Welcome back, MasterChef Junior fans! After a long hiatus since Nathan Odom won the coveted MasterChef Junior trophy (and a cool $100,000), we finally get to meet the 24 new kid chefs battling for both the title and our hearts. I’m so excited to go on this culinary journey with you. I’ll be upfront: I neither have children nor know how to cook. But when it comes to MasterChef Junior, I simply can’t help myself. I, like so many, am taken in by the hilarious kids, the inventive dishes, Gordon Ramsay’s devilishly handsome mug, and people pursuing their dreams — oh, the pursing of dreams!
But I don’t need to explain why this show is great to you. You’re already here, right? So let’s unwrap this fresh new season, sure to be full of dishes only kids could conjure up, adults trying to let tiny people down gently, and tears — both from the contestants and your recapper.
Our esteemed judges, Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and MCJ newbie Christina Tosi welcome 24 very excited kids to the competition by letting them take in the immensity of the MasterChef kitchen and by reminding them that they are here because they’re the best of the best. However, not everyone is going to make it past tonight. Yes, eliminations are happening — welcome to the real world, kids!
Before the kids can show off their skills, they must don those beautiful MasterChef aprons, but their aprons aren’t just neatly hanging on a rack nearby. No, these aprons are stuffed into a giant Gordon Ramsay head piñata the kids will have to crack open. It’s as glorious and as horrifying as it sounds. Adam, who I’m convinced has the soul of an old bootlegger from 1920s New York, remarks that “Gordon Ramsay already had a big head! Now look at this thing: It’s 50 times bigger!” We all slow clap for Adam.
MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE
The kiddos grab their aprons and head over to their stations to see what awaits them for the first Mystery Box Challenge. It’s an empty hamburger bun! Serious question: Is an empty hamburger bun one of the saddest images in the world? Go play a slideshow of empty hamburger buns set to Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Are you crying yet, or are you a robot?
Each chef will have one hour to make a signature burger and side. They have the whole MasterChef pantry at their disposal, and the winner of this challenge will receive a big advantage for the elimination challenge. The judges want the kids to use their dishes to show off a little about who they are and where they come from. This hamburger challenge is all about personality.
The judges call three kids and their burgers up to the front of the room:
Avery, 9, Baton Rouge, LA
Sportsman’s Paradise Burger (with coleslaw, creole spread, and sweet potato chips)
Avery — excuse me, Hurricane Avery — is just a girl from the bayou, and she’s thrilled to be called first. You should be, girl! The judges love the slaw, and although Gordon thinks the burger is incredibly well-seasoned, the bun’s too soggy. Graham thinks the ratio of pork to venison in the patty is a little off. But props to you, Avery, for even knowing what venison is. You’re ahead of the game.
Zac, 12, Orlando, FL
Chuck and Sirloin Cheese Burger (with panko-crusted onion rings)
Zac here is adorable, has excelled in cooking after only a year and a half, and is a ranked junior tennis player. Like, we get it Zac, you’re good at everything. Stop rubbing it in! Just kidding: You’re so cute; go after all the goals. Gordon likes that Zac kept his burger classic and that he concentrated on bread choice and temperature, but he would’ve liked crispier onion rings. Christina thinks the burger looks great but needs a little more pizzazz in the seasoning department.
Kya, 8, San Marino, CA
Wagyu Burger (with apple fries)
Kya is the youngest chef in the competition and also, arguably, the cutest. She’s only eight, but she has the refined palate of a 52-year old Upper East Side dame — the girl makes a wagyu burger, for chrissakes! I had to look up how to spell wagyu three times! Both Gordon and Graham love the burger, and Gordon applauds the flavor combo she built by using two types of cheeses. The only criticism: Although the apple fries are inventive, they could use a bit more cooking.
In the end, the first Mystery Box Challenge goes to Kya, even though her side was “apple fries,” which is an affront to fries everywhere. We’ll let it slide, I GUESS. Kya wins immunity from the elimination challenge and gets to choose one other contestant to join her in the Balcony of Safety and Delicious Cakes to watch the other kids battle to stay in the competition. She chooses Vivian, and we’re all reminded that MasterChef Junior should be, first and foremost, about friendship. But also about defeating your peers so that you can win $100,000. But mostly friendship.
NEXT: An extra-sweet elimination challenge
THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
Kya also gets to reveal the Elimination Challenge ingredient to the other kids via a Looney Tunes-esque TNT box. She pushes down on the lever, and a shower of marshmallows rains down. The kids — and Gordon, let’s be real — love it. Kyndall especially loves it because she’s obsessed with sweets and desserts and points out that “candy saves your life.” You’re not wrong, Kyndall.
Our tiny chefs have one hour to make a fabulous dessert that highlights marshmallows. The judges scour the room to make sure the kids are using the marshmallows within their dishes, and not just tossing some on top, while Kya and Vivian cheer on their fellow contestants from marshmallow heaven. Throughout this entire hour, the kids are really supportive of one another, and it almost makes you want to forgo any type of elimination — almost. This is America, people! If we’re not forcing our children to crush each other’s dreams in healthy competition, then what are we even doing here?
Addison, 9, River Forest, IL
Chocolate-Marshmallow Cupcake (with cereal and ganache)
Addison becomes one of my favorite contestants the moment she starts saying things like “Kya is eight, and a really good influence for young home cooks.” I love Addison and her simple dream of owning a Chicago bakery that combines her love of desserts with her love of baseball, called “Batter Up Bakery.” Gordon doesn’t love the use of decorative flowers (use all the color and flowers you want, Addison — you do you!) but is wowed by the perfect consistency of the cupcake. He thinks Addison may give Christina a run for her money.
Sam, 10, Charleston, SC
Whoopie Pie (with raspberry and marshmallow cream and chocolate cookie batter)
Rock star Sam and his sweet mohawk makes whoopie pies because his grandfather taught him the recipe. Be still my heart! Not only is the sentiment lovely, but the whoopie pies are a hit with the judges. Graham loves the contrast between the filling and the cookie and thinks the presentation was spot on. They’re also all impressed with his mohawk. Um, duh.
Jesse, 11, New York, NY
Marshmallow Churro (with toasted marshmallow whipped cream)
Jesse is, admittedly, not much of a baker. He does, however, find marshmallows to be “pillows of yumminess,” so I think he’ll be just fine in this challenge. Christina agrees. His churros have the perfect texture (crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, you know the one). Jesse and Christina are on the same wavelength, dessert-wise. Can I be on that wavelength? Because seriously, those churros need to be in my mouth ASAP.
Alexander, 10, Phoenix, AZ
Marshmallow Pie (with bananas and graham cracker crust)
Oh, Alexander! I had such high hopes for you. The dude rocks a bandana with such fierceness that even Gordon has to get in on the fun. The judge helps him with his overflowing raspberry sauce, and then they work on some karate moves together. It is, quite frankly, adorable. Sadly, Alexander spends too much time talking up his orange belt status and not enough time plating his marshmallow pie. When he’s called up to see Christina, even he knows his presentation is a disaster. The first tears of the season! Christina tries to find a silver lining and praises him for a dish that “celebrated marshmallows,” but she’s not fooling anyone.
Ian, 8, Beverly Shores, IN
Apple Crostata (with toasted marshmallows)
“I swear to god, I’m gonna pull this off.” Whoa, Ian, let’s take the intensity level down a notch, okay? We’re only talking marshmallows here. Save that kind of attitude for deboning a duck or something. Ian also arrives to the judging table already defeated. He knows his marshmallows are more burnt than toasted, and he couldn’t even use his whipped cream because it “turned into vomit.” Gordon is a little bummed that Ian only used his marshmallows for a garnish, rather than incorporating them into the crostata, and thinks that the time factor is what did him in this round.
Kade, 9, Morgan City, LA
Banana Split (with sweet potato biscuits and marshmallow gravy)
Kade attempts to build a dish that incorporates both sweet and savory elements, but he may be in over his head. While using a blowtorch on his ‘mallows, he sets them on fire. Kade must be my kitchen soul mate, because as his dessert goes up in flames he merely looks around confused and asks no one in particular, “Um, should I blow on it?” It is hilarious and scary, as most things are when 9 year olds are holding blowtorches. Gordon wishes Kade had started over once his marshmallows and chocolate burned, but there are no do-overs in this kitchen, son!
Though all of the kid-testants made a valiant, marshmallow-filled effort, Kade and Alexander are sent packing. Both boys are disheartened, but Kade is comforted by the fact that he’ll have friends from this until he’s 50 (then he’s straight-up ditching them), and Alexander seems content enough with his white apron and schoolyard bragging rights. On their way out, one of the kids yells, “Never stop cooking!” and I sincerely hope that when all of these kids are of age, they go out and get that tattooed on their forearms. That’s a lesson that goes beyond the kitchen: That’s a lesson for life.
What do you guys think of the season 4 contestants? Any early favorites? Who else is excited (and terrified) to watch children shuck some scallops next week?