There are only six chefs left at this point on MasterChef Junior. I would say this is where we separate the men from the boys, but no one on this show can grow facial hair except maybe Joe Bastianich (and yes, I'm including all of the judges in that blanket statement). Well, all of the contestants left are over 11 years old, so we're kind of close.
Ayla tells the camera that her dream is to own a restaurant called the Polka Dot Cafe, something she explains while conveniently wearing a polka dot chambray shirt which I'm pretty sure I also own (girl, is it from the Gap like a year ago?). She either wants that or to be a soccer player. A woman soccer player making a living? You have a better chance keeping financially afloat investing in rewritable CDs and bootcut jeans.
Jenna is in this exclusively for the trophy, which she thinks looks like a giant diamond. She's 12, and I guess that's fair, but if a guy gave me that and was like "Will you marry me?" I'd be like, "You go back and get me a real diamond or at least a job, Dave!"
Gordon Ramsay wastes no time getting into this week's challenge. Instead of a mystery box or a make-and-waste-a-bunch-of-food challenge to start things off, he announces to the six remaining tiny chefs that today is their restaurant takeover.
The kids will compete head to head in two teams of three to serve two courses to a restaurant full of patrons who have no idea that they're kids. I am going to go ahead and guess that the people dining at Comme Ça that day knew something was up because this is Los Angeles and you must assume that every time you leave the house you might be part of a reality television show.
Because Andrew and Jimmy had the top two dishes in the last challenge, they get to be team captains and select the other two chefs to join them in the kitchen. Andrew is concerned about picking teams because "all of us are pretty good friends," and of course he thinks about that before he thinks about winning, he's the same kid who stopped what he was doing to help Jenna with her hollandaise sauce (which sounds like the beginning of a culinary-themed romance novel).
Andrew picks Nathan first, going against his heart, I assume, before he picks Jenna. Jimmy picks Ayla, who I this whole time have been convinced is the dark horse of the competition thanks to her solid skills and level head. He then selects Kayla for his team.
The dishes the teams must prepare are two appetizers and two entrees. The appetizers are Mediterranean octopus with merguez sausage and chickpea panisse cake, as well as an English pea and mascarpone ravioli. The entrees are roasted skate wing in brown butter sauce and a flatiron steak. The executive chefs of the restaurant, Comme Ça, walk the six chefs through the preparation of each of the dishes. It's hard to believe these 11 and 12 year olds can pick up recipes and techniques from just a quick walk-through. I remember when I was apartment hunting and I had a walk-through of a studio apartment I somehow still managed to have questions, so the technique on a properly cooked steak would take me easily a week and a half.
These are complicated dishes with lots of components, and certainly more challenging than what the kids typically come up with on their own (though those dishes are still super impressive). In addition to the dining room full of patrons, the teams will be serving a VIP table, which is the executive chefs whose recipes they are recreating and whose kitchen they are taking over for the afternoon. It must be slightly scary as a restaurant owner to turn over your hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars kitchen to a group of people who aren't yet allowed to be in a mall food court without a chaperone.
As always, Gordon will be expediting in the kitchen to make sure that he both gets the orders to the chefs as well as instills the children with an overwhelming sense of fear and panic.
Jimmy's team (the red team) equally divides up duties at the onset of the challenge, each chef working to what they think is their strength. Jimmy is all about delegating it seems, which appears to be a good strategy at least early on in the appetizer course. He, Ayla, and Kayla are working together yet independently to get the dishes out.
The mood for the blue team is quite different as Andrew has taken over as a not-so-friendly leader. Gone is the overly energetic coach encouraging every boy, girl, and standing mixer to do their best. In this role he is gruff, dismissive, and angry. "This is brown butter sauce, not melted fat sauce!" he screams at his secret love Jenna, clearly imitating Ramsay and any other televised chefs he's seen.
In all of the commotion, Jenna burns herself on an oven door and breaks down in tears. At first I was thinking that I know this move and distinctly remember in gym class when we had to run the mile, "accidentally" tripping during our warm up. Then I see the medic comes over to her assistance and she actually did hurt herself. They take care of her, she cleans herself up, and is back on the line working hard.
The challenge continues and Gordon is firing off orders to both teams at a speed so fast it's hard to tell if he's speaking English anymore or just yelling incoherently. Somehow, the blue team manages to regain its composure and start getting first courses out to the dining room. As this happens, the red team starts to slip in terms of timing as Ayla is working on one ravioli dish at a time instead of plating for the whole ticket. Gordon singles her out for some yelling and she maintains complete composure. It's unreal. I've seen adults in their thirties have meltdowns over the implication that they may have calculated the tip on a check wrong, yet this middle-school aged girl can stay poised in the face of a screaming British nightmare on national television? Nothing but impressive.
Both teams continue to get their orders out, but the blue team runs into another problem. Jenna has burned so many of the chickpea panisse cakes that they have completely run out by the time they need to plate the dishes that are going to the VIP table of Comme Ça's executive chefs. They send the octopus dish out sans chickpea cake and hope for the best.
Andrew is losing his cool on his team, especially in light of Jenna's burning issues. He's flying off the handle and screaming at everyone, and as a fire erupts on the grill, he starts to blow on it only making it bigger. Nathan mocks him for not understanding that oxygen ignites fire, it doesn't put it out. Okay, Nathan, you are still years away from high school, how on earth do you know something that's taught in tenth grade chemistry class? (This is just a guess, I actually spent my entire year in chemistry trying to figure out if the mole on the kid in front of me's neck looked more like the state of Missouri or a dish of flan.)
Gordon sends Andrew into the "car park" both to cool down and to remind us, once again, that he's British. Andrew returns calm and collected and reinvigorates his team with positive encouragement.
The teams finish the appetizer course with a dining room full of pretty happy patrons as well as some fairly impressed VIPs. It's time for the entrees, which worries Ayla because she's in charge of the steak and has never made steak before so she isn't sure how you know when it's done. Seems like an oversight on Jimmy's part as he should have assigned the steak preparation to someone who knows a little more about cooking meat. C'mon Jimmy, you're 12 years old, you should know how to run a professional kitchen at this point!
Jimmy and his team struggle with the first batch of orders and end up putting up raw steak as well as skate wings for one table. Gordon stops prep all together and asks them why they don't just take off their aprons and quit at this point? I'm sure they wanted to.
Possible arsonist in training Jenna starts yet another fire that Graham Elliot has to put out with a towel. Not only does this hold up the other two cooks in that area of the kitchen, but now she has to start on her skate wing from scratch, spending valuable time that could have been used to get ahead on the next ticket.
Meanwhile, Jenna's BFF on the red team, Kayla, has pretty much shut down. It's the most quiet we've seen her in the entire competition. Flustered by the complicated dishes and the speed of the orders coming in, she doesn't really know what to do with herself, even when Gordon presses her about it. Two customers, tired of waiting for their food, walk out of the restaurant. If they had known that 11 and 12 year olds were in the kitchen maybe they would have stuck it out. Or not sat down at all. It's hard to say, really, whether a child making your food makes you more tolerant of mistakes or prefer not to eat anything.
The diners finish their meals and fill out comment cards still not knowing the ages of the chefs. Gordon finally brings out the six kids responsible for the dishes and everyone collectively seems impressed and a little concerned.
Back in the MasterChef kitchen, Gordon, Graham, and Joe announce that in a very close competition, the winning team for the day is the blue team of Andrew, Nathan, and Jenna. Even though Andrew was a tornado of unfocused rage at the beginning of the challenge and Jenna kept setting things and ingredients on fire, they turned out the consistently better dishes over the course of the day.
This means that sadly, two members of the red team are going home. After a very difficult decision, the judges announce that team captain Jimmy is safe and Ayla and Kayla have to go home. I think it was time for Kayla to go, but I wasn't yet ready to see Ayla leave.
Next week is the semi-final with the last four remaining chefs. With Jenna left as the last girl standing, my #feminism expectations are on the low side. But you never know what will happen on MasterChef Junior. (I'm kidding, it's pretty easy to predict what will happen, this is primetime, network television).