Well, here we are, the final four. If this were NCAA basketball, it's when the most annoying person in your office would be saying, "I told you, bro, Gonzaga was an underdog." But this is MasterChef Junior, so I'm more just thinking, "I wish none of them had to go home!"
Addison, Zac, Amaya, and Avery line up in front of the judges and four covered serving dishes. The judges lift up the cloches to reveal something, "inspiring." It's all of their parents' heads on platters. How fun and not at all terrifying for 10 year olds!
The kids and parents each get a nice hug and a "We miss you back at home!" moment, which makes me wonder how exactly this show works. Are the kids just like, hanging out in Los Angeles chaperone-free? How long has this show been taping? Before the parents leave though, they have special gifts for their cheftestant kiddos. They pick random wrapped gift boxes which are clearly full of special ingredients.
Amaya gets a big box of dark chocolate, or as I call it, Break-Up Supplies. No, I'm kidding, that's what I call $9 magnums of wine. Zac gets milk chocolate, Avery gets strawberries, and Addison gets blackberries (the fruit, not the outdated phone).
For this challenge, Christina Tosi explains that they must master one of the hardest desserts in the world, a soufflé. That's a tall order for some small chefs. Soufflés are pretty skittish. They're more temperamental than I am when I see someone left me a voicemail. One false move and the whole thing falls apart.
Gordon Ramsay checks in on Zac and both of his milk chocolate versions seem to be setting up perfectly in the oven, so long as he keeps them in there for the exact amount of time. Graham Elliot and Amaya take a look into her oven through their matching bright framed glasses and hers seem to be on track, too. Plus 2 for the killer matching eyewear.
Time's up and the kids reach the front of the kitchen with their best soufflés for the judges. The judges examine and taste each of the desserts before asking the kids a couple of tough questions. After a very tough decision, the winner of the soufflé challenge was Addison with her perfect blackberry version (+5).
She joins Gordon, Graham, and Christina in the pantry to explain her advantage for the elimination challenge. Before her are four plates with the contestants' faces on them. She gets to pick which cuts of a certain protein each will have to cook. That protein is pork. They are the cuts you'd expect to works with: pork belly, pork loin, ribs, and...pigs ears. Look, I eat pretty much anything, but at nine, I'm not sure I would have voluntarily eaten an ear of anything that wasn't corn. Whoever she chooses to cook with those is clearly her biggest threat.
So after what must have been a difficult decision, Addison decided Zac should have to cook the pig ears. Avery got pork belly, which feels like a good match. Amaya got the loin, and Addison kept the ribs for herself. Plus 1 for an overall pretty good strategy.
Gordon checks in with Zac, who is making the best of a pretty short stick. He says, "Pressure is a privilege." Plus 3 for apparently being an excellent 45 year-old life coach and not a 12 year-old amateur home cook. He's doing a braised then fried pig ear with parsnip puree and frisée salad. Those are three things no kid likes to eat, let alone probably knows how to cook. Watching this show really makes me reevaluate pretty much everything I've ever done, cooking or otherwise.
Amaya starts slicing her pork loin after not letting it rest and notices it's complete raw. She shoves it back in the oven, which rarely pans out well for that cut.
First up to serve the judges is Addison as she yells to the plate, "Please taste good, dish!" (+3). Addison, look, if that strategy worked we wouldn't need restaurants or gyms or plastic surgeons. She prepared soda-braised pork ribs with a summer strawberry salad and potato salad. Gordon's initial critique is that this looks like pretty basic barbecue food, not an elevated dish. He bites into it and they're delicious and fall-off-the-bone tender. The strawberries and citrus in the salad are confusing, but the dish is an overall success.
Zac brings to the front his braised pig's ears with frisée salad and quail egg. Graham takes a bite, tilts his head back and forth while chewing in a way that rarely bodes well on a reality cooking competition, and then breaks the news to Zac. The pig's ears are actually undercooked, and thus have the consistency of a rubber band in the middle. It's pretty devastating because how would you even know how to cook them if you've never eaten them and probably didn't even know they were edible? He loves the rest of the dish and the flavors, though. It's a technical mistake but a well-conceived and seasoned dish (+1).
Next is Avery, who is my favorite horse in this race. Her accent, pigtails, and overalls are cute and genuinely her, but more importantly, she's got some serious skills. She says with her Louisiana drawl, "Go pig or go home!" (+2) and I'm just sitting here clapping and hoping she did a good job. She made braised pork belly with sweet potato mash, beetroot chips, and sautéed brussels sprouts. She's cooked this cut a few times in her life, which is more than most adults could say. Christina is nearly speechless. It's possibly the most delicious dish she's tasted in the MasterChef kitchen and Avery is awestruck. Graham examines a piece of the pork belly and asks her if it was luck that perfectly rendered the fat on all sides of the meat. She replies, "Chef, I've gotta tell you, it's not just luck. I'm a competitor." I love her. Plus 2 because her pork belly is so good it makes Graham say "gurl."
Finally it's Amaya's turn. She prepared za'atar-seasoned pork loin with mushroom farro and apple marmalade. Plus 1 from me because I love za'atar flavors on everything. The pork is slightly undercooked. While it's not executed perfectly, the rub on the meat is great and the apple and onion chutney is delicious.
Clearly there were some missteps in this challenge, but the judges all focused a lot more on the positive elements of each dish. Why can't this be how everything is all the time? Sure, people make mistakes, but what a great sauce! Okay, you forgot to pay your cable bill this month, but wow you watched so many critically acclaimed one-hour dramas!
After a difficult discussion, the judges return to tell the kids which two of them are moving on to the finals. The first contestant called is Avery, who falls to her knees like she just won an olympic medal (+1 for her reaction, +5 for the win). I mean, duh, but also, yay! Good for her. Go for the gold. The second and final chef headed to the finale, after an excruciating long pause, is Addison (+3). No surprise there.
The judges say goodbye to Zac and Amaya. It's truly upsetting. There's a lot of crying both on-screen and in my studio apartment. I don't know how the judges keep it together watching these kids tear up in front of them (+3 each for the unavoidable tears).
This is absolutely thrilling. The MasterChef Junior finale is between two kick ass girls. Addison and Avery step to the side and jump up and down in excitement that there's going to be a girl winner. It's been hard watching the last three seasons as we get to the final few rounds and the girls are all eliminated. Here are two super talented, hard-working, totally deserving contestants that will no doubt make a riveting finale. In honor of this, I'll be listening to the Spice Girls for the rest of the day because of girl power. I also just realized the Spice Girls stopped performing before Avery or Addison were even born, so I'll also be crying into a bucket of Pinot Grigio.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 99 points
2. Avery, 79 points
3. Addison, 65 points
4. Tae-Ho, 64 points
5. Kaitlyn, 44 points
6. Sam, 40 points
7. Ian, 26 points
8. Nate, 21 points
9. Kamilly, 13 points
10. Corey, 9 points
11. Amaya, 5 points
12. Zac, 3 points.
13. Jesse, 2 points
14. JJ, 0 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
*Only one more week of this sophisticated number garbage and then I can go back to using math for only the important things in my life, like estimating the clearance price of a cute sweatshirt or counting and then lying about how many office cookies I ate.