MasterChef Junior Finale: A new champion is crowned


In this review of MasterChef Junior, we watch our top three battle it out in the kitchen arena with three courses. Who is your pick to win it all?

From hundreds of auditions to twenty four aprons, we are finally down to just three competitors in the MasterChef Junior finale. Che, a twelve-year-old from New York, has showcased his Italian roots and the cooking fundamentals his father taught him. Malia, an eleven-year-old from California, has wowed the judges with her sophisticated Japanese flavors and techniques.  Ivy, an eleven-year-old from Georgia, has a spunky, tenacious personality and cooking to match.

As per usual, the arena is full of the eliminated competitors as well as family and friends to cheer the finalists to victory. Rhashad points out that Ivy has never been in the bottom three. Aaron is rooting for Malia as she has won the most challenges.

Each family gets a chance to brag on their kid. I especially love Malia’s mom. She says, “we call her the ‘pitbull’ at home and she just came out like a feisty little determined thing. Whatever she puts her mind to, she does.”

All three cooks will have a real challenge to win the $100,000, trophy and title. They must beat the clock, having just ten minutes to shop for all three dishes, and sixty minutes for each course. They must overcome the pressure of being in the finale with their families watching overhead. They must cook everything perfectly to create three identical plates, and they must please the palates of three judges.

The competition begins and they all race to the pantry. Shopping in that small amount of time is a real challenge, but no one seems to forget anything. The appetizer round begins. All three have decided to do a seafood protein and to highlight their familial heritage. Malia is making miso-marinated black cod with freshly made soba noodles, pickled cucumber, and a soy quail egg.

Che is making spot prawns and cuttlefish with Calabrian chile butter polenta, lemon vinaigrette, and a parmesan crisp. Ivy is creating a pan-seared red snapper with tropical salsa, avocado crema, and tostones.

Each dish has possible pitfalls. Gordon worries that Malia will struggle in making her noodles more than in cooking her fish. Gordon also thinks soba noodles do not belong with cod. Ivy needs to be sure her dish has balance as she has a lot of sweet components in her salsa and tostones. Gordon also worries that her dish is just too simple compared to the other two. Che has selected two proteins that are notoriously hard to cook properly. He is also cooking a lot of components, and each is being cooked separately so he literally has a lot of pans in the fire.

Ivy tells us she is celebrating her mom’s family in her appetizer and dessert and her dad’s family in her entrée. So she will have a Caribbean beginning and end with a more German middle. I get where she is coming from, but the trajectory does not make sense. It just seems weird to start and finish with tropical flavors but to have hearty, earthy flavors in the middle.

Che is sticking with his Italian heritage and tells us he is making things he likes to eat. Malia will be putting a Japanese-Californian twist on all her dishes. I appreciate the consistent theme of Che and Malia’s meal.

As the clock ticks down, Malia struggles to peel her tiny quail eggs without breaking them. At two minutes left, Ivy hasn’t begun plating and seems in no hurry. In the end, they all manage to create three plates with all their components.

Malia is up for judging first. Gordon tells her she just spent an hour putting two and a half items on a plate- a piece of cod, a forkful of noodles and a half a quail egg. He also questions her decision to blowtorch her cod. She baked the cod and then blowtorched the top for color.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Judge Aarón Sánchez and contestant Malia in the “Junior Edition: The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, June 4 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX.

The judges find her cod to be cooked perfectly and they like the richness and saltiness of the egg. The miso has made things a little too sweet, so the judges want acid. Also, she did struggle a little with her noodles which came out too thin and short to properly hold the dressing.

Che presents next. His plates are beautiful with lots of color. The judges absolutely love his prawns and cuttlefish and are impressed that he cooked them both perfectly. Their only complaints are that he could have added more broth to his polenta for a creamier texture, he has a bit too much polenta on the plate, and Aaron in general questions cheese with shellfish. Gordon, on the other hand, likes the pairing of the salty fish with the salty cheese.

Ivy presents last. She has added lemon juice, jalapeno, and raw red onion to her salsa which has managed to balance the sweetness. Her fish is cooked beautifully but, in putting the salsa on top, she has ruined the crispy skin.

The kids leave the dining room so the judges can recap. To me, it seems clear that Che has taken this first round. Though they comment again that there is too much polenta, they also call his dish show stopping. I think Malia’s dish sits at second. Her cod is cooked perfectly but she is missing acidity and her soba noodles are too short. I think Ivy’s dish sits at third for its simplicity and seeming lack of ambition, as well as the soggy snapper skin.

The kids now have another sixty minutes to cook entrees. Ivy is making glazed hanger steak with butternut squash two ways, brussels sprouts and an herb puree. She has set herself the challenge of elevating hanger steak to fine dining. Aaron worries about the hanger steak, too, but more because it is challenging to cook. It needs to be seared aggressively and then allowed to rest or it can basically be leather.

Malia doesn’t need to worry about elevating her pan-seared filet mignon with fried shishito peppers, dashi-braised daikon, and a yuzu soy steak sauce. Her challenge will be in cooking her filet mignon to medium rare. Gordon asks her, “why have you gone for the most expensive protein anywhere in the world?” She replies, “because it’s the MasterChef kitchen…I didn’t have to buy it.” Her plan for the filet is to use a cast iron pan to sear it and then to cook it in the oven for six minutes. She is also making four filets so that she has an extra, just in case. He asks her if she ever gets flustered and she says, “well, I never get flustered like you but…”

Che is making veal saltimbocca with fingerling potatoes, spring pea and fiddlehead fern ragout, morels, and a mushroom jus. Che worries about cooking his veal since it is wrapped in prosciutto which makes it hard to tell if it is done. Gordon agrees about the challenge as you need to have the prosciutto crispy and the veal cooked but juicy.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Host/judge Gordon Ramsay with contestant Che in the “Junior Edition: The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, June 4 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX.

Aaron goes to talk to Che but it is clear he is very distracted. Long pauses punctuate his answers as he tries to pay attention to multiple pans while also responding to Aaron. As Aaron peppers him with concerns- how will you tell when the veal is cooked, are you concerned it will be too salty, have you worked with fiddleheads before- I just want Aaron to go away and let Che focus. Che ends up burning his hand before Aaron finally leaves him to get on with it.

Nearly at the end of time, Ivy has neglected her sauce and it has dried out to a papery consistency. She starts again with five minutes on the clock. All the same, they all complete their plates for presentation.

Malia is again up first for judging. Her yuzu soy sauce is universally loved as are her shishito peppers. However, her steak is a little too rare, her daikon is watery and under-seasoned, and Gordon wishes she hadn’t used miso in both her appetizer and her entrée.

Che presents his veal. In general, the judges love the dish. The veal saltimbocca is cooked perfectly. The seasoning is balanced, even with the salty prosciutto. His ragout is great though Christina finds a few peas that have gone a little brown-gray. The only real request is that he would have added more butter to his sauce and cooked it down a bit more.

Ivy presents her hanger steak next and the judges are impressed by the perfect cook. Her herb puree is flavorful and creamy. Gordon particularly enjoys her more European style comfort dish, calling it bloody delicious. Aaron wishes her butternut squash was elevated with seasoning- chili or cinnamon. Christina wishes for more acidity. Gordon mentions that she has three wet items on her plate with her herb puree, sauce, and butternut squash, which he thinks throws off the balance.

After this judging, Che still seems to be clearly on top with Malia and Ivy vying for spot two.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestant Che with judge Christina Tosi in the “Junior Edition: The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, June 4 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX.

Finally, the kids make dessert- their last dishes in the MasterChef kitchen. Malia is making a black sesame panna cotta with a mixed berry coulis, raspberry cream and a sesame tuile. I am worried about panna cotta which is notoriously hard to get to set just right, and I wonder how sesame will work in a dessert. Aaron is worried too as he thinks she has pushed too far creatively with superfluous garnishes.

She is pouring liquid nitrogen over fresh raspberries and then breaking them up to create “raspberry pearls.” When asked where she comes up with these ideas, she tells us, “I don’t know. My brain?”

Che is making chocolate olive oil cake with orange glaze, ricotta cream, and a pistachio tuile. Che is gluten free, so he is using almond flour in his cake. Aaron is excited about the nutty flavor and texture that should provide. Che is also making his own fresh ricotta to put in his whipped cream. He is hoping the ricotta will help tone down the sweetness of the dessert.

Ivy is making butterscotch pots de crème with smoked, salted caramel sauce, pine nut brittle and whipped crème fraiche. I had been expecting another Caribbean dessert as she mentioned the dessert shared inspiration with her appetizer, so I am a little surprised by the more earthy flavors she has chosen. The judges worry about Ivy making her caramel correctly and not scrambling her custard.

As the final moments wind down, Malia struggles to get her panna cottas unmolded, but she pulls it off. Her presentation is beautiful; Gordon says it looks like the front cover of a pastry chef’s cookbook. Her panna cotta is deemed flawless in execution with an exotic flavor.

Che is up next, with a cake so perfect that Christina wants the recipe. She does find his pistachio tuile to be too clunky and thick. Aaron loves the ricotta in the whipped cream but wishes for less orange zest. Gordon loves the orange zest and marvels that the cake is flourless.

Finally, Ivy presents her pots de crème. She instructs the judges to use their spoon to crack through the brittle resting on top. Christina loves the fun of this. Gordon remarks that her crème is smooth and creamy but too sweet.

It seems to me that Malia won the dessert round, with Che second and Ivy third.

MASTERCHEF JUNIOR: L-R: Contestants Ivy, Che and Malia in the “Junior Edition: The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Tuesday, June 4 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne / FOX.

The judges deliberate, reminding us of minor flaws in each round. I am not surprised when, with great fanfare and confetti, they announce Che as our next MasterChef Junior champion!

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Congratulations to all three contestants! They did an amazing job under high pressure and have great things in store for them! If you are sad to see MasterChef Junior end, never fret as MasterChef is just beginning.