On MasterChef Junior, we are down to the Top 6 junior home cooks in America. One of these kids will make history by becoming the first ever U.S. MasterChef Junior. When the kids walk inside the MasterChef kitchen, Chef Ramsay announces to them that they will not be cooking in the kitchen today, but instead are off for their first field challenge. Chef Ramsay tells the junior cooks this will be "a test in the real world." I know exactly what this means. Chef used the same words with us before our restaurant takeover challenge. This cannot be possible. They are just kids. They cannot work in the pressure of a professional kitchen.
Well, I am seriously wrong!! Again! This show surprises me every week, and I love it.
The judges and kids enter the famous Italian restaurant Drago Centro in Downtown L.A. This is crazy. The restaurant takeover is not only a MasterChef classic, but it's also one of the hardest challenges ever because MasterChef is a competition for home cooks — not professional cooks.
I seriously think the judges may have taken this too far, but I am excited to watch and I hope I am wrong.
Dara and Gavin had the best dishes in the last elimination test: two marvelous chocolate layer cakes, so they will be team captains. Dara has the first pick and obviously picks Alexander. She's on the way to building a dream team. Gavin very smartly picks Troy. Jack also joins Dara's team and by default, Sarah goes to Gavin.
The situation is pretty obvious. Dara and the red team are the ones to beat, but you never know because even though they are the underdogs, the blue team may pull it together. Also Dara and Alexander have very big personalities and if they don't put their egos aside they might have some trouble.
In my season, the restaurant takeover was in Chef Wolfgang Puck's WP24 on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown LA. Natasha picked Jessie and me against Bri, James and Krissi. Even if we struggled in the appetizer round, we pulled it off mostly because, in the end, we were the best team. Let's see how this goes for the kids.
The junior cooks will have to reproduce two appetizers and two main courses from Drago Centro's sophisticated menu.
The first one is a burrata cheese with artichokes, cherry tomatoes, arugula and olive crostini. The burrata is already made, but the key in this dish will be the seasoning of all the components and, of course, the plating.
The second appetizer is a seared tuna with a crispy risotto cake, sunchokes and sautéed fennel. This dish requires more skills, as the tuna needs to be seared on all the sides and still be rare inside, and the risotto cake must be fried just perfectly.
For the main course, they have to cook a branzino and short rib ravioli. The branzino needs to be seared properly to get a crispy skin; nobody wants a soggy oily skin on his or her plate. The secret for the ravioli is just the preparation time. The young cooks will have 60 minutes to prep for service and in that time both teams need to nail the ravioli to get comfortable for the dinner service. After the ravioli is prepped, all the junior cooks will need to do is boil them for three minutes and sauté them with the sauce.
The 60-minute prep time starts, and Troy is really taking over the blue team strategy. Gavin, the team captain, should take the lead, but seems to stand back and let Troy run the game. Sarah is not happy with that, and I don't blame her.
As a form of respect, Troy should have let Gavin explain his plan and then eventually given his insight. Troy obviously thinks he's the best cook out of all of them, but in this case, he's not cooking by himself and he should try to work more as a team player and not as a dictator. He feels that Sarah will be a problem because she is the youngest.
Well, let me tell you something Mr. Troy: If you want to be a leader, you need to understand that a strong leader is one who gets the best out of every individual on his team.
Over on the red team, Dara lets her teammates speak up about what they feel more comfortable doing, so they are able to put together a plan in harmony and in a short amount of time.
During the prep time, though, the red team is actually struggling to get their ravioli done while Sarah and Troy on the blue team find a good rhythm and produce the ravioli very fast!
Dinner service starts and everything looks very smooth until Troy decides to take over Sarah's role of plating the tuna appetizer and the team gets called out because of very sloppy plating. I hope this is a wake-up call for Troy. He can't do everything by himself and needs to start working as a team.
On the red team, Alexander looks like she does not want to collaborate with Dara and does not take her direction. Instead, Jack is working very neat and fast, and his burrata is flying out of the window, but unfortunately all the plates need to go out together, and Dara and Alexander struggle to send their plates out, making Jack's beautiful food wait in the window. It's remarkable to see Jack's attitude when he tries to cheer his teammates up and hold his team together. Hawaii Jack to the rescue!
The appetizer round is over. The two teams performed very well. Let's see if they can keep it together for the main course.
Unfortunately, Troy is trying to take over again and basically doesn't let Sarah do anything. We all saw Sarah perform before, we know she can cook. She might be younger, but Troy is the one acting like the little kid.
On the red team, I love how Jack is working completely flawlessly on preparing the difficult and complex branzino dish, while Dara and Alexander don't really look like they have their head in the game.
Dinner service is complete. It's amazing that these kids put it together.
After the service is complete, the judges Gordon, Joe and Graham ask the diners if they would like to meet the chefs. The diners had no idea it was kids cooking for them and the patrons cannot believe it when the young home cooks step out of the kitchen. The kids receive a standing ovation with cheers and tears! What an amazing job!
The kids should be very proud of what they put together. Sarah was too funny when she said: "I will not complain anymore if the food takes too much time the next time I'm at a restaurant." I think it's a good lesson for them, and it can open their eyes on what is actually happening every night in any restaurant around the world.
Unfortunately though, the judges will have now to choose a winning team and save just one individual from the losing team.
Both teams performed very well, but I think that Troy's struggle with Sarah will cost the blue team this challenge because it is not just about quality of the food, but also overall team performance. I wish that Gavin stepped up more to his role as captain and kept Troy in his place.
Congratulations to the red team: Dara, Alexander and Hawaii Jack make it to the semifinal round of MasterChef Junior. I really think that Jack's performance is the key to his team's win.
Now the judges need to save just one junior cook from the blue team of Sarah, Gavin and Troy. It's a very difficult decision to make, and I would be very torn myself.
I don't like to say this, but it looks like Sarah has her luggage ready to leave the MasterChef kitchen. She is very talented, but she was not able to step up in this challenge. Even considering Troy's attitude, she could have done better and, at this point, she is the weakest out of the three.
I would save Gavin in a heartbeat. Even if I wanted him to be a stronger leader, he still worked very well and had no problems in the kitchen.
Troy was very disrespectful towards Sarah and also towards Gavin's captain role — trying to do too much, he mostly put his team behind. I think that being eliminated right now would be a good lesson for him.
In the end though, the judges probably considered who's the best cook of the two and I might agree that Troy is the most talented. He's safe and will join the other three in the MasterChef Junior semi-finals.
Gavin and Sarah, you are awesome kids and you really gave us great emotions. I might say that — along with Jack — you are the two that made me laugh and smile the most. You are both very talented. Keep cooking and never stop following your dreams. I'll come and see you when I fly to California.
Did you like this episode? Do you agree with me that the "restaurant takeover" is one of the best MasterChef challenges ever?
With just four young home cooks left, who do you think will be the first MasterChef Junior winner?
MasterChef Junior's two-part finale kicks off on Friday, Nov. 1, and then concludes with the announcement of the winner in Part 2 on Friday, Nov. 8. Both parts air at 8/7c on Fox.
And if you think you have what it takes to be the next MasterChef check out www.MasterChefCasting.com and attend one of the open casting calls.
Follow me on twitter at @MC4Luca and visit my website at www.lucamanfe.com