MasterChef Junior does love a good theme, doesn’t it? Tonight, Gordon Ramsay and friends are taking our top 20 kid chefs on a culinary journey that stretches from the outermost reaches of space, to the very bottom of the ocean. Basically, MasterChef Junior is life and we should all bow down (MasterChef Junior is also Beyoncé).
If not necessarily bowing down, our chef-testants are at least in awe as they enter the MasterChef kitchen and find not just mystery boxes at each of their stations, but one giant mystery box up on the judges’ platform. Smoke fills the room, and after a countdown from 10, the box rises to reveal our three judges dressed as astronauts. The kids are tickled. Gordon, too, is loving the big reveal, as he confides that one of his biggest dreams as a kid was to be an astronaut. But, believe it or not, there is an actual reason the judges are rocking space suits, other than fulfilling one of Gordon’s life-long dreams: They introduce real-life astronaut, Tracy Dyson.
Okay, now, this is a woman we should all be bowing down to. She is an astronaut and a chemist, lived on the space station for 174 days, and has done three spacewalks. She’s also the lead singer in an all-astronaut band. Wait, maybe she’s Beyoncé? Okay, enough fangirling — we have a mystery box challenge to unveil!
THE MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE
Tracy isn’t just in town to become our newest girl crush — she’s here because tonight’s mystery challenge is space-related: cheese. The moon is made out of cheese, duh! Okay, MasterChef Junior, this might be a stretch theme-wise. I’ll allow it only because, no lie, just 24 hours ago I made a promise to myself to cut back on my cheese consumption, so I’ll take any chance I get to look at that sweet, sweet heaven food. So, a cheese dish it is — the chefs have one hour.
After 60 minutes of running around the kitchen listening to the judges make out of this world space puns, three kids and their cheese dishes stand out. They are:
Addison, 9, River Forest, IL
Three Cheese Ravioli (with ricotta, mozzarella, asiago cheese, and basil pesto)
Gordon is immediately impressed with Addison’s dish because it arrives covered in a homemade pesto that looks insanely delicious. Thankfully, it tastes just as good as it looks. The three cheese blend is spot on (why did I give up cheese again?), and Gordon’s only note is to plate the delicate raviolis in a way that doesn’t crush them.
Kaitlyn, 11, Yorktown Heights, NY
Lemon Ricotta Cookies (with ricotta buttercream and lemon glaze)
Kaitlyn (hello, nice to meet you finally) is hoping her risky choice of doing a dessert will set her apart from the rest of the chefs. Her risk pays off – Graham loves her outside-of-the-box thinking, and more importantly, loves her cookies. The macaroons are perfect, and the only thing that would’ve elevated the dish would’ve been to better blend the sugar into the ricotta filling.
JJ, 12, Santa Fe, TX
Cheese Enchiladas (with smoked gouda, cheddar cheese, and parmesan crisp)
Okay, now we’re talking my kind of cheese: melted. JJ rolls up to the judges’ table with a plate full of enchiladas smothered in sauce and melted cheese. I just don’t see how that could ever be bad. Christina agrees. She can feel JJ’s passion in his cooking. The enchilada sauce is rich and tasty, and serves as a perfect counterpart to the cheese. She doesn’t outright say it, but I know in her heart Christina is yelling, “More cheese, please!” We all are, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Each dish is completely different, but all three managed to make cheese the real star of the plate. Okay, fine, I GET IT. I’ll start eating cheese again. In the end, the win goes to Kaitlyn and her lemon cookies. She’ll get immunity from elimination this week, the ability to grant immunity to another chef (she chooses Addison), and a very important role in the elimination challenge: fish monger! Wait…what?
THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
The chefs travel from the depths of space to the depths of the sea. It’s a fish challenge! Just as the kids are recovering from having to shuck scallops last week, they learn they’ll have to fillet their own fish. To demonstrate, Graham brings out a moonfish. It is gigantic and beautiful and I never want to watch someone fillet a fish in front of me ever again.
The kids each get to choose their type of fish and have Kaitlyn toss it to them as if they were in a true fish market. You have to get your kicks somewhere, I guess. The fish choice and ability to fillet will play a big role in who wins and who gets sent packing. Some chefs fare better than others.
NEXT: Hurricane Avery does the bayou proud[pagebreak]
Avery, 9, Baton Rouge, LA
Pecan-Crusted Halibut (with sweet potato mash and sour sauce)
Hurricane Avery is back and believes she has this challenge in the bag. She fishes every day down on the bayou and she’s cooking her dad’s favorite fish. Her confidence may, in fact, be warranted. Gordon thinks the fish is cooked perfectly and the mash ties the entire dish together. Then he says what Avery’s been waiting to hear for nine years: Gordon Ramsay calls her “chef.” We’re just fulfilling dreams left and right tonight.
Jaeclyn, 9, Philadelphia, PA
Tai Snapper Tacos (with coleslaw and lime sauce)
Jaeclyn admittedly does not like fish, so she slaps some snapper in a taco (her absolute favorite) and calls it a day. She doesn’t even taste them before serving to Christina. What is this, amateur hour? Oh — wait… Well, if Jaeclyn had taken a bite of her tai snapper, she would’ve realized it was bland and could’ve compensated elsewhere in the dish.
Derek, 11, Yardley, PA
Dover Sole (with potatoes, sunchokes, and aioli)
Scientist Cook Derek is winning me over. He’s definitely in it to win it. He uses this challenge to show off his impressive and very refined palate. Graham notes that there are only three things on the plate, but it tastes like there could be 100 because of the way he brought out every flavor. Our judge christens Derek “the one to watch” in the competition.
Vivian, 11, Avendale, AZ
Tai Snapper (with ratatouille and lemon sauce)
Vivian walks up to face Gordon feeling pretty proud of herself. Hey, she filleted her snapper perfectly and gets to serve it to Gordon Ramsay – feel proud all you want, Viv. Unfortunately, she doesn’t cook her fish as well as she filleted it. It’s soggy and the skin is chewy; the exact opposite of what you want. Even worse, her ratatouille is just a pile of raw vegetables, and her lemon sauce is totally wrong for the fish. The dish is a complete misfire.
Kya, 8, San Marino, CA
Salmon Confit (with daikon puree and cucumber sunomono)
Kya presents a dish of which I probably understand three words. Christina loves that Kya took risks. She was the only cook to choose salmon (is salmon a risk these days?) and used the confit technique, something no one else attempted. On top of the risky concept, the flavors of the dish are outstanding. That’s totally what I was going to say, once I finished looking up what a “daikon” is.
Kyndall, 9, Philadelphia, PA
Branzino (with parsnip puree and roasted vegetables)
You’ll remember Kyndall from such hits as “candy saves your life” and “take the shoes off first.” Sadly, Kyndall can’t substitute on point commentary for terrible cooking. Graham finds the branzino soggy, and her “roasted” vegetables aren’t cooked at all. He can’t even muster a silver lining here, he simply tells her there’s a lot wrong on her plate and walks away. Ouch.
Nate, 10, Philadelphia, PA
Seared Yellowfin Tuna (with green beans and cucumber noodles)
Nate loves his dish. No, like, really loves it. He loves it so much, he would “probably marry it if [he] had the chance.” Love is love, guys. Turns out, he’s right to be so in love with his tuna. Christina is wowed by its vibrant flavors and declares it to be the best fish dish she’s ever had in the MasterChef kitchen.
Ian, 8, Beverly Shores, IN
Seared Yellowfin Tuna (with mashed potatoes and asparagus)
Ian has what we call a time management problem. Graham and Christina visit his cooking station with 10 minutes to go, and discover that not only has Ian not cooked his fish yet, his pan isn’t even hot. The two judges try to move him along before he has another breakdown, but everyone’s nervous about this one. There’s no need to be nervous! Even though Ian forgets to season his fish, his sesame oil (which comes from sesame seeds, not Sesame Street) vinaigrette more than makes up for it.
There’s several contenders for the top spot, but only one dish had a judge throwing around words like “best ever.” The win goes to Nate. He’s very excited about it — I hope he and his dish are truly happy together.
There is of course, some unpleasantness to be dealt with. Vivian, Jacelyn, and Kyndall had the judges’ least-favorite dishes. Jacelyn and her taco-loving heart get a last minute reprieve, which means Vivian and Kyndall are going home. The saddest thing, however, is that not one of the judges tells these ladies to “reach for the stars” on their way out. Talk about a lost theme opportunity.
Well, did the right cooks go home? Who are your frontrunners these days? Have we finally met all of our contestants, or are there some still hiding in the corners of that kitchen?