On tonight’s episode of MasterChef Junior, America’s top eight young amateur chefs make child’s play out of cooking delicious dishes from ingredients they hate (like snails, sardines, and brussel sprouts). Keeping their three-layer cakes from imploding is another story.

Game on! As Judge Gordon Ramsay says in his odd Gordon syntax: “Is everyone? Ready. For a phenomenal! Mystery box challenge.” 

The winner of the challenge will get game-changing advantage, as always.

Do you have a favorite competitor? Vote in the MasterChef Junior Smackdown!

Mystery Box Challenge…. Ewww

The children open their boxes, and launch into a chorus of, “Eww, eww, eww!” Sarah says, “This is so not gummy bears!” 

The box includes liver, kidneys, snails, brussel sprouts, sardines, olives, dates, fennel, artichokes, and blue cheese. Graham asks everyone if the box looks good. “No, Chef!” The large sardines are watching the children with their beady black eyes.

The children have 60 minutes to complete the challenge, and they are unfazed as always. Zack is making deep fried kidneys. (Really?) Troy is making a snail chowder; he says he has a sophisticated palate. Though she hates blue cheese, Dara is making a blue cheese souffle. 

Unfazed by Mystery Box Misery

Gordon admits it’s a miserable mystery box, especially for children. 

But here they are, beating, frying, mixing in a blender. Alexander’s making sticky toffee pudding. “You’re going British!” says Scotland-born Gordon. Gordon wonders how someone could make sticky toffee pudding with these ingredients, and Alexander says he is using dates and candied fennel. Gordon is very surprised. Sofia is making escargot. Gordon is even more surprised. Joe is amazed that they have perspective of global cuisine. 

Sarah is making deep fried sardines with their heads on. Gordon stops by and shows her how to flip the sprouts in the pan. He speaks to her affectionately, like a Dad. 

Gordon Leads a Prayer for the Souffle

Next, Gordon stops by Dara’s station to check on her souffle. He tells her that he prays before every souffle, he said. Then he and Dara knelt and prayed to the god of souffle that it would rise. Gordon Ramsay has found religion. After this show, maybe Gordon will cancel Hell’s Kitchen and create the “Angel’s Country Inn” family competition or something similar. Maybe not. 

Unfortunately, Dara’s souffle didn’t cook through. All three judges appear sad when Dara pulls it out of the oven. She wipes tears from her eyes.

After the 60 minutes have passed, Gordon stops by Dara’s table to give her a hint: fill the souffles in half, and they’ll cook twice as fast. He comforts Dara. This is the Gordon who I would love to have teach my future children to cook. I knew he was in there somewhere.

Judging the Mystery Boxes

  • Troy made a snail chowder with baked eggplant chips. Graham says it looks delicious, and tastes rich and creamy. He loves the eggplant chips, and he said it showed creativity and skill to use the outside of the eggplant. Joe said Troy’s chowder is properly seasoned and rich, and the herb oil gives it a good flavor. Troy says he is confident; he’s never gotten bad feedback from judges.
  • Alexander baked a sticky toffee pudding with candied fennel and fig lemon puree. After tasting it, Graham fills his spoon with caramel and writes the word “WOW” around the side of the dish. Graham says it’s phenomenal. Alexander said he used fennel because he really doesn’t like it, so he wanted to try something different. Gordon does not like the fennel either, but loves the confidence and says otherwise Alexander nailed it.
  • Sarah‘s meal wows the judges. Joe says Sarah is small in stature but large in talent. He said her dish — which included fried sardines, cabbage, brussel sprouts and fennel salad — was the most “restaurant-y” dish with Mediterranean flavors. It’s cooked perfectly: moist and sweet. But Sarah doesn’t like her own dish. She’s also is grossed out when Joe crunches the head off the sardine. Gordon wants to know where Sarah learned to cook this well: her sardines are delicious, and the brussel sprouts are fragrant. Sarah said her grandmother owns a restaurant. Sarah is the smallest, but Gordon says she’s the one to be feared.

The best dish of the night was cooked by Sarah. She is at least two heads shorter than Alexander and Troy, who leaned down to give her high fives. 

Sarah Chooses a Cake to Send Them Packing

Sarah skips into the kitchen, and all three judges skip in there with her. The judges ask who she wants to go home. Before they finish asking, she interrupts them: Alexander, and Troy. Duh!

The theme of the elimination challenge is baking. Sarah has three options to choose from to try to knock out her competitors, since she will not have to cook in the elimination round. Cupcakes are a trendy option that Joe says is still hard to get right. The second option is a layer cake, which Graham believes will be challenging and may send some top competitors home. The third option is a delicious-looking fruit tart … mmm. 

Sarah chooses and then runs up to the balcony, where the producers have left her a glass tower filled with gummy bears. This must have been planned for if-and-when Sarah would win a challenge, as she loves gummy bears. Sarah is now safe in the Top 6. 

Sarah’s choice to send them packing: a three-layer cake. I am surprised that this frazzles these amazing chefs who just made sticky toffee pudding and escargot. But they are seriously frazzled. Alexander said he has to pack up his bags because this will be the death of him. Sofia doesn’t like cake, so she’s scared. Kaylen says there are so many things that can go wrong. Troy says he doesn’t think he can pull it off. In the pantry, he fills two heaping baskets full of butter sticks. Jack can barely carry a bursting basket filled with ingredients.

Dara, on the other hand, made her mom’s wedding cake when she was 10. There will be at least one star today.

Bake Me a Cake as Fast As You Can

The 90-minute challenge begins. “I think this is the one that can screw everyone up,” says Graham.

Several of the chefs appear to have it together. Gavin is making a chocolate cake because it’s Gordon’s favorite. Kaylen said the key to keeping her lemon cake together will be handling it carefully to ensure it’s moist but firm.

But not Alexander. Graham believes that Sarah chose the layer cake because her top rival, Alexander, may overcomplicate it and fall. Alexander says an hour and a half is not enough time to make a layer cake, and he may be correct. For one thing, Alexander mistook his flour for powdered sugar and must start his batter again. He is upset and frazzled. Meanwhile, Sarah stares Alexander down from the balcony with an ever-so-slight sly grin.

Sofia bursts into tears; her mixer is stuck in the batter. Gordon arrives to console her. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Don’t you worry, my darling. We can do this, we’ve still got time.” For a minute or so, he instructs her: cream it, add our eggs. Get that butter really nice and whipped. We can pull this back. Now tie your apron, deep breath. You can do this. (Awww!! In these brief moments I could almost be in love with Gordon Ramsay. Almost.) 

Gordon visits Sarah in the balcony and takes a gummy bear from her tower. They lean to the edge of the balcony and conspire quietly. Sarah tells Gordon that she thinks Gavin and Jack will win. She tosses a gummy bear down to Jack, telling Gordon she wants Jack to think they are friends. She wants to keep her friends close and her enemies closer. “You really do that?” asked Gordon.

Dara’s cake looks heavenly. She’s determined to come back after her souffles dropped. Gavin is using every chocolate in the pantry to impress Gordon Ramsay. Now everyone is icing their layer cakes. Some look a bit sad, like Droopy Dog. Dara’s looks like it belongs in a bakery window.

The Proof is in the Pudding

  • Alexander baked a lemon layer cake with meringue frosting. It’s too dense. Joe tastes it and walks away. Graham says it’s undercooked but the structure shows he knows what he’s doing. Gordon suggests to Alexander that next time he makes something new, do it simple and do it well. The sponge too dense, dough is crunchy. Alexander’s face is red, and he’s sure he is going home.
  • Dara baked a spiced chocolate cake with cayenne pepper ganache. Graham says it looks fantastic. The spice accents the chocolate, and the raspberry brought in some floral. The other children are looking on in dismay. Joe said it was very brave. It has balance, and he is very impressed. 
  • Kaylen baked a vanilla cake with mixed berry butter cream. She knows it is odd-looking but still presents it with a sweet smile. She thinks it’s good for a first time. Graham says the shape is abstract. The sponge cake is dense, and it needs to be aerated more. Gordon says this cake needs a visual impact and a wow factor. There’s not enough sugar in icing. The sponge is floury and undercooked. Gordon says it’s a gallant effort. Kaylen thinks she could have done better.
  • Gavin baked Chocoholic Delight, with three chocolate layers and chocolate icing. Joe loves it and is trying to hollow it out; he says that used to fool his mom by not slicing a second piece but by just sticking his fork inside the cake and scooping it out. Joe asks Gavin to try it. Gavin says his own cake is stupendous. Sarah makes a face.
  • Troy baked a lemon cake, cream cheese frosting. It looks good, but it’s a little sweet for Graham, and Troy skimped on frosting.
  • Hawaiian Jack baked a vanilla cake with meringue frosting. Gordon says it’s intriguing, and Jack feels confident. Gordon tastes and says it’s “OMGD – oh my goodness delicious”. Gordon asks Jack if he’s felling homesick. “A little bit, Chef,” Jack says. He misses his dad. Gordon says he misses his own son Jack, who cooks like an angel, but tasting Jack’s food reminds him of his son.
  • Sofia‘s butter cream layers got mushed together. Her icing is too buttery and could have used cream cheese. She made technical errors, but bounced back. 

Kaylen’s hugging Alexander and telling him he’s not going home. She is so sweet! She’s not thinking about herself or the fact that he’s the greatest competitor. Oh Kaylen!

Two standout cakes from Gavin and Dara. They join Sarah on the balcony.

Five left, and Kaylen is still hugging Alexander. Joe says Jack baked a great cake and made it to the top six. Jack was proud to be ahead of Alexander. This is by far the hardest cut so far because two good cooks are about to go home.

Sadly only two move forward. Now it really feels like MasterChef, when the good still get cut.

Alexander and Troy are safe. Hugs from Gordon to Kaylen and Sofia, who are leaving.

Sofia says she had a great time and will never forget it, and feels she made good friends. Kaylen is proud of having cooked in MasterChef kitchen at age 11. She wants to come back next year and win it. She’s the only girl who can pour whipped cream on Gordon Ramsay’s head, she said.

Next week, the junior contestants take over a restaurant kitchen, just like they do on the adult MasterChef. And here’s a mini-spoiler: Gordon’s raising his voice again next week. Yes, he’s yelling at children, and they look a little terrified. Hopefully his better angels will stay with him for most of the day. I hope you’ll watch with me.

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite competitor in the MasterChef Junior Smackdown! We’ll announce the winner next week.

MasterChef airs Fridays at 8pm on FOX.

Want to add MasterChef Junior to your very own watch-list? Download BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone. 

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Candice Lombardi

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV