One of my favorite parts of every episode of MasterChef Junior is when the kids run into the kitchen to start their day. It's kind of like a pint-sized running of the bulls, but instead of being chased by giant horned farm animals, it's their parents' dreams of a $100,000 reality show prize.
The competition is getting tougher every week, but as the number of kiddos dwindles, we get to know the ones that are left a little better. Kaitlyn wants to win the competition so she can achieve her dream of opening up a restaurant run by kids. At first I thought that was insane. Then I remembered that once I was at a restaurant and the busser brought out our food and then our waiter came over, looked at our table, and asked, "Did your food come out yet?" while staring at us chewing, so how much worse could kids really be? (+2 for dreams)
Gordon Ramsay explains to the kids that he, Graham Elliot, and Christina Tosi are struggling chefs, just trying to make ends meet. Even at eight years old, the kids know this is a joke and their hosts are all mega rich. They go along with the bit though, and Gordon continues on, explaining that the three are starting a new business venture: a lemonade stand. I guess when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when life gives you what (judging by the amount of wasted food) is a multi-million dollar reality television franchise, make some kids make lemonade.
The 14 remaining chefs are split into two teams of seven by drawing straws. The long straw team is Mia, Zac, Addison, Kaitlyn, Amaya, Tae-Ho, and Corey. This is most of the older and taller kids, so it seems unfair — and almost rigged because they were also the "long" straws, and look, I'm not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but, you know. That leaves the other team with Jesse, Kya, Kamilly, Sam, Ian, JJ, and Avery.
With seven minutes on the clock, each team must make a full dispenser of raspberry mint lemonade. When time is up, Christina will do a blind taste test to see which team made a better beverage. I'm glad they finally did a challenge focused on a drink. As someone who gets most of her calories from liquids (coffee, wine, Diet Coke, and melted mint chip ice cream), I feel that beverage programs have been long overlooked on MasterChef Junior.
There are two things at stake in this challenge. The first is that the winning team does not have to cook in the elimination, meaning all seven are safe for another week. The second is that the losing team will be doused with lemonade from a giant yellow balloon hanging from the ceiling. So far this season, the first-round challenges have been all about making a mess of the judges and their expensive wardrobes, eyewear, and skin-care routines. Finally the people in the studio who aren't used to being covered in food will be on the receiving end of a sloppy loss.
Time starts and the red team of younger and smaller competitors is all about organization. Sam recognizes the need for someone to step up as team leader, and since he's been successful in challenges (and thanks to his hair being the tallest), he starts delegating (+3). He has some kids squeezing lemons, others making simple syrup, and more macerating the raspberries.
While the red team is running like a Ford assembly line, the blue team is still arguing about who is doing what, who has the best strategy, and who is in charge. This is what happens when you get all of the big personalities and "maturity" together on one team.
Time's up and a blindfolded Christina sits at the lemonade stand ready to taste the two final products. Gordon switches the two mason jars back and forth a few times like an amateur magician trying to trick your uncle at a family reunion. One of the lemonades is decidedly better with stronger flavors, and it turns out to be the younger, scrawnier red team. This means the blue team — which includes Corey and his deep concerns about his hair getting sticky (+1) — is getting soaked.
The kids get cleaned up, but the judges are nowhere to be found. From offstage they hear Gordon's voice say, "It's all groovy, man," and then he emerges in a suede vest, flower crown, bell-bottom jeans, and sandals. Yeah, sandals. In a kitchen. I had to pause the show so I could walk in circles in the middle of my studio muttering, "No, no, no, no, no." He tells the kids that he was born in the '60s, which horrifies them.
Graham's booming (booming? really? whatever let's go with it) voice says from backstage, "Let's take it to the max," and, "Ain't no thing but a chicken wing," leaving the kids — and me — confused. He then comes out disco dancing in a Saturday Night Fever remake-worthy white leisure suit. He reveals that he was born in 1977, so the '70s are his decade. Now, the kids are still too young to understand this, but if you're born in '77, you're really a child of the '80s because you spent the last three years of the previous decade sleeping, puking, and learning how to talk.
Last but not least is Christina, who tells the guys to "take a chill pill," before she roller skates out into the kitchen in a leotard and walkman to a cleaned up version of Paula Abdul's hit "Straight Up." (Note: I then spent the next 45 minutes searching for and playing everything from "Cold Hearted Snake" to "Forever Your Girl" before returning to the show. Paula forever.) Christina was born in 1981, which is close enough to the year I was born to give me a complete existential meltdown over the fact that she's an internationally renowned chef and now television personality and I still pay for coffee in change several days a week.
The blue team is going to need to cook something famous from one of these three decades. Gordon presents a '60s staple, duck a l'orange, which makes the kids squirm and gag. Next, Graham tries to convince them that the comfort dish Chicken Kiev is the best option. Christina trumps them all though with the decadent '80s mainstay surf and turf. She explains that in the '80s, it was all about dinner because lunch was for "wimps." I think she means "drunks" because this was the era of three-martini lunches, but I guess it's a kids show.
Each of the seven blue team members must make their version of surf and turf. It's a lot more fun than duck a l'orange, but not for Mia. She's a vegetarian, so she's never cooked any of these meats before and is nervous she won't prepare them properly.
Tae-Ho is preparing his lobster in a sriracha mayo sauce, which is a huge mistake. Sriracha mayo is great for things like chicken sandwiches you get at 10 p.m. because you dulled your taste buds on a few too many happy hour beer-shot combos, but for a high quality ingredient like lobster, it's a colossal waste.
Graham and Christina check in with Addison, who is doing Steak Diane with a lobster in cream sauce. Before she can fully describe the dish she pauses them, saying, "Sorry, I have to flambé real quick" (+5).
During prep, Zac pulls a pan out of the oven, then accidentally touches it bare-handed while it's on the stove. He burns himself badly enough that the medics need to treat it and he spends the rest of the challenge with a rubber glove on his hand holding a cold bottle of water. It doesn't stop him though, and he powers through and is able to finish his dish (+15). I still can't believe this doesn't happen more often during the season. I injure myself cooking at least once a week, and I have peanut butter toast for like 25 percent of all of my meals.
Addison is first to serve the judges. Since she was born in 2005 (good god), Gordon asks her how she knows about Steak Diane. She answers, "YouTube" (+2). While most people use the video site to watch bears swimming in above-ground pools (just me?), this 10-year-old is using it to learn sophisticated steak preparations. Gordon and the other judges love it, another hit for Addison (+1).
Next up is Tae-Ho and his spicy lobster sauce over filet mignon and cauliflower spinach puree. The whole dish is kind of a mess. Gordon says that if Tae-Ho was working in his kitchen, he'd be fired for ruining an excellent lobster with sriracha mayo. Aside from that poor choice, the steak is also overcooked and the puree is a failure.
One-handed Zac's pan-seared filet mignon with boiled lobster tail, parsnip puree, and potato fondant really impresses the judges. Everything is cooked perfectly even though he did it with one hand pretty much tied behind his back (+3).
Amaya's filet with lobster tail and green rice is pretty good, though she needs to tone down her "secret" garlic sauce, which, if I had to guess by Graham's reaction, is just straight garlic. Plus one for going big or going home (literally). Unfortunately, Mia's dish is beautifully presented, but prepared totally wrong. The steak and the lobster tail are both severely undercooked, probably due to the fact that she doesn't even eat those things, let alone know how to properly cook them. Plus one for at least trying and not being like, "But I'm a vegetarian!" about the whole thing.
Kaitlyn's lobster beurre blanc with filet mignon, fried brussels sprouts, and parmesan potatoes is another huge hit with the judges. It's beautifully plated, perfectly cooked, and surprisingly modern given the datedness of the dish (+4). Is she the dark horse of this competition, about to take the rest of the field by storm? God, I hope so.
Last up is Corey with his New York strip with red wine sauce over asparagus with lobster in a creole sauce. It's entirely too salty and the steak is pretty overcooked. Oh well, at least his hair bounced back from the lemonade water balloon fiasco.
The winner of the surf and turf challenge is Kaitlyn, who is now one step closer to the kid-run restaurant of her dreams (+5). The bottom three for this challenge are Tae-Ho, Mia, and Corey. After a tough deliberation, Corey is safe, and Tae-Ho and Mia are sent home. This is the first episode of this season where I didn't cry, but it's not because seeing these two leave doesn't bum me out big time. I think it's because I have electric heat and it's too dry in my apartment for me to even form tears.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 138 points
2. Tae-Ho, 64 points
3. Ian, 59 points
4. Avery, 51 points
5. Jesse, 49 points
6. (tied) Addison and JJ, 46 points
8. Kaitlyn, 39 points
9. Sam, 37 points
10. Amaya, 34 points
11. Zac, 32 points
12. Nate, 21 points
13. Kamilly, 12 points
14. Core, 8 points
15. Adam, -22 points
16. Jaeclyn, -27 points
17. (tie) Mia and Derek, -35 points
19. Kyndall, -36 points
20. Vivian, -40 points
21. Chad, -42 points
22. (Tie) Kade and Alexander, -45 points
24. Annabelle, -48 points
*At this point in the season I have officially done more math for this ranking than I did in my entire college career, save for figuring out how much of my flex meal plan dollars could buy beer at the drugstore.