There are significant moments in history that illustrate the perseverance of feminism. In 1920 the suffragettes fought hard for our right to vote. In 1972 we got the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2001, peak Britney Spears danced with a seven-foot albino python on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. And on January 29, 2016, we have our first girl winner of MasterChef Junior.
I know the above paragraph may seem to devalue this momentous occasion, but I assure you, this is actually a huge deal. In four seasons of the show, this is the first time a girl will inevitably win the title. Until this point, only one girl had made it to the final round.
So this is it. The final challenge. The last chance. It's the battle of the A's, as Addison and Avery go head-to-head for the whole enchilada. I wish, some day, that the finalist on a cooking competition would make enchiladas so that phrase could actually mean something. Oh well, I guess that'll only happen in my dreams (where every contestant is also Jon Hamm).
If you've been watching this season, you're very familiar with these pint-sized chefs already, but if you're tuning in for just the finale 1) you sound insane and 2) here's a refresher:
Addison is nine years old and from Illinois. She's all about two things: winning challenges and softball. She came into the competition focused pretty seriously on baking and desserts, but also proved a formidable opponent when it came to elevated, Asian-inspired entrees. She has won (or been in the top three) of more challenges this season than any other contestant.
Avery is also nine years old and undeniably from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Don't let her pigtails, overalls, and sweet Southern drawl fool you though, this girl can cook like a seasoned veteran chef. She's been a bit of a dark horse all season — not to mention my personal favorite — in that she hasn't been winning challenges, but has been consistently at the top of the competition. Her food stays true to her roots with flavorful bayou charm.
Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Christina Tosi welcome the finalists to the MasterChef kitchen, redesigned for a cage-match-style battle. They explain to the girls, who are wearing extremely official and adorable white chef coats (+2 each), that their final challenge is to prepare the best three course meal they can including an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert.
With $100,000 and a crystal trophy on the line, the girls rush into the pantry to grab their ingredients. Addison yells, "Shop like you've never shopped before!" (+3). It's an easily ignored moment but it introduces the attitude of this finale. They do not want to crush each other. They do not want to destroy each other. They both just want to be good chefs. This show continually proves that we are all inherently good and supportive and compassionate. There's no sabotage or throwing under the bus. There aren't even jokey insults. They both want the other to do well, too.
In addition to cooking in the circular, back to back kitchen, Avery and Addison are also saddled with the added distraction of the other 22 eliminated competitors as well as their own family and friends cheering for them from the mezzanine.
The girls are going in two different directions for this final challenge. Avery is sticking with what she's all about with a heavily Southern/Creole menu of asparagus soup, lobster etouffee, and strawberry and rhubarb shortcake. Plus 2 for doing you. Addison is attempting a very sophisticated Asian menu of sake shrimp and seaweed salad, black cod and coconut curry, and a green tea panna cotta.
We get a quick interview with Avery's dad, which you could tell just by looking at him. They are undeniably father and daughter. She's apparently been cooking for most of her life (which is only a few years). He recalls a six-year-old Avery making lamb chops that absolutely wowed him, rosemary and everything. Most six-year-olds won't even eat lamb chops, but she could make them? Plus 3.
Addison's dad gets an interview, too, and you can tell he and the rest of the family are just so proud of her. He notes that she has tons of trophies from sports, but this is the one that she really wants. He smirks, implying that maybe the $100K that comes with it has something to do with it — for him, at least.
Gordon checks in with Avery as she's putting a live lobster in a pot of boiling water (+1). He asks her if she's nervous preparing a protein that even seasoned chefs struggle with. Her answer is a resounding no because she needs to "go big or go home right now." (+2)
Christina and Graham chat with Addison as she's cooking. They ask her what she's most concerned about with this challenge. Shockingly, it's not perfectly cooking those spot prawns or mastering the layered flavors of coconut curry, but it's getting everything done in the 90 minutes. She weirdly understands time the way an adult does, so plus 2 because I still pretend like deadlines don't exist and I'm in my thirties.
After the judges leave her to continue slicing her bok choy, Addison cuts her finger deep enough to let out a scream. She doesn't cry though, but she does freak out enough to attract the attention of the judges, and, ultimately, the medic. She keeps her cool as they bandage her up, then she readjusts her neon backwards hat and gets back into her prep (+4).
Both contestants check in on each other over the course of the hour and a half of cooking time. Avery shouts, "How you doing, Addison?" as she's recovering from the sliced finger setback. Time's running out and they are both frantically plating their dishes. The clock hits zero and they both jump up and down in hug each other in excitement about what they just accomplished. And what they accomplished was a lot. They just did more sophisticated cooking in 90 minutes than most people are capable of in their entire lives. And they're nine years old.
First up for judging in the MasterChef restaurant is Addison's appetizer of sake marinated shrimp with seaweed and sea bean salad, sour plums, and puffed rice. It looks like an elegant course you'd find at a cosmopolitan Japanese restaurant. The cook on the shrimp is perfect, the heat, salinity, and sweetness are all strong but well-balanced. After each chef tastes and compliments her on the dish, she turns for a bit of false privacy and gasps to herself in excitement. Plus 2 for the strong dish, but plus 4 for still being a kid.
Against that course is Avery's cream of asparagus soup with smoked oysters, creme fraiche, and a Creole crouton. The judges all love the elevated bayou flavors and the oysters are cooked well, though Gordon's is slightly overdone. After a glowing review from Graham she can hardly keep it together, and Addison whispers, "Great job!" (+1). It's so cute I could die.
Avery's entree is an updated dish that scored her major points during another challenge this season. She prepared a lobster and crawfish etouffee with crispy okra. It looks simple on the plate, but it's well-seasoned, satisfying, and features a flawlessly cooked lobster (+1).
Next is Addison's entree. She serves the judges her miso black cod with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, and coconut ginger broth. Her fish is moist and flavorful, the curry is layered. It's so well-done that Graham tells her, "It's so tasty it's stupid." The only criticism comes from Christina, noting that the dish might be just a tad too salty.
The final course is a tough one, as both girls have strong pastry skills they showcased all season (culminating with some impressive souffles in the penultimate episode). Addison's dessert carries the Asian thread of her menu to completion with a green tea panna cotta with bruleed plums over crumbled cookie. Queen of Desserts Christina tastes it and absolutely loves it. The texture is perfect, the flavors refreshing, and the plums are an excellent touch, though Graham could use more of them. Gordon sees the dish, though, as visually disappointing. After her first two home runs (this softball pun is for you, Addison!) this one just misses the mark in terms of presentation.
Avery serves the final dish of the evening, her strawberry and rhubarb shortcake with orange chantilly cream. It's light but buttery, sweet but not too sweet, and overall an excellent cap to her meal. Christina loves it so much she asks the plate to be sent back down her way after the other two have had their bites so she can finish it off.
Over the three courses, both girls proved they absolutely deserved to be in this finale and that either one of them deserves the title of MasterChef Junior. And they understand that whatever happens, it's an enormous achievement that a girl is the winner. Detractors will perhaps say that this season was rigged so a girl would win, or that the show had to have a girl win solely because one hadn't yet and people were upset about it. I would say anything but. These two girls proved week after week that they are serious competitors, and also that they love doing this.
It's a big deal that a girl wins — bigger than most people probably realize. There is so much television right now. There are so many visible personas, celebrities, role models. There are a lot of places that kids look to for a road map for what they want to do and how they can do it. If you're a kid who loves to cook, MasterChef Junior is one of those places. In seasons past, there have been girl competitors who clearly had the chops to go far, but we didn't see a girl champion. We didn't see a female judge. The narrative that we got from this show — I think entirely unintentionally — is that girls can cook, but ultimately it is boys and men who get the glory. Most girls probably didn't watch Alexander, Logan, and Nathan win and think, "Well, I can't do that because I'm a girl." But they didn't see themselves reflected. If you don't see yourself represented, then it's a lot harder to imagine yourself in that position, and a lot easier to talk yourself out of ever trying.
Whether it's Addison or Avery, it almost doesn't matter. Now there is a real figure that we can point to when girls question if they can do something. We can say, "She did it, and so can you." They can be inspired, see themselves reflected in this world, and keep cooking their way into the industry.
So, back to the finale. After Gordon's long delivery filled with pauses, dramatic music, and tense waiting, the winner is Addison! Plus 1,000 because this is an extremely scientific judging system.
There it is, the newest MasterChef Junior. I hope in the future we see her softball-inspired bakery. And even if we don't, she better keep cooking.
The Definitive And Very Serious FINAL MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Addison, 1,082 points
2. Kya, 109 points
3. Tae-Ho, 64 points
4. Kaitlyn, 44 points
5. (tie) Avery and 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
*NO. MORE. DRUNK. MATH.