie) Kade and Alexander, -45 points
24. Annabelle, -48 points
*This math is basically the television recapping version of splitting the check at a group dinner, meaning VERY CHALLENGING and usually done after a few glasses of wine.