Season 4 Champ Luca Recaps MasterChef Junior: These Kids Are Ambitious!
by Luca Manfe
Sofia, Joe Bastianich
It is very hard to believe that kids between the ages of 8 and 13 will be competing to become the first US MasterChef Junior in the same MasterChef kitchen on the same MasterChef challenges that we had to work on. My worst fear is that these kids might make me look bad. You see I won the title of MasterChef in the US only a few weeks ago.
The episode begins with the kids walking inside the MasterChef kitchen accompanied by magical fairy tale music in the background, which got me so excited, maybe because I am still a little kid inside. The junior homecooks all line up in front of the MasterChef judges (Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich) and hear, “You are the best 24 young homecooks in the entire country.” I am so curious to see how the judges will talk to the kids. If Joe has the same attitude he had with us older homecooks, we will have a lot of kids crying in the kitchen!
Immediately all the kids are given a white apron with their name on it, which is pretty cool for them, but a bit unfair to me since I had to fight for two seasons to get one! The 24 kids will be divided into three groups of eight, and each of them will have to cook a great dish in 60 minutes to make their way into the next round.
The first group gets to choose from a variety of seafood: live lobster, king salmon, tuna, clams, mussels, octopus and lots, lots more. I also see some Dungeness crab, and my memory goes to my infamous risotto I cooked on MasterChef. I still have nightmares about that challenge and to this day I refuse to cook with crab!!!
The biggest challenge for the kids will be to decide on a plan right away and stick with it; with so many options in front of you, your head may spin in many different directions.
I see some Chilean sea bass, which I love to eat and to cook. It is a super flavorful fish and very fatty! I would make the dish Asian, sear it to make a crispy skin and serve it on top of a cauliflower puree with sautéed baby bok choy in a sweet chilli peanut sauce. It is too easy for me though, and not because I am America’s MasterChef, but because I am at home on my couch and I am not in the pressure of the MasterChef kitchen, and I am not 10 years old.
When the judges start to go around to talk with the junior homecooks my eyes light up when I hear what these kids are working on.
Roen, for example, is working on a sushi plate with seared Ahi tuna and salmon rolls — incredible!! There are no other words to describe it. This kid is only 12 years old.
All the dishes look amazing, but unfortunately not everyone will go to the next level; Franco, Dustin, Mina and Daniel get eliminated, but they get to keep their white aprons that they will treasure forever and show off the next time they cook at home.
The next group of eight junior homecooks apparently have to cook a simple plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce, but even if they are kids it is never quite so simple in the MasterChef kitchen. Joe announces to them that they’ll have to make a dish with FRESH homemade pasta in just 60 minutes. This would be an easy task for me because I am Italian and because I make fresh pasta all the time, but again these are just kids. How are they going to do that?
It is remarkable to hear how ambitious these kids are: Gavin is making tortellini, Noah is working on a chicken Milanese with fettuccine and Dara is preparing lamb chops with herbs and cheese spaetzel. When it comes down to pasta, I like to keep mine very simple and elevate the flavors as much as I can. I would have done a fettuccine with sautéed chanterelles cooked in bacon fat, crispy pancetta, with beef stock, truffle pecorino and fresh parsley.
The kids were all able to put their dishes together in 60 minutes, and my mouth dropped looking at those dishes, but again not everyone can move on. For Noah, Sara and Sage, the MasterChef Junior experience ends here, but they should be very proud of themselves.
The last eight junior homecooks have to make desserts. I am not a big fan of making desserts. Pastries are all about chemistry and following the rules. The first thing that comes up in my head is that they will all make cakes or cupcakes, which are still hard to make, but in the baking world might be the easiest. I would have made cupcakes myself: chocolate cupcakes, vanilla filling and white chocolate cream cheese frosting. Probably and sadly the best I could do. But all these kids are way more ambitious then me!
Sarah is making a chocolate molten lava cake, Damian is trying a meringue roulade (I have no idea what that is), and Alexander is making pistachio French macarons. I am amazed to hear the conversation between Chef Ramsay and Alexander. He has the confidence of an experienced pastry chef. I don’t know how many of you reading now realize how hard is too make macaroons. Of this round Nathan, Ethan, Amanda, Lishaj and Hanna did not make it to the next phase. Desserts are always a tough challenge, but the road to become a MasterChef includes pastries as well. Good job, kids, and hold on to those aprons with pride.
Now there are just 12 junior homecooks left. I can’t wait for next week!
Did you enjoy the first MasterChef Junior episode? Are you impressed like me with the talent showed tonight?
See you next week.