HOT TAKE: Master Chef Jr. A-Z Challenge

ABC’s are never as easy as 1-2-3, despite what young Michael would have you believe. Tonight’s episode of Master Chef Jr. starts off with one of the series’ favorite mystery box challenges – the A-Z challenge. Showrunners gather 26 ingredients, each beginning with a letter from the alphabet, and put in under the box for the kids to use in creating a dish. So for A you might have apple, and for X you always have Xanthan Gum. Does anyone actually know what Xanthan Gum is? Do you use it in your kitchen? I feel like it is used in Jell-O.

The kids are given an hour to whip up whatever they can imagine using the ingredients in the mystery box and some perform better than others. The first dish selected for a closer look is Remy’s lamb and cheese biscuits. Now I’ve made rack of lamb once before and I was supremely worried I would fuck it up. The cook on lamb has to be near-perfect for it to not taste like rubbish so when Remy goes right to the lamb in the mystery box challenge I think to myself, okay, this girl came to play. Not only did she ace the cook on the lamb – she apparently also had enough time to whip up some cheese biscuits. Smart girl. Cover the baking and you win over Christina. Execute the hard-to-perfect protein and perfect it? You win over Gordon. Not sure how to win over Joe just yet, maybe confidence. The kids think he is scary.

Beni is next up and she presents the judges with a plate that looks like it came from Claim Jumper – that’s normally a bad thing but not in this case. I just mean the plate is absolutely loaded. Comically so.  Beni’s plate may not be a standout on presentation but Christina Tosi thinks it looks like came from a hip steakhouse so that has to count for something. I don’t really know what a hip steakhouse is but it sounds like something that would go out of business, quickly. Steakhouses are like the most traditional restaurant type ever. A word to the wise: Whenever someone over the age of 40 describes something as hip it is inherently not hip. Beni’s herb-crusted steak looks delicious but I would probably pass on the ginger-quinoa and kale. If I’m eating steak I like to be gluttonous about it. Meat and Potatoes please.

Finally we have Henry. Henry also tackled the lamb but he went more Mediterranean with his flavors He seems to have also cooked the lamb well. Where do kids learn these types of flavors these days? When I was growing up the exotic spice in the house was Lowry’s seasoning salt. I didn’t have any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food till I was in college and I’m not even talking fancy food. I mean literal hummus. I feel robbed. I missed so many flavors! Despite Henry cooking his lamb well it was not enough to beat Remy. Remy is also the name of the rat in Ratatouille so she will undoubtedly be the one to beat for some time. Instead of having a human to boss around and cook for her she has her sister – Olivia! I’ve never seen sisters on Master Chef Jr. but I imagine the family is elated since it pumps the odds of an overall win in their family. The real question is what happens if one of them wins? Do they split the winnings? Does one go to state school while the other attends Brown? I’m glad these aren’t my questions to answer.

Remy gets immunity and heads up to the balcony to watch the rest of the contestants make a Christina Tosi inspired (remember she’s the pastry chef!) tart. Hopefully we are getting the baking challenge out of the way by doing it now so we don’t have to go through this again. Speaking of Christina – the pantsuit-ruffle-bottom-loud-print ensemble is not working for me. She looks like wallpaper that someone fucked up but instead of taking it down and starting over the person said fuck it and left it hanging on the wall. It’s not a good look.

The kids make their tarts and some turn out quite nice but of course there are some that were not super great. Zia, who is baby Claudia (past Master Chef winner), struggles the entire challenge. She initially messes up her crust and is frozen with fear and sadness until Gordon swoops in with the assist and fixes things. When it comes to judging her tart – it also does not go well. When asked how much butter she used in her tart she told the judges a whole stick. I’ve never made a tart but judging by Gordon’s face I am thinking that is entirely too much butter. Now I know there are people out there with the opinion that you can never have enough butter but if you need a “hacksaw” to get through the crust of your tart than you may have tipped the butter ratio too far. She’s crying but Gordon sends her off with a compliment letting her know her filling is pleasant. Nice save Gordy but I think Zia is not long for this competition.

Avery is another contestant who had some difficulty from the onset. When Gordon swings by mid-cook to see how she’s doing he observes that she has left the orange peels on her oranges. This is when Avery lies to Gordon and tells her it was intentional. How do I know she is a liar? Because when asked about the orange peels being left on the tart by Joe she tells Joe it was a mistake! WHICH IS IT AVERY? Did you mean to leave the peels on or nah? You don’t want to go down a path of lying to get away with things just because you don’t want to face the consequences. White lies now snowball to white lies in the White House. Just ask Hope Hicks how lying works out – not good. She also claims her tart has every color in the rainbow in it but I count 2 colors: orange and blue. Since when are orange and blue the only colors of a rainbow. Unless she’s completely colorblind she’s gas-lighting us. We gotta turn this ship around, pronto.

Quani’s tart has an off-putting orange color but the taste and cook are good enough that he’s safe. He seems to struggle with color on his parties as well. Last week he made some tasty cupcakes but they were an ill green color. He’s gotta fix this. Juelz makes a pineapple tart and here is where I learn the limits of Christina Tosi’s patience. She is borderline incredulous that Juelz has the audacity to put pineapple on a tart. Doesn’t he know that pineapples are too fibrous to be put on a tart! They will break down the tart and make it gross. It’s almost like he had no idea this was the case and just willy-nilly thought to himself that since he liked pineapple it might be a good flavor to put on a tart. Unbelievable! This is a grave mistake, according to Christina. She knows what he did – he fucked up. And she called him out on it. I think her reaction is a bit heavy-handed. I like pineapple. I think this tart would be good. Someone make a good pineapple tart and mail it to Christina.

Next we get to Ben, and oh man is his tart a work of art. Ben is a man of pleasure and can’t waste his time focused on presentation, or crafting a perfect uniform crust. That shit is weak. Ben is about maximum satisfaction when eating a tart. For his tart he’s prepared a white chocolate and berry tart. What kind of berry you ask? All the berries. It’s like Captain Crunch’s oops all berries on his tart. He then adds as much white chocolate as the tart can hold. It’s dribbled on the tart. There is a white chocolate glaze. Scattered about the valleys between the berries there are large chunks of white chocolate. And in the center? Ben saved the best for last. A jagged spire of white chocolate erupts triumphantly from the center of the tart daring the judges to call his tart anything else but art. The judges don’t quite see the tart the same way ben and I do and it turns out that he probably should have focused on presentation and a uniform crust. BUT CAN YOU DENY THE TASTE? I bet it was sickeningly good. At this point I was pretty nervous Ben’s quest for ultimate flavor might send him home.

BUT…Ben escapes just by the skin of his teeth and Juelz is sent home for his pineapple transgression instead. Zia is also sent home and I’m not too surprised. She just didn’t get the baking thing which I can relate to. Every pastry type thing I have ever tried to make has failed so completely that know with absolute certainty I would be going home Zia if I was being judged on making a tart. So Juelz and Zia hit the dusty trail. Adios kiddos.

My current front-runners on the show are Beni and Quani – maybe I have a thing for names that end in i? I love Ben and his commitment to flavor and I hope he takes to coaching well but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for him. If, and when, Ben does get asked to leave the Master Chef kitchen I hope it is because the judges aren’t ready for the amount of flavor Ben brings. One other note – Cade looks like baby Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls. Happy October 3rd Cade!

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