Dara and Alexander
Here we are everybody, this is the culinary battle that all of America is talking about, the first-ever MasterChef Junior U.S. finale. This is a show that grabbed everyone's attention -- foodies or not, everybody loves this show!!!
I don't think anyone was expecting something like this. Who would have thought that kids from the age of 8 to 13 years old would perform in such a stressful environment like the MasterChef kitchen, presenting food to three culinary geniuses like Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Mr. Joe Bastianich?
It is not only the talent of these junior homecooks that makes this show so successful, but also the kids themselves; they captured our attention and our hearts.
One of my personal favorite parts of the show was watching the judges interact with and inspire these kids. We saw Chef Ramsay help Sofia when she was having a breakdown making a cake, we saw Joe Bastianich try to cheer up Sarah after she got eliminated, and then we saw Chef Graham Elliot as sweet as ever, always there to help out the kids and inspire them.
Then there was the food. We saw lots of amazing food put on a plate. Roen's incredible sushi plate, Alexander's French macarons, Sarah's perfect chocolate molten lava cake, and Jack's performance in the restaurant takeover will go down as the strongest on any MasterChef season -- my buddy from Long Island was definitely a fan favorite. Dara's bow will go down as the most fashionable part of MasterChef, and her three-layer spicy chocolate cake seriously set the bar for any baking challenge of any future season.
The Top 2 are Dara from the City of Angels and 13-year-old Alexander from the City That Never Sleeps, New York.
In the culinary Thunderdome, to cheer them on are all their families plus all the other MasterChef Junior contestants. I remember in my finale when I saw all the other contestants, I started to realize what I had accomplished. All those talented cooks were there with me to follow the same dream and one after another one they all went home before me.
In the MasterChef kitchen tonight, there is a super special guest: all the way from New York City, dressed up for the occasion, the MasterChef Season 4 winner, aka me. Obviously when I got to the studio that day, I did not witness any of the other episodes so I really didn't know what to expect from these kids.
In tonight's final challenge, Dara and Alexander will have to cook a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, a main course and dessert. When I heard their menus the first time, I was speechless.
Dara will follow her Asian background with a duo of ahi tuna to start, pan-seared spotted prawns with wontons in a Thai-curry sauce for the entrée and a dessert of poached pears in a miso ginger sauce. It sounds very sophisticated, cohesive and ambitious.
Alexander is presenting shrimp and heirloom tomato crostinis, a pan-seared veal chop with potato gnocchi and a deconstructed cannoli napoleon with a mixed berry sauce. This menu sounds less fancy then Dara's, with a big Italian influence, very rustic and homey.
Time flies fast in a situation like this, and they both have a lot of dishes to prepare. Dara has to marinate the tuna that will be served raw and sear the other piece, prepare the filling for the dumplings and then put them together, poach the pears and finish the sauces for the main course and dessert. Alexander also had a lot on his plate. He has to make the dough for the cannoli and the gnocchi, filling and sauce for the dessert, cook the shrimp and he needs to absolutely nail the cook on that veal chop.
It seems like Dara forgot her sugar, and Alexander, without her even asking, turns around and hands some of his to her. Remarkable! Good job, Alexander! You all know I would have done the same. It's nice to win in a fair battle, defeating opponents with talent.
While Alexander looks very composed and organized, Dara seems to feel the pressure more and needs a little break to drink some water and breathe. Also in this case Alexander showed a lot of sportsmanship and stopped cooking to make sure she was OK! I love these kids.
It's time to taste these incredible creations.
Dara's appetizer is more complex than Alexander's. She shows a lot of skills with the tuna and the judges take notice. Alexander's crostini may sound simple, but it's one of his strongest abilities to create sensational flavors with simple ingredients.
Dara's main course again sounds delightful, but out of the two I would choose Alexander's veal chop with gnocchi in a heartbeat. The judges love both dishes, but the cook of that veal chop might give Alexander a slight edge.
The desserts are both intriguing. Dara's more from the flavor aspect because miso is not something usually in a dessert. Alexander's idea to combine a napoleon and a cannoli together may take this dessert to another level, and I just can't wait to hear what the judges have say. I am not surprised that the judges are blown away and I have to be honest that watching it from home I would not be able to guess who will be the winner.
I remember when I was in the studio, I immediately had a sweet spot for Alexander, a young man from New York like me, cooking an Italian menu, like me.
I was very impressed with both kids, but now the judges have to pick one winner.
One of these two junior homecooks will go home with the MasterChef Junior trophy and $100,000.
The title of the first America Junior MasterChef goes to.......Alexander!!!!!! Congratulations! I was honored to be there to witness such an important moment.
Like Chef Ramsay previously said, "Alexander works like a chef, talks like a chef and has a very unique relationship with food." I have no doubt in my mind that his future will be in the culinary industry.
Dara, you should be very proud of yourself. You accomplished some amazing things in this competition and you showed all of America your passion and positive attitude. I can't wait to get to California and have dinner at your place. I would like to try your amazing chicken wings and that incredible spicy chocolate cake.
I am so sad that MasterChef Junior is over. I hope next year the season will be much longer. What will I do all winter without MasterChef?
What do you think about the finale? Who would you have picked as the MasterChef Junior winner? Which dish of the finale would you have wanted to try?
Thank you for reading and for being with me these past seven weeks, and thank you to TVGuide.com for giving me this unique opportunity.
I would like to remind everyone that my first cookbook will be published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. It will be available in Spring 2014 and will be ready very soon for pre-order at www.lucamanfe.com.
Ciao e grazie!
Follow me on twitter @MC4Luca and visit my website at www.lucamanfe.com