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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

MasterChef Junior: “Family Style”

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In the mystery box challenge, the young cooks have to use bananas and a limited pantry of ingredients to wow the judges. As a huge banana pudding fan, I’m a little bummed no one tried to make restaurant-ready BP, as I and I alone call it. Most of the kids make the smart choice of veering away from desserts, the more obvious choice. Jenna makes the top three for the second time with her coconut shrimp with banana-coconut pure and fruit salad. She makes a smart move by incorporating past mystery box advice from Graham, who told her “if it grows together, it goes together,” inspiring her coconut-banana combo. She’s joined in the top three by Nathan and his banana-coconut macarons that display an impressive mastery of technique and Ryan Kate with her beautifully cooked and plated caribbean spiced pork with sweet potato hash and spicy banana sauce. Most likely carried by the complexity of his dish, Nathan wins the challenge and doesn’t have to cook in the elimination round.

Quick macro-MasterChef franchise complaint: I hate that we watch two—and sometimes all three—judges taste and give feedback on the top three for the mystery box challenge every time. We know the top three dishes are great, and it’s important to hear why from the pros, but couldn’t we get feedback from just one? They tend to repeat themselves. It’s just the mystery box round, and the only thing at stake is a “huge advantage.” We could save time here that can be spent with the more important elimination round. I didn’t need both Graham and Gordon to go on and on about Nathan’s macarons to understand that they were really great macarons. Maybe it seemed particularly grating in this case, because I simply cannot get on board with how trendy macarons have become. I don’t get it! I won’t buy into it! That being said, a “banana-flavored cloud” does sound like a dreamy dessert.

The true winner of this episode in my mind is Matilda Ramsay, Gordon’s 12-year-old daughter, who Graham describes as a feisty, fearless foodie. She’s a confident young cook who doesn’t put up with her father’s antics (“If you think I’m going to marry a chef, you’ve got another thing coming”). Gordon dials up his more dad-like tendencies in this episode, and if we weren’t already totally sure about just who Gordon favors as a frontrunner in this season, the fact that he jokingly tries to set up Andrew with his daughter is pretty telling.

Matilda explains the next challenge. The remaining competitors have to recreate one of her father’s specialties: a salmon en croute with fingerling potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and minted peas. It’s a difficult dish, and Jimmy is the only contestant with any previous experience making a salmon en croute. Most of the kids struggle the most with the hollandaise sauce, which requires an extremely meticulous and technical process in order to get the consistency just right. Jenna scrambles at the last second when her sauce breaks and enlists the help of Andrew. To his credit, Andrew doesn’t hesitate to jump in and talk her through fixing the sauce. It’s a touching moment—another reminder of how these kids view each other as friends more so than any other reality show competitors out there.

My friend and fellow AV Club contributor Caroline Framke wrote about the racial and gender biases reflected and reinforced in MasterChef Junior, and her explanation of why some of us—myself included—really latch onto the young girls in the competition resonates with me: “These girls are all great cooks, but for many viewers there’s also something undeniably special about seeing young girls push for what they want without equivocation or apology, assuming they have a place in the room even though they don’t ‘look’ the traditional part.” This week, I continue to be frustrated by the way Ayla is treated by the post-production edits. We once again don’t learn what she made in the first round, and even though she performs very well in the elimination round, she once again doesn’t get any testimonials throughout the episode. The show is almost erasing her presence, and it’s becoming more and more frustrating. Andrew, Jimmy, and Nathan continue to be clear favorites in the judges’ eyes, and these three boys are undoubtedly talented cooks deserving of their praise. But the second Jenna starts to struggle with her hollandaise sauce, the judges doubt her ability to snap back, and I don’t remember that being the case when Andrew lost control in the kitchen a few weeks ago. In any case, if it seems like I’m rooting for the young girls in this competition more than the young boys, it’s because of a pattern I’ve been noticing on this show, one that can make loving this show hard.

Jimmy and Andrew come out on top with the judges’ favorite dishes. Kayla’s dish has too much raw pastry, placing her in the bottom along with Ryan Kate, who made the technical error of folding the creases on top of the salmon, and Riley, who is pushed too far out of his comfort zone with this complex dish and makes multiple mistakes. Ryan Kate and Riley end up going home, and it’s another tearful goodbye as everyone says farewell to the youngest MasterChef Junior competitor there has ever been.


Stray observations:

  • Nathan looks so genuinely surprised when he wins the mystery box round. It’s adorable.
  • “Are we gonna cook like aliens or something like that?”
  • Young Riley is out, but the one good thing about this is that I always get so, so nervous when he is around an oven.
  • “I love you so much, OK?” - Kayla to Riley after the elimination announcement (Meanwhile, this Kayla bursts into tears.)
  • Ayla was always so good with Riley. I love when she gives him an encouraging hug when the judges are deliberating this week.
  • “We’re in America, dad.” I can’t stress enough just how much I love Matilda’s attitude.
  • With Ryan Kate out of the game, I am squarely Team Jenna. I usually have a clear favorite much earlier on in the competition (Sarah in season one and Oona in season two, if you’re curious), and it took me a bit to latch onto Jenna, but I love her confidence, and she puts a lot of thought into her cooking.