This post-Thanksgiving episode of MasterChef Junior was just like my holiday — there was lots of food and it ended with crying. Despite airing after the biggest food holiday in the country, there's no turkey or cranberry sauce here. Instead, we start with a food that's way more iconic to this country than even apple pie, hamburgers, or nachos you dropped on the floor but don't think anyone saw (just me?). To start this episode — and our Definitive and Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking — the kids are tasked with making seven layer dip.
Graham Elliot pulls out an obscenely large bowl of dip. There's no way you could ever successfully dip a chip in that and not have it just be coated in sour cream and maybe get a hint of the guacamole level right below. What's the point? I have a lot of opinions on chips, dips, spreads, and other snacks. Come see my TED Talk, which is really just me lecturing the host of a cocktail party on her cracker and cheese choice after a few glasses of free wine.
For this challenge, the kids are split up into three teams of six and will compete in a party food relay race to assemble the final bowl of dip. Team captains are Ian, Avery, and Kya. One point each for the arbitrary assignment of leadership.
The seven layers are beans, corn, salsa, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and chives, and shredded cheese. All of these steps involve mashing or shredding or mixing — with one exception. The guacamole station is just to open what is totally-not-product-placement Wholly Guacamole packages and scoop it into the bowl. That's not cooking. If I can do it while half-dressed and running out the door because I forgot I volunteered to bring something to a party I forgot I said I'd go to, it's not cooking.
The clock starts and Ian is wailing away on the beans like he's doing the drums from "In The Air Tonight." Plus two points for reminding me of my deep, unironic love of Phil Collins. Though he's trying, Kya finishes first and hands off her bowl. What this challenge lacks in technical ability and flavors it really makes up for in cooperation and screaming. As her teammates yell at her to cut up her corn faster, Amaya screams back, "Don't rush perfection!" (+5).
When the teams reach the guacamole layer, Graham takes a minute to note that Wholly Guacamole is made with real avocados, no preservatives, and is gluten free. He stops just short of saying, "Pick up a package at your local grocery store today!" Looks like the show — or possibly just Graham himself — is in bed with big guacamole.
Tae-Ho makes eye contact with Graham (the judge he's racing for) as he scoops the sour cream into his bowl like he's Babe Ruth pointing his bat to the bleachers before hitting another home run (+3).
It's a tight race, but in the last second Mia wins it for Ian's team and pulls ahead (+2), meaning that poor Christina Tosi will be getting a face full of dip. But it seems unfair that only one judge has to get messy, so both Graham and Gordon Ramsay get the dip treatment, too. I'm hoping that after this we learn that shredded cheese and sour cream are the next big thing in anti-aging facials, because I can do that at home.
Ian and his team go to the pantry to find out that their reward for winning is not only that they don't have to cook in the elimination challenge, but also that they get to pick what the remaining 12 chefs must use in their dishes.
Each of the three judges reveals a word that describes them and a group of ingredients. Christina's friends describe her as spicy, so her box has items like peppers, wasabi root, ginger. After a workout, Graham can be smelly, so his box has truffle oil, garlic, and bleu cheese. Gordon's word is one that I didn't even know you were allowed to say in Los Angeles — wrinkly. I don't know what word I would use to describe myself if I were one of the judges, but I do know my box would just have cheap wine and a thing of Bagel Bites in it.
Ian and his team decide that the rest of the kids will have to cook a dish from Graham's box of smelly foods. Seems like the natural choice, since kids tend to hate pungent foods. Most of these items are an acquired taste and something you usually grow into, like truffles or liver or premium cable dramas.
Kya is making poached chicken with a white truffle oil cream sauce and boiled vegetables. She figured out how to poach the chicken in a bag to give it more flavor. Gordon asks the eight-year-old how she knew to do that and she begins, "When I was little..." as she stirs her sauce from on top of a step stool she needs to reach the stove (+4).
Most of the kids are just using garlic as their smelly ingredient, which feels kind of like a cop out. Nate is using the bleu cheese as a crumble on his rosemary steak and potatoes. While he's cooking he sniffs his armpit to see if he smells as bad as the cheese. Three points for understanding the importance of physical comedy.
Adam is struggling with his pasta because it keeps falling apart. Amaya yells to him from the mezzanine with advice for what he should do, then notes, "But of course, being a BOY, he didn't listen to me" (+3). Oh, girl, this just the tip of the iceberg. You have an entire lifetime to look forward to of being ignored because you're a woman. After she realizes he's never going to listen she throws up her hands and yells, "You know what, I'm done!" and walks off screen. Four more points for basically re-enacting the end of all of my relationships.
Addison serves the judges first. She made tom kha gai soup with garlic chicken meatballs and rosewater rice. The flavors shouldn't work, but magically they do. The judges are blown away by the depth of flavor (+2). The judges also like Derek's ribeye steak with roasted acorn squash and Kya's poached chicken with white truffle cream sauce (+1 point each).
A lot of the kids, like Avery, just used garlic. Sure, garlic has a strong smell, but it's also in, like, everything. Whenever I'm cooking something I think, "Yeah I should probably chop up some garlic for this." Avery's seared lamb chops are well cooked, but the judges which she had pushed a little further outside her comfort zone.
Jaeclyn's shrimp and pineapple kabob with lime rice and corn salsa had a lot of problems beyond not really using a smelly ingredient. Her shrimp wasn't fully cooked, so Gordon couldn't even taste it. She says, "I don't want to go home, I'm not ready yet," which is what I usually say four hours into "a quick after-work drink."
Corey made the odd decision of using garlic and ground-up pickled eggs in his pasta sauce. While he impressed Christina with his handmade farfalle, the sauce didn't work. Adam's pasta also never quite came together, but worse than that was that he fried anchovies in truffle oil, which is a big no-no.
The judges absolutely love Nate's rosemary garlic ribeye steak with potatoes, asparagus, and bleu cheese crumble. He continues his comedy tour by 1) flexing his biceps when Graham asks if he's a tough guy now and 2) running back to his station victoriously saying, "I cut the cheese!" (+5). The winner of the challenge, though, is Addison for her soup.
Corey, Jaeclyn, and Adam are called to the front for elimination. Corey ends up saved probably because of his pasta. This means Jaeclyn and Adam, who comforts her while she's crying and now I'm crying and ugh can't they go ONE episode without giving me an emotional meltdown?
Let's wipe away those tears and get to the important part of this: ranking children.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 130 points
2. Tae-Ho, 113 points
3. Nate, 55 points
4. Ian, 47 points
5. Avery, 43 points
6. Jesse, 40 points
7. JJ, 35 points
8. Amaya, 29 points
9. Addison, 26 points
10. Kaitlyn, 25 points
11. Sam, 20 points
12. Mia, 14 points
13. Zac, 12 points
14. Derek, 9 points
15. (tie) Corey and Kamilly, 5 points
17. Adam, -22 points
18. Jaeclyn, -27 points
19. Kyndall, -36 points
20. Vivian, -40 points
21. Chad, -42 points
22. (Tie) Kade and Alexander, -45 points
24. Annabelle, -48 points
*The math here should be flawless this week because it was Thanksgiving so I was already primed to be judging people.