In this episode of MasterChef Junior, “One Small Step,” a themed challenge forces the chefs to create space-tacular cheese dishes. Working with fish forces the home cooks to sink or swim.
The kids enter the MasterChef kitchen will their usual enthusiasm and get even more tweaked when they spy with their little eyes a huge mystery box. Inside are the judges dressed as astronauts; viewers know this first challenge will be out of this world.
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The Mystery Box Challenge
Gordon asks how many of the home cooks want to be astronauts, and at least half raise their hands. Too bad the space program is currently defunct. The closest they can hope to get is seeing Star Wars in a month.
All of this fuss is a prelude to the appearance of astronaut Tracy Dyson, who lived on board the space station for 174 days. The kids are full of questions, including if Tracy encountered aliens. The closest Dyson ever came to an alien were the five male astronauts she cohabitated with during her extended sojourn in space. As far as cooking in space goes, it’s pretty much a just-add-water situation.
It’s no big surprise that the Mystery Box challenge has a space theme. The home cooks have to prepare a dish made with cheese. The notion that the moon is made of cheese dates back to medieval times but was made famous by The Proverbs of John Heywood.
Tracy jets off, and the young chefs have one hour to make a cheese dish that is “out of this world.”
Addison continues to be a favorite with the judges, and this cupcake queen is no one-trick pony. Addison prepares a three-cheese ravioli with Asiago, ricotta and mozzarella, topped with a basil pesto sauce. Gordon calls the dish “rustic” and “charming.” His only criticism is that Addison stacked the pasta, causing them to flatten.
Kaitlyn, 11, from NY, goes sweet instead of savory. She crafts lemon ricotta cookies with buttercream and a lemon glaze. I would adopt this girl just so she would make me these treats. Graham describes the cookies as a “pop” of lemon, but the creamy flavor of the ricotta still comes through.
JJ makes a cheese enchilada with a mix of cheddar and Gouda. The enchilada is topped with a Parmesan crisp. Christina is impressed with JJ’s technique and the soulfulness of his sauce.
To the Moon
Kaitlyn wins and earns herself an advantage in the elimination challenge, which has the contestants “splashing down into the ocean.” These puns are awful, but I didn’t write them.
The young cooks have to prepare a fish dish, but first Graham gives them a quick lesson in filleting. Graham disappears into the pantry and returns with a 150-pound moonfish. If you saw this thing while snorkeling, I guarantee that you’d walk on water to get out of its way. Even though the pint-sized prodigies won’t be working with a fish this large, the technique is the same.
Not only is Kaitlyn exempt from competing, but she also gets to save another cook. Kaitlyn chooses Addison. Kaitlyn also acts as a fishmonger, tossing each competitors’ fish of choice to them Seattle-style.
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The Elimination Challenge
Most of the chefs seem confident and are preparing everything from tacos to Asian-inspired dishes. Once again, Ian is in trouble. His plan is to pan sear his fish, but with 10 minutes to go, his pan isn’t heated and the fish aren’t seasoned.
After sufficiently freaking the kid out, Christina and Graham help get him on track and offer some words of encouragement. Ian has made great strides in the competition. This is the first week he hasn’t cried when things aren’t going his way.
Avery, 9, from Louisiana, is called up first. This girl is from the bayou, and she’s confident she’s got this challenge in the bag. Avery made a pecan-crusted halibut with a sweet potato mash topped with a sour sauce. Her fish is seasoned and cooked perfectly, and according to Gordon, the mash and the acidity of the sauce lift and combine all the flavors beautifully.
Jaeclyn, from Philadelphia, PA, who has been sporting a leopard-print fedora in every episode, prepared fish tacos with lime sauce and lime coleslaw. Jaeclyn isn’t a fish fan, and she did not taste her finished product before presenting it to the judges. While Christina applauds the concept, the fish itself is bland.
Derek cooked a Dover sole over roasted fingerling potatoes and sunchokes with a smoked paprika aioli. Derek’s goal was to incorporate several elements: smokiness, sweetness and other profiles, all of which would appeal to the palate. I mean, wow! There might be only three things on the plate, but Graham says each component is so well done that it tastes like there could be many more.
Vivian made a Tai snapper over ratatouille with a lemon sauce. The ratatouille is a combination of zucchini, onions, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Not only is the fish soggy, but the vegetables are woefully under-cooked. She strikes out with the sauce as well.
Kya, the youngest female competitor, made a salmon confit with a daikon puree, Sunomono (Japanese cucumber salad) and crispy skin. I had to Google, like, five of those words. Christine calls the dish “impressive.”
Other dishes include:
Kyndall: branzino with rice, parsnip puree and roasted vegetables. Graham gently chastises her for plating her fish with the skin down, causing it to lose its crispiness. The vegetables are also raw.
Nate: seared yellowfin tun with a mushroom-green bean combination and a cucumber, noodle and tomato salad. Christina tells Nate that it is the best dish she’s had in the MasterChef kitchen.
Ian: pan-seared yellowfin tuna over mashed potatoes with a soy-glaze sauce and asparagus. Ian forgot to season the fish, but Gordon loves it anyway. Ian’s biggest mistake? Never serve mashed potatoes with tuna.
And the Winner Is…
Nate wins the best dish of the night, and Vivian, Kyndall and Jaeclyn are in the bottom three. Jaeclyn is spared, and Vivian and Kyndall are sent home.
MasterChef Junior airs Fridays at 8pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of FOX)