'MasterChef Junior' Recap: From Happy Meals to Beef Sliders with Aioli
'MasterChef Junior' Recap: From Happy Meals to Beef Sliders with Aioli
Candice Block Lombardi
Candice Block Lombardi
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
In the second episode of MasterChef Junior, the show's three judges poke fun at themselves and the rest of us muggles by asking America's top young wizards (ahem, "home cooks", but they appear to be a more highly-evolved prototype) to transform the judge's favorite childhood foods into classy restaurant fare, including Judge Joe Bastianich's gooey plate of chicken wings, Graham Elliot's American burgers, and Gordon Ramsay's fried fish sticks.

After watching all of these children cook some of the best meals I have seen in the MasterChef series, it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one who needed to branch out past the kiddie menu and PB&J when I was 8 years old, but I digress...

The top 12 young cooks, ages 8 through 13, who won last week's competition are reminded that the winner will receive the MasterChef trophy as well as $100,000. Can these children fathom the gap between that large windfall and say ... $10,000? 

For the younger ones, not really. Gordon asks, "Can you imagine how much candy you can buy with $100,000?" Gavin is excited about "100 grand"; he would take his brothers to the amusement park. Sarah would like to throw a party, but she wouldn't buy her mother anything. Only Alexander, the oldest, said he would like to attend the Culinary Institute of America. 

Mystery Box: Phone a Friend

The children stand before their mystery boxes and have one hour to cook with the ingredients inside. There is a mystery ingredient ... among a regular assortment of veggies, fruits, filet mignon, tiger shrimp, puffed pastry, and blue cheese (yes, I cooked with these foods at eight years old also! Right...). And before I fawn any more over these savants, Sarah says, "It smells like feet."

The mystery ingredient is a black tablet; each child has three minutes to Skype a friend or family member using the tablet. 

Jewels calls her family and says she'll make Great Grandma's latkas with a twist (sounds good to me!). Jack, not yet four feet tall and in his Hawaiian shirt again, calls his Italian friend Frank who owns a restaurant.  (I think Jack, who Joe calls "Hawaii Jack" now, is secretly 30 years old in a child's body -- Tom Hanks in Big in reverse.) Frank advises Jack to do something Asian with garlic basil. 

Sarah signs off with a "Skype hi five!" and they begin ... baking and sifting and mixing and frying, and I am in awe.

Gavin uses tips from mom's best friend, who suggests he work with the teriyaki and ginger soy, to make Asian style marinated steak and shrimp. Kaylen is making a rub for her fillet mignon. Molly makes Hungarian goulash to honor her background. WOW.

The judges taste the dishes during the cooking and as the children finish. They choose three standout dishes to examine further:

1. Alexander serves seared filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered ginger carrots, and spicy pureed mixed berries. The salad and steak were under the filet mignon, and Gordon suggests the salad should be on the side instead but he loves the roasted garlic in the mashed potatoes. Graham says the outside of steak beautifully seared. He sees himself in Alexander but says he was nowhere near Alexander's standards. Alexander smiles quietly... the wizard.

2. Jack cooks a Surf-and-Turf, with potato puff glazed carrots. Graham likes the sear on the steak and says the shrimp looks like a sea-monster. "Do you like carpentry? 'Cause you nailed it," says Graham. Gordon adds, "You cook like a dream. Beautifully done. You put food on the plate with finesse. You're a small young man that packs a powerful punch." Go Jack!

3. Troy made a filet mignon with a poached egg on top and root vegetable hash. Joe said it was gorgeous and liked the flavors of bitter and sweet. The steak rub had intense flavor from bay leaves. Gordon may have cooked it medium rare, rather than medium well.

Jack has the best dish of the challenge, with a beautiful sear on his steak and exceptional shrimp. He heads to the pantry to gain his advantage.

Serving up a Gourmet Kid's Meal

In the pantry, Jack is about half the height of the judges, but he wields power over his competitors. Jack is safe from elimination, and he gets to choose one dish for his competitors to cook.

Each judge holds a photo of when they were young and shares what their favorite dish was as a child. Joe's favorite at eight years old was chicken wings in a tangy sauce. (Yeah! Finally out of the twilight zone, and Joe is an internationally renowned chef!) Graham's childhood favorite was "a perfectly cooked burger," and Gordon's was fish fingers.

The children must turn one of these dishes into a refined MasterChef dish, not as we remember it from our own childhoods. Jack chooses the burgers, hoping that Alexander will overthink the task. (Jack's competitive! He does not cease to amaze.)

After a chaotic run through the pantry, the cooks have one hour. Gavin begins an Italian-style burger to impress Joe. Kaylen is making an "All Around the World" burger with Italian, American, and Mediterranean ingredients ... I see bacon!

Molly's ship begins to sink when Gordon stops by to ask about her Asian burger. Molly is making a Korean barbecue burger with kimchee, rice, soy sauce, and rice cakes. Gordon asks if it sounds good to her. Molly's face falls.

The judges start planting competitive seeds: Jack observes the other competitors from the balcony to see what they are good at, so he can use it against them later. When asked, Jack says he sees from the balcony that Sarah is in trouble. Sarah replies, "I will remember that!"

While cooking, Joe walked up to Alexander and told him that Jack thinks he'll overthink this dish. Without blinking, Alexander said all his components will go together. He then dropped his kale in a frying pan and said to Joe, "You may want to stand back." The kale pops; Joe flinches. Alexander is unbelievable.

(I hope the increased rivalry helps rather than hurts. A competitive edge may improve this show, as it is a bit saccharine. But as much as I enjoy the adult competitive drama on MasterChef, I would love for these talented, earnest children to continue to cheer for one another as they have been doing for as long as their young hearts will allow.)

The results are in:

Gordon says Alexander's beef sliders with black garlic aioli are brilliant. Alexander checks that the meat is done right by eye, because he often makes sliders at home. He included a pepper jack cheese arugula salad with black garlic aioli. Joe says he never thought of making black garlic aioli. "Take some notes here," he says to the other judges. Gordon says Alexander has star quality and a natural gift. Graham says the food world is going to be lucky to have him.

Tommy makes a giant breakfast turkey burger with American cheese, which Gordon is not happy about. The idea is good and it included bacon, fried egg, and sweet potato, but a thick amount of American cheese in the burger did not melt and the turkey is dry.

Gavin makes an Italian burger that included pork sausage, with cucumber tomato salad and balsamic vinegar. Graham says it was says very smart seasoning. Joe would sell it in any Italian restaurant. Bravo!

Sarah makes an All-American burger that was slightly overcooked, but her pineapple elevated it.

The meat in Jewel's lamb burger with caramelized onions is a little dry, but the judges like the idea.

Joe loves Kaylen's beef and pork patty, with bacon and Parmesan cheese. It's seasoned perfectly.

Molly is not proud of her Korean BBQ burger with slaw. Gordon loves her tenacity but the patty is dry, the seasoning way off balance. It's a "gallant effort."

The three standout burgers are: 

1. Gavin
2. Alexander
3. Kaylen

Jewels, Tommy, and Molly are in the bottom three. Jewels cooked just well enough to stay in the competition, but the others must go. All the kids huddle and cry. Molly says her dream is to open a restaurant, and we will see her again.

Next week's episode looks highly competitive! It's the one where Sarah yells, "Whip it! Whip it like a man!"

I'm really looking forward to that. But for now I must go find something to do that I am good at. After watching these wizards turn stones into bread and water into wine, I have finally lost all hope for myself to become a chef.

MasterChef airs Fridays at 8pm on FOX.

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(Image courtesy of FOX)

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