Back to Reality – Episode 1

First episode of the Back to Reality Podcast is live…CHECK IT OUT!


HOT TAKE: Master Chef Jr. Chicken and Waffles

Let’s get this out of the way before we dive into the recap – the narrator opens the episode by letting us know that the judges are going to “foam” themselves over this next challenge. EWWWW. I am sure it was meant to sound innocent but whoever wrote that line is either a) pulling off a hilarious joke because s/he lost a bet, or b) just mailed in this week’s assignment and thought “foam themselves” was appropriate. Not cool writers – this is a kid’s show! Get control of your writing room!

Now that we’ve addressed that bit of unpleasantness we can focus on Friday’s episode. On set is a humongous milkshake. The detective in me thinks we are going to be making milkshakes in a timed competition – a Master Chef Jr. challenge staple. Whoever can make the most and best milkshakes will win the challenge and be safe from tonight’s elimination. Hilariously Mikey remarks that the giant milkshake on stage is the size of his family’s minivan and I think that is pretty great unit of measurement. Does Mikey measure everything in terms on his family’s van? WOW! That building like 12 of my family’s van! You see where I am going with this. Anyway, the kids all draw straws to see what team they’re on: red, blue, or yellow. There is also the possibility of drawing a blank straw which means you will not be in the challenge and are automatically placed into the elimination round. This seems like sorta bullshit to me. If I was on that show and I drew a blank straw I would lawyer up. Why the hell do some kids, by pure chance, get an opportunity to dodge an elimination and I don’t? Is the cost of dairy just too high these days? Can the showrunners not think beyond the color boundaries of blue, red and yellow? What is going on here? I’d boycott, but the kids on this show are clearly better sports than me and accept their fate determined via straw.

With the teams settled we dive into the competition and sure enough it is a timed challenge to see which team can make the most picturesque milkshakes. Milkshakes that don’t cut the mustard will not be counted. Snap Judgement: The red team is all boys. Sammy thinks this is an advantage because boys just “get” each other and girls can be bossy in the kitchen. Sammy predicts an easy win. My prediction? No chance Sammy, no chance. I’m amazed at how young the gender biases are ingrained into kids. I’m positive I was the same way at Sammy’s age but still. I wish I could impart some knowledge on Sammy here – but it would probably fall on deaf ears. Girls stink, per Sammy.

Each team adopts a different strategy. Yellow employs an assembly line mechanic where each team member has a specific job. It may not be the fastest method but it will allow them to create beautiful, movie-quality shakes – quality over quantity. Red is going the opposite approach – they are all about speed. They are going to make as many as possible and not focus on the details so much. This will haunt them. Then there is blue, who adopts a sort of middle of the road strategy. They have specific jobs but are also going as quick as they can. With only 10 minutes to create as many milkshakes as possible the once pristine Master Chef set quickly devolves into messy ice-cream covered pandemonium with our tiny chefs running to and fro, hands covered in sticky. It doesn’t take long before Olivia slips and eats shit. There’s a pause and Gordon asks if she’s alright. Yep! She’s good. She can’t focus on whatever pain she might be feeling she’s gotta make those shakes.

Yellow team
Slow and steady wins the race. Even after falling.

As time expires the pint-size chefs line up their shakes and it seems pretty obvious who won even with the creative camera angles and aggressive panning. Yellow wins by a country mile – all of their shakes look straight out of a postcard from a 1950’s café – I would drink all of them. So the real competition here is who performed worse – blue or red? Any guesses? Christina was the judge for blue and she does not hold back letting them know that their shakes do not have nearly enough whipped cream on top. I mean she really lets them have it for the whipped cream slip up. You know when you get in trouble at your friend’s house and their mom is the one who is telling you what you did was wrong? That’s how I felt with Christina and blue team’s shakes. I wanted it to be over as soon as possible.

As for the all-boy red team…they did not do great. Their shakes were predictably awful. Turns out going as fast as you can and focusing on quantity over quality may not have been the best strategy. That attitude is fine for say Arby’s, but not for a potential future restauranteur. Red loses and will be cooking with the rest of the kids that did not get to participate. But before we get to the elimination round the kids get one more treat: Gordon, Christina and Joe are drawing straws to see who will be dunked into the large shake in the center of the room. Secretly I am hoping to Christina but in my heart I know it’s going to be Joe and you know what? It’s Joe! Joe dutifully slides into the large chocolate shake as the kids squeal. He slowly submerges his head and I get a real Apocalypse Now vibe from the scene as Joe rises from the shake completely covered in chocolate shake. Oh but there’s more. Every shake needs whipped cream so the kids push a button and accent Joe with a nice whipped cream topping. Poor Joe and poor $3000 suit. Why does Henry know how much Joe’s suit cost? Is he an Arrested development fan?

Joe Bostianich in a giant milkshake

After our favorite trick editing sequence Joe is magically cleaned in an instant and we are ready to go for the next round. Side note: How many takes do they need to get this editing sequence right with the kids’ reaction? I envision them standing around for like an hour while Joe gets cleaned up, or maybe they stand around and film it before the competition with all 3 judges. Either way it’s a lame mechanic that they do every season and I wish they would stop – but I am sure I will see this “magic trick” at least 7 more times this season. Sigh.

For the challenge tonight the kids will be putting their own spin on a southern classic – chicken and waffles! Coincidentally I am making chicken and waffles this week at home so when they announce this challenge I am hoping to be inspired. Each chef will have 45 minutes to personalize their own version of chicken and waffles for the judges. For example: Gordon says to make chicken and waffles more British he would embrace England’s imperialistic past and make the dish more Indian – What?! Are British people really that flippant about cultural appropriation? Can you imagine an American chef saying something similar on national TV? I get that Indian cuisine is popular throughout Britain but that would be like me saying I am going to make my chicken and waffles more American by making them more Mexican. Sigh.

The kids race to gather their ingredients as the competition gets under way. Quani, the young baker from Georgia, confesses his love for chicken and waffles stating that he has the meal 1-2 times per week. If that’s actually true Quani you better enjoy your metabolism while it lasts because you won’t be eating that at the same rate when you’re older. Youth truly is wasted on the young. Enjoy it now, Quani. We flip to Grayson who is making tie-dye waffles. Hmmmm. Gordon is curious about the dish but before he can even get to the waffles’ color scheme and flavor he notices a problem straight away – Grayson has swapped his flour for powdered sugar without realizing it. He almost made an all sugar waffle!!! Can you imagine if he could actually get that to set what that waffle would taste like? It would be an explosion of cavities. Luckily this is early enough that Grayson has time to dump the mix and start over. I’m legit impressed Gordon can discern the difference between powdered sugar and flour just by looking at it. They look identical to me.

tie dye waffle
No one is going to eat this over the age of 5

Our next preview is Arianna.  She tells us that she will be making a Belarussian style chicken and waffles dish. I don’t know what Belarussian cuisine is or what it tastes like so I believe whatever Arianna says it is. Apparently that means creamy mushroom sauce? Mushrooms are not my favorite so this dish would be a hard one for me personally, but I know many people like the earthy sweetness mushrooms can bring to a dish. The judges are intrigued and I would make a bad Belarussian.

Soon we get to see what my current favorite, Ben, is cooking up for his version of chicken and waffles.  Surprise surprise Ben is looking to spice things up with a little bit of…WHITE CHOCOLATE! Dude really likes his white chocolate. Ben figures that the one thing wrong with his dish last time was that it clearly did not have enough white chocolate. He needs to give the judges more. Ben, I love you but I am worried you may go home due to your love of white chocolate. At least you’ll lose on your own terms, and that is something I can respect. As we near the end of the challenge we see that Camson’s waffle is not so much a waffle as it is just a huge mess that production is going to have to scrape from the waffle iron. With little time left Camson is forced to get a new waffle iron and try and turn out 1 more waffle otherwise he will be serving chicken and waffles minus the waffles and guarantee his ticket home. At the same time this is happening Pierce, safe on the balcony, has the most hilarious and exaggerated expressions on his face. Someone get this kid into theatre. And with that it’s judgement time!

Up first is Avery who hails from Texas. She has made a Texan-inspired chicken and waffles with her very own gunpowder sauce. It sound spicy so automatically I think it is good. Joe agrees. When he asks her if she hunts she tells him yes. He probes further. What does she want to hunt? Avery tells Joe that she wants to shoot a bear. WHAT? Ughhh, come on Avery! Leave bears alone, they don’t need to be shot. You want to hunt elk or rabbits or whatever else, fine. I don’t agree with it but fine, I get it. Some people like to hunt, but a bear? What the hell is wrong with your parents? Why do you think it is okay to shoot a bear – this isn’t the Oregon Trail! I’d send you home just for that comment, gunpowder sauce be damned. The judges disregard this and she’s probably safe (I’m watching you Avery – you’re on thin ice).

Remy is up next and showcases her Italian chicken and waffles. She’s made a parmesan encrusted fried chicken to compliment a tomato waffle. Intriguing. That sounds pretty pretty good. I might even order that in a restaurant if I saw it on the menu. The only slip up here is the sauce she made. Maple syrup won’t work with this combination so she’s made a cilantro yogurt to pair with the dish. That doesn’t sound fantastic. I don’t think cilantro is even Italian so the inspiration seems off. I might have served it with a classic red sauce – just a simple tomato something. Despite the sauce pairing it looks like Remy has proved Joe wrong – you can make Italian chicken and waffles. She’s good. Quani faces Joe with his version of chicken and waffles and right away it’s clear he’s made a critical error. In place of using the maple syrup provided Quani has decided to make his own syrup to impress the judges. In the words of Gordon Ramsay, “Oh dear.” Joe tells him that this syrup better be really damn good to use over a prized ingredient like maple sugar otherwise it could be “the anchor that drags him to the bottom of the lake”. It’s not good. It’s a brown sugar, water and cinnamon mixture that sounds pretty bland. Joe rightfully tells him he should have focused on the dish itself and not trying to outsmart the judges by crafting his own syrup – Joe cuts deep when wronged.

Baby Aaron Samuels (Cade) uses his southern background to create a Cajun-inspired chicken and waffles. I’ll put this out here now: I love Cajun food and will voraciously devour anything Cajun-inspired. Christina is the judge for Aaron-Cade and she loves what’s he has put on the plate. If Christina, who claims she grew up eating breakfast for dinner, says it’s good then you know it’s gotta be real good. Does this mean I attempt my own version of Cajun chicken and waffles this week? Maybe. Will it be as good as Cade’s? Doubtful since I’ve never cooked Cajun anything in my life.

Grayson’s waffles look like “play-doh”.They are a soggy sad mess and look terrible. Gordon takes a bite, basically tells him they are awful and that his chicken is bland. Maybe tie-dye waffles shouldn’t be a thing Grayson? Also, don’t cook for Master Chef the same way you cook for your little sister. I don’t know how old your little sister is but I imagine she’s at an age where things, sometimes food and sometimes not food, just get jammed in her mouth. The sweeter the better be it tie-dye waffles or a toy fire truck. Moving on to Ben and his white chocolate…wait…where’s the white chocolate Ben?! You told us there would be white chocolate and I know how liberal you can be when using white chocolate. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WHITE CHOCOLATE WE WERE PROMISED BEN? Ultimately this is a good thing – he’s learning to edit himself based on feedback from the judges. Ben has a big hill to climb based on his presentation but he’s learning. His dish seems underwhelming but again, he’s trying to take in what the judges are telling him. Give him another week guys!

Camson somehow makes a waffle and is able to serve a complete dish to the judges. They like the jalapenos in his waffles and everything seems to be coming up roses for Camson. Looks like he’s safe. We move on to Arianna and her creamy mushroom waffles taste amazing, apparently. I’m skeptical of anything mushroom but most chefs go gaga-gaga for well executed mushroom dishes. Nice work Arianna, you’re definitely in one of the top spots after this challenge and moving on. Finally, we have Mikey and Lindsay. Mikey’s presentation is killer, per Christina. Honestly, I think his presentation is enough to get him through to the next round because I don’t remember much about his chicken and waffles. I think he used potato chips to create the crust for the fried chicken? Sounds nice. We end with Lindsay’s chicken and waffles and well – she’s delivered exactly that, chicken and waffles. Minimalist presentation is pretty in right now at top-tier restaurants but there’s a big difference between minimal and bare. Lindsay’s plate looks bare. Oh and her chicken? It’s raw. I don’t know if she actually understood the challenge because she made literal chicken and waffles, no spin. This shouldn’t be a hard one for the judges because it’s quite clear she is going to make an exit with this effort.

Lindsay is in a spot of trouble with her under-cooked chicken and waffles

After the tasting the judges gather and debate the merits of each dish. After a short session the judges break and announce our winners. Arianna’s herb chicken and mushroom sauce topped waffles are good enough to get her a 2nd place finish. Our overall winner tonight is Cade and his Cajun waffles – yep, I’m gonna try to replicate this, wish me luck. For winning both Cade and Arianna will be a captains in the team challenge next week. Calling it now, this is usually more a liability than an advantage.

As for our losers – Ben, Quani, Lindsay and Grayson are all called to the front of the kitchen. Recalling each kid’s chicken and waffles I know who is going home. Ultimately I think the kids do, too. Tie-dye Grayson and plain Lindsay are going home sparring Ben and Quani. Phew, Ben is safe for another week. I think the two kids sent home deserved to be sent home but maybe you don’t. What do you think? Who had the best dish of the night who wasn’t named Cade? Should Ben or Quani have gone home over Grayson or Lindsay?