MasterChef Junior, contestant Alexander
These are the best four junior home cooks in America and it's a huge accomplishment for Dara, Alexander, Troy and Jack. They have all worked so hard and deserve to be in the Top 4, but there can only be one MasterChef Junior and there are only two spots in the finale, so at the end of this episode, two of these incredible cooks will leave the MasterChef kitchen forever.
The episode starts with a challenge that sounds easier than it actually is — one perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. The junior homecooks all have a saucepot, a slotted spoon and one egg. I am sure when you make a soft-boiled egg at home you probably, like me, use a timer. Well, is not going to be that easy for these talented young cooks. No timer for them, so they will have to focus and count the time in their heads. I cook my eggs in boiling water and let it cook for four minutes and voila! A perfect soft-boiled egg! I would not be so sure I could count correctly in my head for 240 seconds.
Troy is the first one to take his egg out, followed by Dara, Alexander and Jack. I think that Jack kept his in the water for a little bit too long, but his confidence makes me feel like I might be wrong. Sadly, I am not. Jack has a hard-boiled egg and so do Dara and Alexander. This is a very though challenge, but like Chef Ramsay I also thought that these kids could do better. I would have kept it in the water for less time and risk having a raw egg instead of an overcooked one, because by the time you bring the egg to the judges, it will keep cooking.
At this point, it looks like Troy is in better shape because he took his egg out of the water before everybody and even if his egg is not perfect, it's much better than everyone else's. So Troy wins and now he has a huge advantage that will put him in the position to control the game.
After the egg, we have the chicken!
Troy will have to pick which part of the chicken he will cook with and also assign the remaining pars to the other contestants. He can choose from a breast, thigh, wings or liver.
I was in a similar situation in my season, at the ranch challenge, where we had to cook for Paula Deen's guests. I had to pick a protein for myself and decide what the other contestants would have to cook with. The most important thing with these advantages is to choose something for yourself that will send you to the next round, and then you can think about how to knock down your biggest competition. I had to pick between chicken, shrimp, pork chops, gator and catfish. I picked the pork chops for myself and everyone thought I was crazy. I did not pick them because I thought they were the easiest, but I picked them thinking that I would make a great dish that would take me to the next round.
Troy picks the thigh for himself and gives the liver to Alexander, wings to Dara and breast to Jack.
Troy's strategy is pretty clear. He gave the easiest chicken cut to Jack because he does not consider him a threat and obviously gives the hardest part to Alexander. It seems like a great plan because Big Al has never cooked or tasted chicken livers before. I don't think Dara will have any problems with the wings because I am sure her Asian heritage will play to her strengths.
I would have probably picked the breast for myself, focusing on cooking it perfectly, nice and juicy, served with pistachio crust, a smooth sweet potatoes puree and broccoli rabe in a mushrooms reduction sauce — keeping it very classic and attached to my roots. That always worked. Jack comes up with something similar to my idea, but he goes a step above me: prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast stuffed with sundried tomatoes, goat cheese and olives served with roasted potatoes and asparagus. Very brave, Jack, very brave! The chicken is cooked perfectly — a great balance with the creaminess of the cheese and the saltiness of the prosciutto. A great effort and a great dish. Really impressive!
Dara made a soy ginger glaze and fried chicken wings with pickled vegetables. She made the pickles with a family recipe and they really looked beautiful and delicious. She cleaned the wings and made them look like a lollipop! I wished I could have tasted those wings. The judges loved the dish and they were really blown away.
Alexander had to work with the livers, which he does not like and had never worked with, but he is a smart young man and I am sure he will come up with clever idea. He made chicken liver pate, served over garlic crostini with red cherry marmalade, balsamic reduction and bacon. He decided to serve it on a wood board and I thought it was a great idea! It actually looks like something I will serve in my restaurant one day. He nailed it, the judges loved it, and it looks like it will be a very hard decision because the first three home cooks presented fabulous dishes.
It's time for Troy to bring his dish in front of the judges. He chose to cook the chicken thigh on the pan and then finish it in the oven. He served the chicken with yellow and spaghetti squash with a romesco sauce. It sounds like a great idea and he looks pretty confident, but that confidence is taken away pretty soon, right after Chef Ramsay cuts into his chicken to find out that it's still raw. Joe asked Troy if he thought he should have cooked both thighs just in case, but Troy said that he did not need to cook both because he was going to be fine. I don't mind a certain level of confidence if it's backed up by results.
In hindsight, Troy should have cooked both thighs and then when he thought they were ready, he could have cut into one to make sure they were cooked. This is the semifinals of MasterChef Junior — not really the time to take risks like that.
I honestly can see a lot of myself when I was younger in Troy. I like his spirit and tenacity. Like him, I was really fond of my abilities and myself, but then I got knocked down a few times and I learned from my mistakes. Troy, I am sure you will learn a lot from this experience. Slow down, don't be in a hurry — there are a lot of things that you need to learn along the way. We all do.
Now, with Troy out of the game, it comes down to Alexander's chicken liver crostini, Jack's roulade and Dara's Asian wings. I would not want to be in the judges' shoes right now. Those dishes all looked delicious and flawless.
In the end, I think the judges based their decision on creativity and sent Super Jack back to New York. It was one of the saddest moments of the show for me. Jack, you made me cry. You had a great run, you put so much heart in everything you did in this competition, and I am really proud of you. I can't wait to cook something together here in NYC.
Now it's down to Dara and Alexander battling for the title of America's first MasterChef Junior.
Don't miss the finale of MasterChef Junior on Friday, Nov. 8 at 8/7c on Fox. There will be a very special guest cheering this kids on... ME!!!
Follow me on twitter @MC4Luca and visit my website at www.lucamanfe.com