MasterChef Junior:Cupcakes and Shepherd’s Pie (Episode 3)


This episode saw the kids to pair up to cook gourmet cupcakes and the elimination challenge was Gordon’s favorite foods as a kid with his mom on hand to deliver them personally. And we said farewell to some junior chefs as well.

The theme of this episode was working in teams and creativity. Cupcakes were the mystery box challenge. Not the pale imitations you find in grocery aisles but upscale version of what was once a classic treat at school food sales or church socials. Sadly cupcakes are banned now in many schools thanks to the nuttiness of new food rules (and it even limits or excludes natural or organic ones-vegan might be okay but who wants a vegan cupcake?) Each kid got to try one and were enthusiastic about eating them. However the challenge to make upscale cupcakes was a team challenge and partners were formed randomly by having a similar cupcake. So that gave us the following teams:

1. Mitchell & Abby
2. Josh & Oona
3. Sam & Adaiha
4. Logan & Sean
5. Levi  & Samuel

And since Masterchef hates to be predictable, it was a three-legged partnership. A goofy but fun way to learn teamwork, which is required in many places of life and not just a working kitchen. Oona is partnered with Josh, about the same size as her, and she worries they might be walked over. Getting stuff from the pantry is more challenging this way and a hoot to watch as they get what they need tethered to the other person. This is the first time Masterchef has done this but did it result in teamwork? Usually a team pulls together to get a common project done using all their combined efforts. Yes all the teams produced cupcakes but not one team produced a combined cupcake. Instead each team member produced six cupcakes of their own to present with the other person’s six cupcakes. Now they had to work together to select the pantry items and helped each other out in the preparation and cooking process. But in the end though judged as team it was two individual efforts rather than a unified cupcake that both worked on to perfection.

The top three selected were:

Adaiah & Sam: Orange Honey Blossom and Vanilla with Raspberry
Wow. They do look stunning. Gordon raves about their flavor and lightness. Joe says they are the type of cupcake he would spend money on.

Abby & Mitchell: Mexican Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Graham likes both but notes that on the peanut butter the topping is not over the entire cupcake. Delicious and I want some!

Logan & Sean: Joe wants a bam (channeling Emeril Lagasse) and gets it with the Lemon Basil and Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes. They even put a sugar candy icing on top. Joe raves and notices the raspberry one has a filling. Gordon is wowed as well saying it represents teamwork.

Mom is in the House
Logan & Sean win it and head back to the pantry to learn what the elimination challenge is. The good news is that they do not have to cook. Now for the task: they must select one of Gordon’s favorite foods as a kid. And his mom shows up to deliver them!  His favorites were fish finger sandwich, chicken curry, and shepherd’s pie. Right away I think the shepherd’s pie would be the most difficult. It is a great rustic dish that has become more upscale in recent years. Usually it is beef or lamb though combining meats is not uncommon along with potato mash on top. You can view a basic easy to make recipe at Martha Stewart’s web site. Sean and Logan head up to the balcony for tea and treats while the kids learn what the challenge will be from Gordon’s mom-shepherd’s pie.

It is pretty clear from the reaction that not one of them have ever made it. Fortunately they can call home thanks to the magic of Skype and a tablet. The moms give their advice and then the kids get to work making an upscale dish. Oona is missing some ingredients like tomato or cream and asks around for them. Sam screwed up his mash and starts sobbing about it. Graham comes down to show how he can fix it by making it a pea and mash potatoes. That is the difference between a novice and a chef. Every chef has something go critically wrong  and has to fix it fast. And Graham knew exactly how to fix it. And it works for Sam. Meanwhile Gordon and his mom visit Oona. Oona is using garam masala in her version. Gordon teases her about dating his son Jack. She is not interested! They seem to like teasing her because she comes across as both funny and serious. Samuel is working on a “deconstructed” shepherd’s pie. Joe is concerned about that as am I.

Deconstructed?  As he explains what he is doing, it clearly is not simply throwing the pie’s components on a plate but a sophisticated version. Okay this might actually work out. Time goes by fast and the aromas are really getting the judges excited. On the balcony, Logan and Sean say Oona is not doing so well. A thunderous crash of glass breaking in the kitchen area (where the gadgets are) indicates something has broken. Sam comes out and he is okay. But call the clean-up crew, broken glass in the aisle!

The judging showed most got it mostly right but Oona, Mitchell and Sam are on the bottom. Oona was sure it would send her home. Gordon and his mom try it. It did not look upscale but rustic, the mash was good as was the meat but Gordon notes it was greasy. Oona is tearing up at this point but Gordon reminds every chef makes mistakes and his mom reminded him to not to give up. Joe says he makes mistakes and you learn to get over it. He thought it was mostly okay but not her finest dish. Mitchell’s does not look good and Gordon says it was strange like a chopped burger. And the meat is dry. Sam’s pea and mash is good but the beef is also dry. Meanwhile Oona back at her bench is sure she is heading home.

The favorites were Samuel for his Moroccan Shepherd’s Pie, Levi with his lamb with parmesan mashed potatoes. But Adaiah tops them all with a Napoleon style Shepherd’s Pie. When I saw it, I realized how good this girl is. That takes finesse and confidence to pull it off. And the judge’s were impressed as well giving her the win for the night.

Sadly Oona, Mitchell, and Sam are called down to face the chop. Oona, who of the three had the better dish, is spared. She is relieved and says she won by the skin of her teeth. Though she admits there is no skin on her teeth! Actually the phrase comes from an English translation of the Geneva Bible (1560) specifically Job 19:20 (Phrase Finder)which says “I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe.” It is used to describe barely escaping from disaster.

Next time on MasterChef Junior: the infamous sunny side up egg challenge and they cook their signature dishes.

MasterChef Junior US:Pancake Follies and Citrus Pies(Episode 2)

We learned in this episode that (1)the Culinary Trio of Graham, Gordon, and Joe do not like having imitation maple syrup dumped all over them and (2) selecting citrus cream pies is a successful strategy to knock some competitors out of the race.

Last year there was the famous Whipped Cream Challenge. Three were selected to make whipped cream manually and then, to test if it is done right by turning over their bowls on the heads of the judges. Done right and nothing will fall out. Only Alexander got it right making Gordon and Joe getting lots of cream all over their heads.

This year they decided to make Oona,Samuel,and Sean cook up as many pancakes as they could in six minutes. The largest stack wins saving a Masterchef judge from having (imitation)maple syrup over their heads. Sean got the win leaving Gordon and Graham having the syrup poured over their heads. In the end Joe got it as well and for a moment wore a pancake beanie on his head. Gordon recounts what it felt like below:

With the pancake follies over and with the magic of television making the judges looking clean and neat again along with the cooking area, the more serious part of the show began. And for Sean it was deciding which cream pie to have the others cook:chocolate cream pie, fruit cream pie, or citrus cream pie. Pies look easy but are tricky. I wondered if these kids could pull off making a delicious cream filling and a good crust. And Sean choose the trickiest of all: citrus. Citrus is acidic so you have to really get it just right. Make it too tart and people’s lips will pucker. Too sweet will send others screaming into that not so gentle night. Undercook and it is a disaster. Above all it has to be harmonious. Sean gets another advantage to save someone and saves Mitchell. So the citrus cream pie challenge gets underway.

Can these kids pull off such a tricky challenge? Oona decides to make a passion fruit orange cream pie and seems pretty confident it will work out. Sounds good! Samuel is doing a grapefruit and rose water cream pie. Grapefruit? It would not be my first choice. And a lot of people do not care for grapefruit which is why you do not see it on a pie menu often. But hey, Samuel might pull it off. Abby says she makes pies with her grandmother. Gordon wishes her well but Abby asks him to leave so she can concentrate! Levi goes for a key lime and coconut cream pie but Graham warns it needs more lime. Josh’s also making a key lime pie but Joe is worried it is sweet. Josh has a problem though-his voice. He seems to be having trouble speaking. I cannot tell if it is just nervousness or he is getting over a cold. Adaiah is going more complicated with a orange-lemon-raspberry pie. Wow that is a lot to pull off and Gordon is a bit concerned. She is confident though since she comes from a long line of Southern bakers.

Natalie though has a problem. She wanted to cook an orange cream pie but picked grapefruit by mistake. So now it is a grapefruit coconut cream pie. Gordon is concerned and I see the signs of doom on this one. Perhaps she will pull it off. But Gordon tastes nothing in the filling like grapefruit/coconut so that increases my worries Natalie could be on the bottom tonight. Jessica comes off as the best pie baker because of her experience and also did a key lime pie. The way she did the pipping on the pie made me realize she has most of the mechanics down pat. Logan, who bursts with energy, feels great with his lime-raspberry pie. The judges themselves are amazed at the level these kids are cooking at.

The Top
Adaiah (well presented and flavors awesome.)
Oona(Gordon raved about it.)
Abby(despite using jelly beans on top, it worked!)
Levi (balanced and well presented.)

The Middle
Samuel (for not controlling spices, heavy on the cream, crust a little underdone.)
Logan (not visually appealing but delicious.)
Sam (crust underdone but otherwise good.)
Josh(crust underdone but flavors good.)

Natalie (sweet but not much grapefruit flavor and raw pastry dough.)
Jessica (not enough filling, crust uneven.)

The Winners
Levi and Adaiah

And Those Selected For Elimination
Sam, Josh, Jessica and Natalie

Sent Home
Jessica & Natalie

And now we have the top ten! Next week it is a three-legged challenge and Gordon Ramsay’s mom stops by!

My Perspective
An interesting episode that will leave cynics wondering if the kids are being coached. One of the search queries for this site is whether Masterchef Junior is fake. Consider how phony a lot of reality television is, that is a valid question. I doubt this is the case here. Simply put, it would be hard to pull it off and not have one of the kids spill the beans. The kids may be well prepared at home but Masterchef Junior wants these kids to earn their prize honestly. Still the skill level of these kids is well above the ordinary so it raises questions. However cooking has become really popular and open to all ages. We are seeing the results of many years of making cooking accessible to everyone, not just those who attend cooking schools. Shows like America’s Test Kitchen try to make good cooking possible and easy without having to rely on frozen meals or packaged ready mix foods like macaroni and cheese.

So no, I doubt the show is faked to make them cook better than they really are. That I think is part of the magic: that these kids can really cook. Oona may be small and not able to stand at her workbench without footstool, but see shows a lot of passion in her cooking. Even the judges are amazed at what they see and this clearly reflects something going on in the home. Parents or whoever are the guardians are getting them interested in cooking and letting them discover (with proper precautions of course)their skills. In short, these kids will grow up unafraid of cooking and will pass it on to their own children one day. We have sort of lost that in our modern times where families learned to cook together and often you would see three or sometimes four generations all cooking together especially at holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

But I do wish they would sort of reign in the theatrics like syrup dumping. Okay I get why they do it but need to be more creative and change it up so it appears later in the season. Or perhaps a trip to a local beach or entertainment venue might spice up such things. Other than that this show is quite good, the kids positive, and the food preparation on par with what you would see on the regular Masterchef. Heck these kids could probably run rings around some of the fools that fill out Hell’s Kitchen! I doubt Alexander would screw up a risotto or scallop dish which seems to happen regularly on that show.

Remembering the Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald(1971) Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)
Edmund Fitzgerald(1971)
Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.

On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”

The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:

(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.

(3)No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.

(4)Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments    
Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.

(5)Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.

The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.

Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.

The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.

The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of  1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.

Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.

Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.

1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald(Wikipedia)
2. Mariners Church, Detroit, Michigan
3. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
4. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
5. The sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald – November 10, 1975 (University of Wisconsin)
6. National Transportation Safety Board:Marine Accident Report
SS Edmund Fitzgerald-Sinking In Lake Superior (4 May 1978)
7. Marine Historical Society of Detroit

MasterChef is a Reality Show


Ben Starr, who was in season 2, reportedly posted a “bitter blog post”  about MasterChef in which he wrote in part “it is highly engineered fiction.” He went on apparently to reveal many secrets of the show such as editing voice overs and other things to keep the show entertaining. And he reveals how the show contract gives producers the right to do anything they want with your image that might be“disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing, or of an otherwise unfavorable nature….” So naturally I went over to Ben Starr’s blog to see the post in question. However it is no longer there and has been removed. Ben Starr though did address what was reported in the media:

The blog post it referenced was a years-old post saying “farewell” to the MasterChef brand.  I no longer want to be associated with the brand, I no longer watch the show, and I don’t really want to think about it any longer.  I am truly grateful for what it brought me…a horde of amazing foodie fans around the world…many dear, dear friends from across the seasons who’ve become as important to me as family…and enough exposure that I’ve been able to not only start a successful business, but do lots of charity work around the country to benefit those in need.  I was nothing but clear that MY OWN EXPERIENCE with the show was excellent, and I wouldn’t have changed anything about it.  The post was not meant to be a condemnation of MasterChef, but to encourage people to treat ALL television as entertainment rather than actual reality, to avoid developing character judgements about reality TV contestants, and to encourage folks to spend their time doing quality things that improve themselves and benefit the world at large.

That hardly sounds like someone bitter about being on Masterchef. His blog reveals someone passionate about life and food and not resentful of Masterchef. His comments are simply warning that if you decide to participate in reality television, that it comes with lots of caveats. It means you will not be in touch with your family, probably moved around a lot within hotels or to different hotels, have tough schedules that make you work late or early. And you give up the right to control your image. They do that to maximize entertainment value. So far that is not unusual for most reality shows. Of course anything that seems to criticize Masterchef and its creator Gordon Ramsay is fair game for gossip news sites and their like minded brethren on television. It made screaming headlines like this at Radar:

‘MasterChef’ Is ‘Fake!’ Former Contestants Speaks Out About Behind-The-Scenes Trickery

You can say the same about Dancing With The Stars. Live audience members have to adhere to a dress code(evening clothes, no jeans or flipflops, hair and makeup done right, good looking shoes, and of course your fingernails had better look good too). The audience is told to be enthusiastic and DWTS t-shirts are incentives to clap your hands. Is that a bad thing? Hardly. They want the audience to be well groomed and enthusiastic. And from the articles I read about people who attend, it is a fun time.

Another funny tidbit he allegedly said was that everyone wore the same thing every day. That reminded me of the old show Adventures of Superman. In that show, they wore the same clothes all the time because they taped the shows one right after the other. But if you watch MasterChef over the years, you notice that is not quite correct. They wear a rotation of clothes. It is possible they did do this in the early seasons (and possibly to make it easier to do voice overs or edits) but they appear to have stopped this. The reason is obvious. Fans are not stupid and have digital recording devices like TIVO™ that record shows. And they do notice things like when on Hells Kitchen they tried to pass off a phony edit as taking place later in the season but playback showed someone who had been tossed off weeks before there! And on MasterChef fans are going to notice if you have contestants wear exactly the same outfits each and every time. Everyone knows for instance that in the early parts of the show with lots of contests, they do not show everyone’s dish being judged in the elimination round and edit out the judges comments to just one to save on time.

In the end it looks like what gossip news likes to do: the drive by. They are like old fashioned gangsters in those big cars with tommy guns sticking out the windows. They aim and fire hoping it will get attention. And then they drive away leaving lots of people angry at what they did. That is how the so-called entertainment press operates for the most part. They take a small sliver of truth and then stretch it as far it will go for the headline. Sometimes it works and sometimes it gets them in court when they actually lie (and are caught red handed). And in this case, it was a drive by that in the end accomplishes nothing except get Ben Starr pretty steamed at how they patched together things he wrote about MasterChef to make it into something it was not.

1. ‘MasterChef’ Is ‘Fake!’ Former Contestants Speaks Out About Behind-The-Scenes Trickery(7 Nov 2014,RadarOnline)
2. Regarding the Daily Post Article(8 Nov 2014, Ben Starr blog)
3.‘Dancing With The Stars’ Audience Experience Dazzling As A Mirror Ball(20 Oct 2011, Washington Times)

Science Friday: Can a Cell Phone Cause A Gas Station Fire?

You have likely seen or heard warnings about using cell phones while filling up at the gas station. The warning is not mandatory but many gas stations have them because many are convinced it can happen. Except it cannot. What does cause fires at gas stations is either static electricity that is not discharged prior to handling the gas pump or an ignition source like match being struck to light a cigarette (or possibly a discarded burning cigarette). What makes these fires worse is when a fire does break out right at where you are fueling the car. Many pull the fuel pump out and end up making it worse by dripping the burning fuel right on the ground. That always spreads the fire and then a major fire breaks out. At any rate those clever fellows over at Mythbusters looked into this and here is the result of their examination of this myth.

Titanic Hotel Gets High Marks From Daily Telegraph

The Titanic Hotel at Stanley Dock in Liverpool has been open for a while and reviews are coming in. Teresa Machan writing for the travel section of Daily Telegraph gave it high marks. She liked the style and character of the place, the service, the rooms and value for money. Her major ding is its location, the Stanley Dock, which is not exactly a place one finds classy hotels in Liverpool. So it got the lowest mark of 6 out 10. And the service would have been a 9 had not a waiter spilled milk when picking up her breakfast bowl. Otherwise she considers it worth the trip.

The website for the hotel is

Source: Titanic Hotel, Stanley Dock, Liverpool: review(6 Nov 2014,Daily Telegraph-Travel section)

Masterchef Junior Has New Kids In The House …And Yes They Are Kids

Masterchef Junior is a show that defies the odds. When it was first conceived, I had my doubts you could have a show with kids cooking. Other children based reality shows have not fared well but Masterchef Junior has managed to pull it off. Now in its second season, we ask the same question as to whether these kids are really kids. They exhibit energy, passion, and talent for cooking. Their parents and family no doubt are where it begins so these kids are not without some experience in cooking. This year they dropped the preliminary selection process and started with the top 16. They vary in range from 8-13.

Like last year the judges tend to be less harsh in what they say but clearly say whether it is good or bad. It was very disappointing for one young girl to bring up a chicken parmesan only to learn from Gordon it had not been properly cooked. Another was way too spicy causing problems for Gordon. But those that do very well get richly praised. One reason for the judges to be less harsh (aside from the obvious of being a kids show)is that all three are parents themselves. So they understand kids and what they can do.

It amazes me how creative these kids are. You have to figure they have been doing cooking for a while to be able to pull off what they do. If what we saw in the premier is any indication, we are in for a treat. Except for the judges who appear to have some liquid dumped on their heads in the next episode of Masterchef Junior.