The premiere episode of FOX’s newest cooking competition
I’ve been an avid fan and follower of MasterChef US for several years, recapping and sharing my thoughts on the show for both Season Three and Season Four. I even went to a casting call for Season Four and will do it again this November for Season Five!
Here, however, I’ll be sharing my recaps and reviews of the new “MasterChef Junior” version of the series, featuring budding young chefs ages 8 to 13. How will these kids compare to the adults who have competed in the past – and how will judges Gordan Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot treat the kids?
Keep reading to find out….
September 27 2013 Episode Recap & Review
Thoughts on the season premiere
The show opens in the now-familiar MasterChef kitchen – we won’t see any auditions or try-outs in this version of MasterChef – instead we go right to the 24 “best young chefs in America”, ages 8 to 13, getting their chance to show off in the kitchen. There to cheer them on in the first round of the competition are their parents. Gordon, Joe and Graham show the young cheftestants what the winner’s prize will be: the MasterChef Junior Trophy. (Notably I see no mention of a monetary prize for MCJ like on the adult version, only the trophy). These 24 have all already won a white apron which are theirs to keep. The 24 will be divided into groups of three, each getting 60 minutes to cook “one stunning dish” in a given food category. Those who prove themselves will move on to the next round.
Group #1 Challenge
Group #1’s challenge is revealed to be seafood. They are shown a fabulous display of all kinds of seafood and shellfish delights, including lobster, salmon, crab, squid and octopus. Each grabs their favorite and gets quickly to work, grabbing what they need from the pantry and then starting to cook.
Many of the young chefs are showing some impressive skills and techniques, from preparing sushi to cooking octopus in a pressure cooker! Time is called and each goes forward to present their dishes for tasting. Sofia is first, a young girl who shows a tremendous amount of confidence and has a complex dish of Chilean sea bass with wilted spinach and baby eggplant. The fish is cooked beautifully, Gordon says, and he likes the pomegranate on the sea bass crust. Joe says “wow” and only wants to know if she could do it again.
Next is Roen, with a plate of seared ahi tuna with salmon avocado and cucumber roll. Graham doesn’t think even he could do sushi and ahi tuna like that in an hour! Nina is next, and she has coconut shrimp with cactus salad. Joe thinks it’s a little sweet for him but the shrimp are perfect. Daniel has made octopus salad, and Gordon says it’s good.
Justin has made fried red snapper with Greek salad. Graham says he might want a little less scoring on the fish so that it doesn’t cook down quite so far. Jack has made seared crab cakes with garlic aioli, which Joe says is really good. Franco has made seared scallops with vegetable fried rice. Gordon says the scallops are just a little rubbery because he sliced them into thirds instead of searing whole. Molly has fish tacos with homemade tortillas. Joe says the fish is crispy and salty…it’s quite impressive and certainly it looks like one of the best plates from this round.
So, who from Group #1 will go on, and who is going home? Four are called forward first and they are Franco, Justin, Mina and Daniel. They proved they were very talented but they will not be moving on. Roen, Molly, Jack and Sofia are moving on to the next round.
Group #2 Challenge
Now it’s time for group #2’s challenge. They are facing what Joe says is a true test of a great chef: a beautiful plate of pasta. Joe is eating what looks like a simple plate of spaghetti marinara, but the contestants have to do something more complex. They have to make their pasta entirely from scratch! In all of 60 minutes!
This seems like quite a feat for young chefs but some claim to make pasta at home on a regular basis and aren’t sweating it. The judges are definitely surprised by what they see these kids pulling together. Dara also impresses with her “death glare” imitation of Joe.
She is also first for tasting and she’s made cheese spaetzle with rack of lamb, mint sauce and Greek yogurt. She’s crying even before the judges can taste her plate, but she says it’s because she’s so happy. Graham tastes and says she has every reason to be happy, as it’s incredible. Gordon says he could put it in his restaurant tonight!
Tommy is next with his pumpkin ravioli and Alfredo sauce. Joe says it’s beautiful with a good flavor and balance. Graham says it looks gorgeous and he cannot believe an 11 year old could put out food at the level you find in restaurants. Sage is next with vegetarian lasagna and cherry tomato salad. The pasta is cooked beautifully but the vegetables need a touch more seasoning, she’s told.
Gnocchi with tomato cheese sauce from Jewels is next. The gnocchi is a great dish. Troy has sea scallop fettuccine with tiger shrimp. Graham says the pasta is great. Sara has fettuccine with meatballs. The seasoning is spot on but only in the meatballs, she’s told – the pasta sauce seems to be lacking. Gavin has made a very impressive-looking tortellini with beef and Pecorino cheese filling and sage butter sauce. Joe says he cooks like a San Francisco native and is impressed that Gavin knows how to use Parmesan versus Pecorino Romano cheese. The last dish in this round is Noah’s: Chicken Milanesea with fettuccine and chimichurri sauce. He does make pasta a lot and Graham says the flavor is great and the technique is spot on. His only criticism would be to cook the pasta a little less.
The judges have to decide who is going on. Noah, Sara, and Sage step forward. They cooked amazing dishes but sadly they are not going on to the next round. Safe are Dara, Tommy, Jewels, Troy, and Gavin.
Group #3 Challenge
Group #3 are up now. This round is Graham’s pick so he’s gone with desserts. What kind of amazing desserts can these young chefs come up with in an hour? It will certainly be interesting to see…
Alexander has made pistachio maracons with dulce de leche filling. Graham says they may be the best macarons ever produced on MasterChef – he would eat them all if the other judges didn’t have to taste them. Sara is next with her chocolate molten lava cake with glazed raspberries. Joe is curious to see if she’s got the cook time right so that it’s still molten inside – and indeed, she’s nailed it! It’s probably the best molten lava cake in MasterChef history and she’s only 9 years old.
Lishai has made a mini-apple pie with cinnamon whipped cream. Unfortunately the apples are a little undercooked. Ethan has dark chocolate truffles with orange and coffee. Joe says the chocolate might be a little grainy but otherwise it’s really good. Hana has scone shortcakes with blood oranges and strawberries. They look good but they are a little dry. Amanda has salted caramel brownie. Graham says it could have cooked a little longer. Kaylen has made mint lime cupcakes that smell good, Joe says, are they restaurant quality? She says yes and he agrees. Nathan has meringue roulade with balsamic glazed berries. It’s not the most attractive dessert, since his meringue didn’t quite work out, but it tastes good. Joe says it’s good for an improv…but will it be good enough to keep him in the competition.
All are invited down to the front. Ethan, Amanda, Lishai, Hana and Nathan are called forward. It turns out they will not be moving on to the next round, only Alexander, Sara and Kaylen are. They’ve gone from 24 to 12, and next week the competition is sure to heat up!
Overall thoughts on the premiere episode
I enjoyed MasterChef Junior quite a bit more than I was expecting to. It was impressive to see these kids turn out these mostly great-looking plates (and certainly all impressive given the ages of the cooks!) The judges certainly toned down their usual nastiness, but still gave critiques that pointed out what did and didn’t work in the cheftestants’ dishes.
I was also glad that the parents were only there as a cheering squad in the background – I was dreading we’d be getting soundbytes and stage mom snarkiness, but it was all about the kids. And the kids were mostly adorable even if a few seemed a bit self-assured to the point of cockiness. Of course it’s a bit hard to see much of their personalities in the premiere with 24 different kids getting airtime, but I already have a couple favorites I’ll be cheering on to see how far they’ll go.
More MasterChef pages by sockii
Recaps and reviews of previous seasons – and my MasterChef Junior “hub” page
MasterChef Junior US
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What did you think of MasterChef Junior? Let me know in the comments below!
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sockii is just your typical Jane-of-All-Trades who never has enough time in her day for all of her projects. She has written for many websites online including Squidoo, Zujava, Yahoo! Contributors Network, HubPages and Wizzley. She has been attending and vending at science fiction and media conventions for over 15 years, and for several years ran an art gallery and jewelry store in Philadelphia. Today she is happy to be living in South Jersey with her partner David and their 6 cats. Sockii is a member of several affiliate sales programs including Amazon Associates and Viglink. Products from these services may be advertised on her posts and pages to generate sales commissions.