It seems we're at the midway point of this season of MasterChef Junior, based on the number of kids left and how many bottles of wine I've gone through since we started. Christina Tosi is wearing a terrific cream-colored dress. It's beautiful, but I would never wear it in a kitchen. Every white item I've ever owned has a little souvenir on it from wherever I was eating. My silk blouse and I will never forget our trip to Carbone.
Without wasting any time, the judges have the kids lift up the mystery boxes at their stations for the first challenge. Where they'd normally find exotic ingredients, instead they find blindfolds. The judges then have them come down to the front and sit while two men wheel out a 12-place dinner table, complete with covered dishes for each contestant.
Gordon Ramsay has prepared a dish for the kids, but they will be eating it blindfolded. They have five minutes to taste the dish and determine the ingredients before they have to recreate it on their own, without ever finding out what it is. Ian is concerned because he's a picky eater and he likes to see food before he eats it. I'm with you, Ian. I'm not a picky eater, but I do not like to go into things blind (+3). The only blind date I ever went on involved the guy telling me, "Yeah, my life's a lot like Entourage," so I'm a big fan of knowing what you're getting yourself into.
Blindfolds are on, covers come off the dishes, and the kids start eating. There should really be a whole show watching them manipulate utensils and try to eat without seeing. It's hilarious. It's also what I'm sure it looks like when my friends and I finally get nachos after a too-long happy hour. Amaya completely cleans her plate, which leaves me wondering if I have a kid out there (is that how it works?). She feels good going into the cooking, saying, "I ate the whole plate, so I'm pretty confident I know what is going into this" (+4).
As the kids gather what ingredients they *think* they tasted from the pantry, the judges walk around and survey their dishes. Gordon whispers to Kya asking what she's doing, and she guessed chicken. As soon as he walks to go talk to another contestant, a giant flame bursts from her pan full of vinegar and way, way too high. She's safe, thankfully, and Gordon comes to help get the fire under control. Plus one to Kya for her not seeming super scared of the fire. She's eight and kept her cool. I'm in my thirties and would be screaming.
Time's up and the kids bring their plates down for the judges to inspect. Gordon reveals that the dish they had eaten and were trying to mimic was pan-seared chicken breast with mushroom jus, rosemary-and-mustard-infused mashed potatoes, orange honey glazed heirloom carrots and baby turnips, and green beans with almonds. It's a lot of elements to keep track of, so the fact that these kids got any of it right is impressive.
The judges send all of their kids and their mostly incorrect proteins back to their stations and want the four closest to stay up front for a taste test. Kya, Kaitlyn, Corey, and Ian remain in front. Kya's pan-seared chicken breast with mashed potatoes, green beans, and carrots not only includes most of the elements of the original, but also looks like a plate straight out of a fine-dining restaurant. Gordon tells her, "Whether you like it or not, at eight years of age, you are a freak."
"Whether you like it or not, at eight years of age, you are a freak."
Corey's baked chicken also has a lot in common with Gordon's original. Ian's dish of pan-seared chicken with roasted parsnips and mashed potatoes doesn't quite match what he tasted, but the judges commend him for his sophisticated palate (+1). Kaitlyn missed a few elements, but her chicken is perfect and the mashed potatoes are beautifully seasoned.
Kaitlyn is the runner up (+2) to Kya's near-perfect recreation (+5). Way to go girls. Girl power! Okay now I'm on the verge of falling into a Spice Girls spiral after typing that, so let's move on before I get too deep.
For the elimination challenge, the pint-sized cooks will open up the MasterChef restaurant for some VIPs. They don't know who they are cooking for, only that they're serving 31 dishes to guests with very discerning tastes. Since Kya and Kaitlyn did well in the mystery box challenge, they are team captains for this next one.
Because these tweens are new chefs, for this challenge they are going to use some new ingredients. Gordon and Graham Elliot wheel out two crates. One is full of proteins and produce from New England and the other has the offerings of New Mexico. Kya chooses the New England box (+1 because I'd do the same thing), leaving Kaitlyn with New Mexico and also the first pick for who is on her team. I always get so anxious for the kids when they have to pick teams. Can't everyone just pick everyone and none of them ever are last or get sent home or have to cry ever again?
Kaitlyn's team includes Addison, Amaya, Zac, Kamilly, and JJ. Kya picks Avery, Ian, Corey, Sam, and Jesse. The VIPs in the dining room will choose which team wins the challenge, and from there the judges will send two tiny chefs home.
Being a team captain is important in this challenge and the two girls have very different styles of leading. Kaitlyn is on the bossy side (+2 because same) and clashes a bit with the also bossy Addison and Amaya when the stress levels rise. Her blue team mostly stays on track, though, and they use their New Mexico ingredients to make a spice roasted pork with chorizo succotash, avocado mousse, bean cakes, and a tomatillo salsa.
Kya has a slightly different attitude. She knows what she wants and is clearly some kind of savant when it comes to cooking, but in dealing with the other kids she either takes on the job herself or yells positively at them. Throughout prep you could hear her yelling, "Come on you guys, you can do it, I believe in you!" (+3). Her team is working on a New England clambake with clams, mussels, and bacon, topped with a cod cake and celery salad.
As both teams are cooking, Gordon announces that the guests have arrived and they grandmas. Ian's excited about it and says, "This just went from VIPs to VIGs," so he gets 10 points, because duh.
While Ian's busy playing with acronyms, the red team starts to flounder thanks to his poor celery preparation. He's using a mandolin to cut up celery for a salad, which just ends up being a wet green mess that they can't serve to diners. Avery takes over the celery prep (+1) and sends Ian off to work on something else. He's running around and not really helping when Kya says, "Ian find a job!" Honestly, if you replace Ian with a few other choice male names, that's a sentence I'm all too familiar with in my relationships.
Sam and his mohawk really take charge of the team as they get closer to plating (+2). The opposite is true of Jesse, who has been kind of sitting back this entire challenge and seeming just kind of out of it to the judges.
Jesse's quiet is balanced out yet again by the screaming from Kaitlyn and the blue team as the other kids are assembling the dishes. They are way ahead of the other team when Graham notices that they won't have enough pork for every plate since a lot of them have three or four pieces on them. They regroup, knock the whole thing down to two pieces, and manage to get pork on every dish.
Before service we do get our all-too-familiar interstitial with Logan, the winner of season two, and the executive chef of Olive Garden (that's a real job?). Apparently, America has voted on which of the two new appetizers he created will go on the menu. With the famed breadsticks as the star — which I'm pretty sure is true of every dining experience there — he made pepperoni pizzas and meatballs with crostini. America voted for meatballs, which looks like the better choice. This was good practice for next November, hopefully. Anyway, if you live near a strip mall, head on down to Olive Garden and try them.
Okay, we're back in the show. The dishes are all plated and the VIGs are all served. Watching these women eat felt very familiar, but also like something to look forward to. At one table a woman said, "I thought the bean cake was quite good," before her friend immediately responded, "I thought it was salty." One older lady hits on Gordon, so now I know what I'll be like in the future talking to younger men. Looks fun!
These women are very judgmental. If anyone is going to tell you what they think of something, it's a woman in her eighties. If my grandmother could be there, I'm pretty sure she'd take a bite, send it back, and ask if the kitchen could make her a caesar salad.
With the results in hand, Gordon announces that by a very slim margin the winning team for the day is Kaitlyn's blue team and their pork dish.
That means the red team is at the bottom, and two of their team members must go home. And even though I saw this coming from a mile away, I still lost it when Gordon said Ian and Jesse's names. They've been personal favorites of mine all along. Those boys managed to keep it together and not get too teary in front of the judges. I, on the other hand, cried harder than when Dior discontinued my favorite eye cream (that was a dark day). Plus a very sad 3 points to each of them for the sobbing.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 149 points
2. Tae-Ho, 64 points
3. Avery, 53 points
4. (tied) Addison and JJ, 47 points
6. Kaitlyn, 44 points
7. Sam, 40 points
8. Amaya, 39 points
9. Zac, 33 points
10. Ian, 26 points
11. Nate, 21 points
12. Kamilly, 13 points
13. Corey, 9 points
14. Jesse, 2 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
*I'm scared that over the holidays when there aren't new episodes I'm going to completely forget how to do this math so enjoy these (maybe) accurate statistics while you can.