Because all cooking competitions should include blindfolds and grandmas
Sorry, I had just assumed that after last week’s introduction of Groovy Gordon Ramsay, MasterChef Junior was over. What could ever possibly top the visual of those luscious locks adorned with a flower crown? NOTHING. But I guess we do have a cooking competition to continue with, so there’s that.
If last week was all about teaching the kids how to cook dishes from decades past, this week is about a new generation of cooks attempting to bring their sensibilities to a restaurant full of their elders. Will food bridge this generation gap? Let’s find out.
THE MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE
The Top 12 lift their Mystery Boxes and are immediately confused: Instead of some star ingredient that they’ll have to incorporate into a dish, it’s a blindfold. Tonight’s Mystery Box Challenge will force these chefs-in-the-making to rely on their sense of taste and smell. They’ll be donning those blindfolds and then eating a dish Gordon’s made — then they’ll be asked to recreate that exact dish without ever seeing it. Although I’m never in favor of blindfolding children and handing them sharp objects, like a knife and fork, I am in favor of this challenge. It should reveal which kids really have a knack for this whole cooking thing and which are just playing at it.
Gordon’s dish is a pan-seared chicken with rosemary mashed potatoes, baby carrots, and turnips. For good measure, he tossed in some green beans with sliced almonds. Suffice it to say, there’s enough ingredients on here to trip up some of our contestants. You’d think some of the ingredients would be obvious, at least in their broadest sense. They’ll be able to make out that there are mashed potatoes there, even if they don’t nail the rosemary or mustard infusion. Everyone must know what a baby carrot tastes like, even if it is mixed with the turnips and sitting in a honey glaze. A green bean is a green bean is a green bean, right? Wrong.
Several of the kids zero in on “white meat” right away, but for some, figuring out the protein is baffling. Sam goes with steak, and I’m left wondering if this child has ever eaten before. Ever. Ian correctly selects chicken as his protein, but he is also 100 percent sure there were roasted tomatoes on his dish. There were not. Corey, however, uses a pretty savvy and Gordon-approved strategy: Torn between duck and chicken, Corey makes both proteins and then tastes them each to match what he remembers from the dish in question. Not all is lost!
After one hour, Gordon has all 12 chefs bring their dishes up to the front, so he can take a look at them next to his pan-seared chicken. Four of our kids present plates that come close enough to the original based on sight alone – but to declare a winner, the judges will need to take a little taste.
Kya, 8, San Marino, CA
Pan-Seared Chicken Breast with Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, and Carrots
This is my truth: I could watch Kya and Gordon whisper about carrots all day long. It is the cutest. Even cuter? When Kya’s chicken goes up in flames and Gordon has her stand back so he can take care of it — I mean, cute and safe. The judges are right: Kya’s dish looks almost identical to Gordon’s. She misses the mushrooms and turnips, but nails the sweetness of the honey glaze. Most importantly, every element on Kya’s dish tastes great. Gordon calls her a freak, but like, in a good way.
Corey, 12, Surprise, AZ
Baked Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, and Mushrooms
Well, Corey chose the right protein, even if he did use the incorrect cooking technique. And although he does have many of the elements of Gordon’s dish on his plate, he’s missing quite a few as well: There’s no sauce, no almonds in his green beans, and no turnips. It may not be the standout dish between the four kids, but according to Graham, it is still a delicious effort.
Ian, 8, Beverly Shores, IN
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Roasted Parsnips
Yes, Ian and his roasted tomatoes made it to the final four in this challenge. Christina explains that the judges were impressed Ian put forth a chicken very similar to Gordon’s, but what earned Ian a spot in the Top 4 was his ability to discern that there was in fact a root vegetable within the dish. Sure, he chose parsnips instead of turnips, but no one else even made it that far. Also, bonus points for the dish tasting so good. Could tonight be Ian’s comeback?
Kaitlyn, 11, Yorktown Heights, NY
Pan-Seared Chicken with Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes
After a spill in the kitchen, Kaitlyn is left with only three green beans to present as a side, but Gordon says that’s okay – there’s one for each judge. They’re surprised she misses the carrots, and overall the dish could benefit from the sauce, but everything that is on the plate is stellar.
NEXT: The master of the Mystery Box is revealed
The judges anoint Kya the winner of this Mystery Box Challenge, and name Kaitlyn a close second. The ladies don’t win immunity, but they do get an advantage in the next challenge. Tonight, the 12 chefs will be competing in a restaurant service challenge, where they’ll be split into two teams of six, and Kya and Kaitlyn will act as team captains. So, really it’s more of a curse than an advantage — semantics!
THE TEAM CHALLENGE
Kya, as the winner, has a choice: She can either have first pick in teammates, or she can have first pick in ingredients. Kya makes the smart decision and wants to select ingredients first. Out of the two crates sitting before her — one with New England ingredients, one with New Mexico ingredients — our littlest chef goes for New England, in all its seafood glory.
Kaitlyn, who actually seems okay with her New Mexico ingredient crate, gets first choice in teammates, which really just means she gets to have Addison on her team. In reality, that may be the greatest of advantages. Once the teams are settled, the kids learn they’ll be serving 31 VIP guests in just 90 minutes.
The judges attempt to keep the identity of these VIPs a secret as the chefs begin to cook, but the reveal is just too good to wait until service: Tonight, our kid cooks will be serving 31 grandmas! These fabulous ladies are here and they’re hungry. As Ian puts it, tonight just “went from VIPs to VIGs!” See what I mean about the comeback?
These grandmas, although very impressed with the amount their chefs can do at such a young age, don’t look like they’re going to go easy on the kids when it comes time for judging. There’s no room for mistakes. Unfortunately, some of the kids never get that memo.
Red Team (Kya, Avery, Sam, Corey, Jesse, Ian) – New England Ingredients
Kya and her team decide to go with a good ol’ fashioned New England clambake – but they use mussels instead of clams in order to class things up. They’ll be serving their musselbake with a cod cake, roasted corn on the cob, and a celery salad. Gordon, as always, is impressed with Kya’s exceptional palate, but Christina questions whether the youngest chef in the competition can also be a leader.
Well, Kya at least has the positive reinforcement thing down. She yells adorable things like “I believe in you!” at her teammates, as they race to plate 31 dishes. The judges, however, notice another leader on the team: Sam. He’s being extra vocal as the chefs prep. Compare this to Jesse, who sticks to his appointed job and keeps quiet. Sam must be trying to make up for that whole “chicken and steak taste the same” mix-up that happened earlier.
Another stand out on the Red Team is Avery, who, seeing poor Ian struggling with the celery salad, demands he let her help him. Although Ian tries to refuse it, he definitely needs the extra assistance. Gordon walks over and is horrified to find the kid using a mandoline to prepare the celery salad. Ian, YOU HAD ONE JOB. Avery takes command of the salad and they send Ian off to mince garlic or something else innocuous.
Celery aside, the grannies seem into the clambake. They love the broth, even if the cod cake might be a little too spicy for some of the ladies.
Blue Team (Kaitlyn, Addison, Zac, Kamilly, JJ, Amaya) – New Mexico Ingredients
Kaitlyn and Co. dig through their crate of New Mexico’s finest and come up with pork loin, served with a bean cake, corn and chorizo, avocado crema, and a tomatillo sauce. It sounds spicy and delicious. But Graham reminds them to remember who they’re cooking for – some grandmas might not want all that heat. Kaitlyn decides to stay the course though and continue with their original idea.
There are some strong personalities on the Blue Team, but in general they seem to be working well as a unit. That is, until it comes time for plating. Graham notices that their dishes have no consistency in the number of pork slices, and JJ, who is manning the pork cutting, is running low – they won’t have enough to finish all 31 plates. Kaitlyn does not respond well to stress. She kind of just starts screaming at her team (not the first time!), and it is the calm voice of Addison who keeps things moving. Yep, she was totally the advantage in this challenge.
The Blue Team re-rations their protein and gets all 31 plates to their intended grannies. Again, most of the women enjoy this dish, although some complain that the pork is a little dry. It’s bound to be a close vote.
For the most part, the grandmas are split. The only thing they can seem to agree on is how handsome Gordon Ramsay is. Grannies speak the truth, don’t you forget it! Ultimately, the votes go to Kaitlyn and the Blue Team’s New Mexico inspired pork loin. That means two members of the Red Team are going home: Jesse and Ian. Alas, Ian’s comeback was short-lived.
How is everyone feeling about our Top 10? Are they all deserving or have some sailed in under the radar? Can we amend the rules to bring Nate and Derek back? I’M STILL NOT OVER IT.