MasterChef Junior Finale(Part 1)-Soft Boiled Eggs & Chicken Parts

rooster and hen
Photo: Andrei Niemimäki (Flickr)

We are down to the final four when this episode began and it ends with the final two. It has been very fast, perhaps even rushed to meet time deadlines (like school). For the first part of the finale, it looked like it would be a typical MasterChef challenge EXCEPT that it was not. They used live props again–chickens–since it was the theme of the night. While the flightless birds pecked around the hay and kids wondering if they will need to kill and pluck them, Gordon tells them they will be cooking eggs. Gordon likes soft boiled eggs. Done right they are truly a delicious meal. Now at this point I was expecting Joe or Graham to step up as well.

Now here is what I was expecting. “Wait a minute. I am not interested in a soft boiled egg. I want a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg,” says Graham. He takes out a cloche and lifts to reveal a perfect sunny side up egg. Then Joe pipes up that he is not interested in either of those but wants a frittata. The looks on the kids faces turn even more scared. Three egg dishes, three different techniques. Good luck. No instead here is what we got: cook one soft boiled egg. The catch is no timer. Not even the MasterChef clock is working. Considering how easy it is to overcook or undercook these eggs, it is a real challenge to cook without a timer. Even experienced chefs might have a problem with this one. It is as if they wanted the kids to fail on this one. They had to know that most would underperform in this task. Not one of them got it and Troy won since his egg was the least overcooked. At least no one served up a raw egg.

Troy then gets to select what chicken parts each person will cook. He chooses the thigh, gives the wing to Dara, Jack the breast, and Alexander the liver. Needless to say, Alexander got something none of them wanted to cook. Liver has a bad reputation but I can tell you from experience that good cooked liver is delicious. And remember that when you cannot afford the prime cuts, you have to make lesser cuts taste great. So it is off to the races as now they are cooking to be the top two.

A Sad Fail
All four get cracking on their dishes. Dara is used to making chicken wings at home and is confident. Troy is taking the chicken thigh and plans to pan sear it, finish it in the oven, and serve with a Romesco sauce. Alexander decides to make chicken liver pate over garlic crostini. And Jack is the most ambitious of all. He makes a goat cheese roulade wrapped in pancetta. This is very technical dish, one that takes finesse and confidence to pull off right. Jack at one point needs to race back to the pantry not once, but twice tiring out Gordon who follows him saying it is like a marathon. Dara’s bow thing starts falling down on her eyes at one point. Finally time is up and one by one they are called up to present their dishes.

Troy brings up his chicken thigh, which was pan seared and finished in the oven. It looks good as do the accompaniments. Sadly when Gordon cuts into the thigh, it is underdone. Gordon was disappointed and Troy looked deflated as well. Joe likes the Romesco sauce and compares it favorably to his restaurant version, he also is disappointed. Troy walks back to his station knowing his days in this kitchen are numbered. His only hope is that someone else has done much worse. Sadly for Troy, that was not the case.

Dara presented soy and ginger wings with pickled vegetables. Graham likes the pickled vegetables and raves about the chicken wing. This is not your ordinary chicken wing but one, as Joe points out, that is a signature dish. Alexander brings up his chicken liver pate on garlic crostini on a wooden board for the rustic touch. Gordon loves it and asks if Alexander had tasted it. He did and liked it. Gordon was happy to learn this because it meant he was not afraid to try unfamiliar foods. He half-jokingly (I think) offers him a junior job at the Savoy in London. Alexander, of course, is thrilled but he will have to wait a few years for that to occur. Jack’s dish is a chicken breast roulade with goat cheese and pan seared with pancetta. It looks wonderful and gets rave reviews as well. It is certainly the most complicated dish presented and shows how competitive and gutsy Jack is.

Final Judgment
Three out of four dishes are successes making it difficult to decide who are the best two. The judges noted the many accomplishments Alexander, Dara, and Jack did with their dishes. In the end, Alexander and Dara are chosen as the top two. Jack in his Hawaiian shirt is sent home along with Troy. Both did very well to get this far. Troy made a fundamental mistake in cooking the thigh. In Jack’s case, it was likely close but Alexander and Dara had better techniques in their dishes.

My Thoughts
It is astonishing how these kids performed. It is not surprising the two oldest, Alexander and Dara, ended up the top two. One internet commentator speculated Alexander was a ringer as he seemed more confident and had better skills than the others. Some are going to wonder, and have wondered, whether the kids were coached behind the scenes. So far there is no evidence of that but one can assume that parents may have done so to bolster their kids chance of success. Not every parent would do this but it is not unusual for it to occur. Some picked up their skills in the family kitchen or like Sara at her grandmother’s restaurant (though I suspect some coaching there as well considering the hints she dropped).

These are not your typical kids but exceptional ones they want to replicate for another season. They have already started the process so one assumes they are going to renew it for next season. However the numbers for last Friday put MasterChef Junior in third place. According to tvbythenumbers it breaks down as follows. CBS Undercover boss won the hour with a 1.4, but was down 14% from last week at 1.6. Last Man Standing (ABC) was up to 1.4 from last week at 1.3. MasterChef Junior went down to 1.3 (7%). All ratings are for the 18-49 age demographic (an important one). So MasterChef Junior has stayed in the top three during its run thus far (I think it opened up at the top and has slid back and forth between first and second spot). Undercover Boss appears to outperform MasterChef Junior but Fox executives are probably pleased where it is. So far now renewal looks pretty certain.

My caution on this show is that the kids can be put under a microscope they are not used to. And it may draw unwanted attention from Internet trolls and other bad people on the Internet. I think parents out to think long and hard whether they want their kids on such shows. While everyone was mostly on their best behavior, do not be surprised if they also try to find a kid or two that will really irritate the other kids.  This is reality television and conflicts often generate great ratings. This is not a cooking show. Then again not many shows have Gordon Ramsay utter that Alexander is perhaps Julia Child’s long lost grandchild. So the homage to greats of the past are being mentioned. If this show gets another run, one hopes they will have one or two special guests.

Coming up next: The Finale between Alexander and Dara. Ought to be pretty good. And MasterChef season 4 winner Luca Manfe is also in the house.

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