MasterChef Junior: The Race to the Finish


In this review of MasterChef Junior, we finally pare down to just three finalists. With such strong contenders, who will be sent home in the semi-final?

As no one went home last week’s MasterChef Junior episode, our final six enter the kitchen once again. Before the end of the episode, half of them will go home. But before then, they need to face their final mystery box challenge.

When they lift their boxes, instead of ingredients, they each find a sealed letter. Each child reads a heart-felt letter of support from home. Using home and family as inspiration, they will each make a dish of their choice. They will have five minutes of unrestricted shopping and then an hour to cook.

While in the pantry, the pantry doors are shut and I wonder if that is normal, or if that was a big heads-up to the kids to expect a surprise. As they exit, they are greeted by family at their station. After a few moments of reunion, the families go to the balcony to observe.

On Ramsay’s shows, he often deploys the family visit. With the adults, I buy into the tearful reunions after being separated. But as MasterChef Junior involves children, are they really separated from their families? Do they not have a parent nearby or at least regular contact with their parents? I’m curious from a logistics perspective how emotional these reunions really are.

The kids, surely feeling pressure from having family watch them, also have the added pressure of knowing that the best dish goes directly to the finale. All the same, I see no obvious problems or warning signs.

As there is a big reward at stake, all the dishes will be judged. Malia is up first with her salmon topped with lemon pesto and wrapped in filo dough. This is really creative and risky, given that the filo hides the fish so she can’t inspect the doneness. She also created a beurre blanc sauce, carrots and turnips. The judges have nothing but praise for her elegant and daring dish.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestant Malia and host/judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

Sadie, ever sophisticated, has made olive oil poached halibut with a deep-fried squash blossom stuffed with goat cheese. She has also made a spring pea puree and frisee salad with a charred lemon vinaigrette.  The only complaint Gordon has is that the goat cheese does not pare well with the delicate flavor of the fish.

Reid stays true to his roots by making fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, English peas and fried parsley. His chicken is crispy, golden brown, and well-seasoned. Aaron wishes for fluffier mashed potatoes.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestant Reid and host / judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

Ivy has made one of my favorite comfort foods- veal schnitzel. She accompanies it with warm German potato salad and vegetable salad. I admit, I was wondering how this was family inspired as she is from Georgia. Ivy explains that her dad is German and that she lived in Germany for seven years. For being so young, all of these kids have surprising depths. Her meal is clearly delicious with the only request being a thinner slice on the tomatoes.

Che has made pan-seared red snapper with black bean puree, polenta croutons, baby squash and herb sauce. The squash are for his mom as she grows them. The bean puree is for his brother as he makes it for him. The polenta is for his dad, who was Italian. He’s just hoping it all goes together as it does sound like a weird combo. His dish is universally praised with crispy yet moist fish and polenta that is creamy inside.

Aaron goes last. Inspired by his grandma making Ethiopian dishes which always brought the family together, he makes Ethiopian lamb loin with injera, sautéed spinach and yogurt sauce. Injera is a soft, spongy flatbread that is good for scooping up other foods. His lamb is cooked perfectly and well-spiced. The only request is for more injera.

Che earns the coveted finale apron for his snapper. Gordon tells him it is the best dish he’s cooked in the competition so far. This huge reward isn’t all though, as Che will be a deciding factor in the elimination challenge.

Judge Aaron wheels in a table set with five boxes. Gordon tells us that all the boxes contain something very similar, often eaten raw, all have flesh and all are fairly common. Of course, each box contains a fruit. Che will decide who cooks with which fruit. First, Gordon asks each kid what they want.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: Contestant Che in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

Malia, Sadie and Ivy all want cherries. Reid wants peaches and Aaron wants pineapple. Che decides to give each one something that is less familiar to really test them. He gives cherries to Aaron. He gives Reid a mango. Reid admits he has never eaten one. He gives pineapple to Sadie, seeing her as his biggest competition. Pineapple is notorious for bringing down cooks in all sorts of competitions as it is so hard to balance with other flavors. He gives pears to Ivy rather than letting a Georgia girl have peaches. Peaches go to Malia.

The cook goes well but I do have a couple of red flags. I worry about Reid as he makes a cake with an unknown ingredient, given that he has not baked much in the competition. I also worry about Aaron when he explains that he is only cooking one duck breast as he is confident it is cooked perfectly.

Judging begins with Sadie’s pineapple upside down cake with caramelized, bruleed, and grilled pineapple. Aaron finds the dish too sweet. Christina thinks it needs some fat, like whipped cream.

Ivy is up next with a blue cheese crusted pork chop with sautéed cabbage, caramelized pears and pear gastrique.  Knowing that her pork chop must be cooked perfectly, Ivy covers her eyes as Gordon slices. It is cooked perfectly, still moist, a real feat with pork chops. Gordon thinks it is one of the best dishes she has cooked.

Reid has made spiced mango rum cake with passionfruit-mango puree. I admire his daring, going all in on things outside his comfort zone. However, Aaron feels the cake is undercooked.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: Contestant Reid in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

Malia has also made dessert. Her peaches and cream with buttermilk biscuits, candied macadamia nuts and orange blossom whipped cream sounds and looks amazing. She has caramelized her peaches in butter, sugar and sauterne sweet wine. How she even thinks to do this at eleven years old boggles my mind. She has also coated the tops of her biscuits with heavy cream and sugar for a crispy top.  Her dish receives high praise, with Gordon just wanting more peaches.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestant Malia and judge Aarón Sánchez in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

Aaron brings up the final dish with his sautéed duck, fregula (a type of pasta) mixed with dried cherries and chive flowers, pickled cherries and cherry sauce. Sadly, his duck breast is under-cooked and Gordon tells him this dish is good, but not his best.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestant Aaron with judge Christina Tosi in the “Junior Edition: The Semi-Final” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, May 28 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX

As the kids all engage in a group hug and whispers of support, the judges deliberate. Joining Che in the finale are Ivy and Malia, both with nearly perfect dishes. Sadly, that means Aaron, Reid and Sadie are all out.

Gordon speaks to each one in turn. He calls Sadie the princess of pastry, and she assures us she will open her French bistro/cat café, which I will one hundred percent visit. Gordon tells Reid that he is super talented and asks Reid to teach him how to catch a proper catfish. He tells Aaron that he is funny, witty, charming and can have a career in anything he wants given his drive.

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Next week, we will have a new MasterChef Junior champion. The top three are all crazy talented and sophisticated beyond their years, so I can’t wait to see what they produce.