MasterChef Junior review: The Best Little Restaurant in LA


In this review of MasterChef, we see the final six put under the enormous pressure of staffing an actual kitchen for dinner service. Will this be a dream or a nightmare for our aspiring chefs?

As a veteran recapper of Hell’s Kitchen, this episode was a delight to watch because it was like a miniature Hell’s Kitchen. Let me explain.

The MasterChef Junior episode begins with the judges explaining the challenge. There will be no pressure test. The entire day rests on the top six’s ability on the line at a restaurant. While I could not have handled this at eight to twelve, I am again amazed at how advanced these kids are.

Ivy tells us, “my Dad works for an online reservation company so I’ve seen a lot of restaurant kitchens and I kind of know that is an intense environment.” This could easily be a line from the adult version of MasterChef.

The judges select the two teams for the challenge using some mysterious algorithm that they don’t reveal. Red team will be Sadie, Aaron, and Malia with Sadie as team captain. Blue team will be Che, Ivy, and Reid, with Reid as team captain.

We haven’t seen a lot of Sadie after those first couple of episodes, though she is clearly strong in the kitchen, so maybe they wanted to give her a chance to shine. I am unclear why they would pick Reid who, despite his height, is just eight years old. With all the other eight year olds eliminated, he is the youngest cook left and also easily overwhelmed.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestants Ivy, Reid and Che in the “Junior Edition: Restaurant Takeover” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Patrick Wymore / FOX

The kids load into a limo, which in this case is a fancy Mercedes van, and drink sparkling cider. This brings back memories of my baby sister’s eighth birthday when I had to ride in the foot well of an over-stuffed limo while pouring out sparkling cider for the kids, only for them to tell me they didn’t like the cider. Trying to pour cider back into the bottle at the bottom of a bumpy limo is not easy.

I am definitely prejudiced as a Georgia resident, but I love the big personalities of our Georgia kids- Aaron, Ivy and Reid. All the same, when Reid sees the limo and tells us that he usually takes tractors to school, I am skeptical. This episode really plays up his “country boy in the big city” storyline.

The limo arrives at Melisse, a two Michelin star LA restaurant helmed by Josiah Citrin who trained in France and worked under Wolfgang Puck. Reminiscent of the top chefs getting coveted black jackets on Hell’s Kitchen, the mini-chefs are awarded chef coats to wear under their aprons while in the kitchen. Aaron tells us that “this jacket makes me feel so much different, like two Michelin starry.”

Josiah enters the kitchen to train the kids on the menu, which features two appetizers and two entrees. Appetizers include Santa Barbara spot prawns with a medley of spring vegetables, nasturtium flowers, and prawn stock. The second appetizer is pan-seared halibut crusted in zucchini flower for a beautiful, striped presentation. This is served with chanterelle mushrooms and a brown butter, chardonnay sauce.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: in the “Junior Edition: Restaurant Takeover” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Patrick Wymore / FOX

For entrees, we have a filet of beef with porcini mushrooms, glazed carrots and charred leek puree. The second entrée choice is truffle crusted lamb with French green lentils, artichokes, truffle puree and lamb jus. Gordon asks about the cost of truffles ($800 per pound) and notes that the squeeze bottle of puree the kids will use is worth $1600. No pressure.

After their demo, Gordon tells the kids that the restaurant is fully booked with guests who do not know that the kids are in the kitchen. They will need to serve the restaurant as well as Chef Citrin. Gordon will expedite.

They are given forty minutes to prep so each team goes to their side of the kitchen (just like Hell’s Kitchen). Immediately, Sadie begins assigning stations, checking with her team to be sure they are comfortable with their assignment. She exhibits confidence but consideration and seems to be in her element. Malia will work on prawns, Aaron on halibut, and Sadie as floater and plater.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestants Che, Ivy, Sadie and Aaron in the “Junior Edition: Restaurant Takeover” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Patrick Wymore / FOX

Over on the blue team, Reid seems very confused. He stutters along as he attempts to work out stations, asking for help from Che. For a second, I think he has forgotten what they are cooking, but then it becomes apparent that he can’t remember what the items are called. He especially struggles with remembering the word “prawn.”

They settle on Che on halibut, Ivy on prawns, and Reid on plating. He then admits to his team that he is really nervous, which does not bode well.

As they prep, Sadie checks on her team members, making sure that prep is running smoothly. Reid communicates less, which leads to less communication on his team overall. The judges comment that Sadie is a consistent, smart cook with an elevated, elegant palate.

Of Reid they say he is very enthusiastic and energetic but that he gets overwhelmed sometimes. They comment that, if he gets flustered, he gets backed up, but he counters his lack of experience with courage and hard work. All the same, this seems like a David and Goliath story with Sadie’s confidence and comfort in fine dining against Reid’s country boy background.

The orders start to come in and Gordon begins to call them as he would in any restaurant (ie: Hell’s Kitchen). He calls one table, two, three, more, all in quick succession. Soon there are many tickets hanging on the pass and mini confused faces, trying to figure out how much of everything to make. Ivy tells us, “I thought we were pretty ready for the service physically. Mentally, we are not. We are kinda freaking out.”

Understandably, both teams struggle to find their groove. On Sadie’s team, she is calling for times like an old pro but Aaron is not responding. He is also not hustling so they are falling behind.

At one point, in a classic Hell’s Kitchen maneuver, Gordon calls the whole team over to look at undercooked prawns. Unlike Hell’s Kitchen, he encourages them. “Come on, red team. I know you can do better than this.”

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: Host/chef Gordon Ramsay (R) with contestants in the “Junior Edition: Restaurant Takeover” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Patrick Wymore / FOX

Over on Reid’s team, he continues to struggle to remember the word prawn and, in general, communication is lacking on the team. At one point, Reid burns himself. “I’m just a southern boy that likes to grill out with my dad. I’ve never cooked something this fancy before,” he tells us.

Before appetizer service ends, both teams send their dishes to Chef Citrin. He is impressed with the prawns from both teams, only noting that the red team’s shrimp is overcooked (he notes how curled they have become as shrimp curl more tightly the more they cook).

What is interesting is that Gordon as just berated the red team for undercooked prawns and had Malia put them back in the pan. So either she has overcooked that batch or is now over-compensating for the one undercooked batch.

The blue team’s prawn dish is good except for a need for more sauce. Cut to Gordon telling Reid, “gently! Gently!” as he attempts to plate the sauce. Has Gordon’s direction actually led to the lack of sauce on the plate?

As for the halibut, the blue team gets rave reviews, especially as their zucchini flower has stayed in place. The red team has snagged the flower with the spatula, marring the appearance.

Out in the dining room, Christina is asking for the diner’s opinions of red and blue. One guest tells us he “would absolutely pay money for a dish like this at a two Michelin star restaurant.”

So, while they may not know there are kids in the kitchen, they certainly know they are witnessing a competition. I wonder if they don’t also figure out the guest cooks are kids when the kids respond to Gordon with a very loud, “yes, Chef!” Surely the diners can hear that yell?

It is time to move on to entrees. Like before, Sadie will remain on plating. Aaron is cooking lamb and Malia is cooking beef. Over on Reid’s team, I am confused by their work assignments. Reid seems to be cooking beef and Ivy is cooking lamb. I guess Che is on plating? An executive chef should really stay on quality control as Sadie is doing.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestants Aaron, Malia, Sadie, Che and Reid in the “Junior Edition: Restaurant Takeover” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 21 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Patrick Wymore / FOX

Reid, who is skilled at cooking red meat, stumbles right away. He starts his filets in a dry pan but was supposed to use oil. I don’t typically use oil for cooking steak as it will release when it has a nice crust on it. Indeed, as Gordon holds the pan upside down to show the steak sticking, it falls from the pan as it has developed a nice crust. Perhaps the oil is more for the basting, to help the butter to not burn?

Reid is completely thrown by the basting of the meat. The butter spatters and he jumps away nervously. He then has a mini meltdown, telling everyone he didn’t baste right and that he has burned the steak. He didn’t. He only burned the butter.

Gordon asks him what is going on and when Reid says he is nervous, Gordon tells him, “I’m nervous as well. But I thought having you tonight as the captain was going to be the best thing about the blue team.” He then demonstrates basting for Reid again, who starts to calm down.

Their troubles aren’t over yet, though, as the team’s lack of communication continues. Ivy is just cooking away in a bubble, firing all the lamb she hears and then cutting it. The issue is that she is not cooking for each table and not coordinating with the rest of the table’s dishes. Ivy quickly corrects herself once Gordon points it out, and Reid moves Che onto beef so he can return to plating. From there, the blue team hits its stride.

Over on Sadie’s team, Aaron is on lamb but is busy cooking sides and not cooking lamb. This delays all the orders as they wait on lamb. He then cuts the lamb poorly, leaving the saddest little chops with very little meat.

Meanwhile, Malia is undercooking the beef and Sadie is rushing so the plating is not good. As Gordon calls them over for another inspection of flawed cooking, I hear a little of his Hell’s Kitchen edge in his voice. After some mild berating, they too find their groove with Sadie communicating and checking everything and Malia learning to tell the doneness of beef by feel.

Chef Citrin gets his sample dishes and is very impressed. He loves the blue team’s beef and only wishes for more caramelization on the mushrooms. He seems less impressed with how they have cut their lamb, but otherwise loves everything. For red, he has nothing but praise. He tells Christina, “I’ve got guys in my kitchen who can’t cook it like this every day.”

The diners all fill out comment cards and then get to meet the little chefs. They seem suitable shocked to see who cooked their dinner. They are allowed to ask the kids questions. One asks how the kids feel about opening their own restaurant. When Malia says that the heat and stress of the kitchen worries her, Aaron teases, “let me get this right. You want to open a restaurant with no stress and no cooking?”

Another guest asks for one word to describe what it is like cooking for Gordon Ramsay in a real kitchen. Ivy answers, “terrifying.” Finally, a guest asks what Gordon’s next job should be. Reid answers, “President of the United States. You got the hair.”

The judges seem about to announce the winning team to the restaurant. Gordon tells us that one team is safe and “that team is….going to be decided back in the MasterChef kitchen.”

The next day, the kids arrive at the kitchen, anxious to hear the verdict. Gordon says, “the winning team in the MasterChef Junior restaurant takeover is….” and then turns away to confer with the other judges. They are really dragging out the suspense, which is when I suspect they will not eliminate anyone.

And that is just what happens. Gordon tells them, “for the first time in history, we’ve never ever seen a dish returned to the kitchen.” The guests, Chef, and judges are all so impressed that everyone will stay to fight the next battle.

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So, would you go to a MasterChef Junior restaurant? I certainly would, especially with an open kitchen where I could watch them cook! I am so impressed by these young chefs and can’t wait to see what they do next.