MasterChef Junior recap: Happy Birthday
A tower made of cream puffs and dreams proves to be a game-changing challenge.
We’re down to the Top 16 on MasterChef Junior, and as a special treat, the kids are allowed to go outside! Yes, kids — that’s fresh air you’re breathing! Soon you’ll be tossed back in the dungeon that is the MasterChef kitchen, so drink it up while you can.
Alas, this field trip is not one for pleasure, but for business. They’re there to cook, y’all! More specifically, they’re there to cater a carnival-themed birthday party for 48 kids ranging in ages from 8 to 13. Our remaining cooks will be split into two teams of eight, each tasked with making three menu items: fish tacos, chicken wings, and a turkey burger. The party guests will try each item side-by-side and vote for whichever team they think did it better. The winning team gets immunity, and the losing team will head back to the kitchen to compete in the first MasterChef Junior Pressure Test. The kids look terrified about this prospect; I hope the threat of a very technical challenge inspires more than a few of the kids to rise to the occasion (I’m looking at you, Ian).
THE TEAM CHALLENGE
Since Addison and Nate were the top two chefs in last week’s smelly food challenge, they’re team captains and they get to hand-select their teams as if this were gym class. I’d bet 75 percent of these kids got into cooking in order to get out of gym, so I’m not sure what kind of emotional toll this is going to take on these little ones.
Our girl Addison, lover of bouncy houses, winner of my heart, picks Kya (natch), Mia, Kaitlyn, Corey, Zac, Kamily, and Tae-Ho for the Blue Team. How Tae-Ho is one of the last chefs selected, I’ll never know. Isn’t this kid a ringer? Joining Captain Nate on the Red Team are Derek, Sam, JJ, Amaya, Jesse, Avery, and Ian.
The two teams are given one hour to cook their three dishes and 40 minutes to serve to guests — which, by the way, include both Gordon’s and Graham’s children, who are all as cute as you would imagine. Cooking for the regular party guests was daunting enough, but throwing these VIPs into the mix (who aren’t voting, but still), ups the intensity. Some players deal with it better than others.
The Red Team (Nate, Derek, Sam, JJ, Amaya, Jesse, Avery, Ian)
Turkey Burger with Cheddar Cheese/Chicken Wings with Hoison Sauce/Fish Tacos with Pineapple Mango Salsa
Nate’s not exactly what you would call a “natural born leader.” He’s overwhelmed with the responsibility of organizing his peers. But, like, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” you know? Oh, wait, he’s 10 — I DON’T THINK HE KNOWS. His crew is snapping at one another, and some of them haven’t even been given a task to perform. However, one Gordon Ramsay pep talk later, and Nate is a whole new man. He pulls himself together enough in order to lead his team.
It’s not completely smooth from here, though. Jesse and Sam, Team Chicken Wings, have never used a fryer before and completely burn an entire batch of chicken. This mistake will cost them severely: When they run out of wings during service, they have to offer up empty baskets, which means an automatic loss of votes. The wings that the Red Team do serve, however, are a crowd-pleaser. Nate knows that “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” and in the end, feels confident with the food his team has put forth.
The Blue Team (Addison, Kya, Mia, Kaitlyn, Corey, Zac, Kamily, and Tae-Ho)
Turkey Burger with Swiss and Cheddar Cheese/Honey BBQ Chicken Wings with Sriracha Aioli/Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and Guacamole
Unlike Nate, Addison has no trouble stepping up as a captain. It doesn’t hurt that her team is completely stacked. She immediately gets the Blue Team organized by dish, and hands out jobs and instructions like a pro. She’s going for bold flavors and spice on spice on spice. But Addison needs to remember her audience — she’s cooking for kids who aren’t spending the majority of their days in the kitchen; they might be turned off by too much heat.
Never one to be subtle, Gordon flat out tells the Blue Team they need to re-do their fish once he tastes just how spicy the seasoning is. There’s one big problem: They don’t have any other fish to work with. Kaitlyn takes the lead and rinses the fish, scrapes off the spice, and coats them in a much simpler and kid-friendlier seasoning – olive oil, salt, and pepper. Later, they discover that some of their fish is still raw, and have to hand out a few empty fish taco baskets. This misstep never brings the Blue Team down though. They’re all supportive of their team captain and believe Addison will lead them to victory.
NEXT: The team challenge winner is…
Gordon and his megaphone of truth and beauty declare Addison and the Blue Team the winners of this challenge. They’ll get immunity from the Pressure Test, but more importantly, they get to celebrate with the judges in the bouncy house. It’s a prize that should be implemented in all future challenges.
Poor Nate. He feels guilty for letting his team down and attempts to give a consolation pep talk — but the kid is no Gordon Ramsay. He tells them that they “win as a team, and [they] lose as a team,” but, sorry, Nate, you’re wrong. You lose and now you all have to compete against one another in a Pressure Test wherein two of you will be sent home. So much for team spirit!
THE PRESSURE TEST
The kids are herded back into the MasterChef kitchen, and Addison’s team is sent directly up to the Balcony of Safety. Honestly though, they stopped serving the winners food up there two weeks ago, so like, is immunity even worth it these days?
Nate’s team stays behind to learn what cooking challenge awaits them. Gordon snaps his fingers and reveals that the chefs will have to conquer the croquembouche! It is a glorious tower of profiteroles, bound together with caramel to form a giant cone of deliciousness. In short, it’s the stuff of which dreams are made.
Amaya and Derek have tackled croquembouche before, so they’re both feeling confident that they can pull this off. But this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, Nate has never even tasted croquembouche before, insisting that “back in Philly, we’re all cheesesteaks and pleasure. We don’t have croquembouche.” I feel bad for Nate, but mostly I’m wondering how I can get the ball rolling on making “cheesesteaks and pleasure” the new Philly slogan. It’s catchy and would look great on a T-shirt.
After 90 minutes of baking dough, filling cream puffs, and in some cases, burning caramel, each of the eight chefs must bring their tower of (mostly) goodness to the judges to see how they stack up. In the end, there’s a clear divide between the top half and bottom, and there’s also a very obvious winner: Sam.
Sam (who has wowed the judges with a dessert before) doesn’t have any desire to be a pastry chef, but his tower of profiteroles was perfection, according to the Dessert Queen herself, Christina Tosi. The cream puffs are baked perfectly, and the ratio of dough to filling is spot on. Sam and his mohawk are sent to the Balcony of Safety, and are quickly joined by Avery, Jesse, and JJ, who all served up moderately successful croquembouches.
The two most confident cooks going into this challenge, Derek and Amaya, are in the bottom, and they’re joined by Philly’s Finest, Nate, and Ian, who, surprise, surprise, has yet another near disaster in the kitchen when he burns his caramel and has to be rescued by Gordon. All four of these chefs have basically the same problem: Their technique in building the croquembouche was incorrect, and most of their profiteroles were undercooked. This was a tough challenge for all of the remaining chefs — and the judges know it.
Somehow, Ian squeaks by to safety, and he is joined by Amaya. Which means we’re saying goodbye to Nate and Derek. So, when did the MasterChef Junior kitchen relocate to Crazytown, U.S.A.? This elimination is mind-boggling. Nate and Derek were consistently at the top, but one technical slip-up and they’re sent home. Ian has great interactions with Gordon, but he has legitimately almost burned down that kitchen at least three times and we all know it. So, again, I ask: WHAT IN THE ACTUAL WHAT?
Anyone else think the wrong chefs went home tonight? Is Addison a lock to win the entire competition? And finally, how much time would you like to spend in a bouncy house with Gordon Ramsay (all answers over 10 minutes are correct)?