Tonight, after a daunting chicken challenge, our top two Julia Children will be anointed during this first half of the season finale. Next Friday, we’ll see the last sauce-overboiler knocked out, and the Kelly Clarkson of Master Chef Junior USA will be crowned.
Will the cheap glass chatchke of a trophy, presumably liquid $100,000, and years of never being able to surpass this early achievement go to Alexander, Dara, Jack or Troy? Certainly the chickens aren’t going to enjoy finding out.
The question put to the kids in their challenge tonight is “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” They laugh as they come into the studio and see a few live birds free-ranging around a little pen, complete with miniature barn and GMO grain. The judges also stand in the hay like giant Fisher-Price people.
Gordon tells them the answer to that eternal question, as the kids will start the competition by preparing a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. He shows them such a creation, tapping the shell tenderly with his spoon, gently touching the firm white with trembling fingers, rhapsodically describing the wonderful burst of yolk in his mouth, moaning softly with pleasure as he tastes it. Then Gordon lights up a cigarette.
The catch, aside from the whole situation with the rigging: There will be no timer for the kids egg-making task. They also only have one egg to work with. This is literally as exciting as watching water boil.
While the kids start counting off the seconds and gaze at their bubbling saucepans, Graham and Gordon argue over how long to properly cook a soft-boiled egg. Chef shop talk is so fascinating.
Troy ferries his egg from the water first and carries it forward for presentation in the little egg cup. Dara follows soon after, then the other two. They start the judging with Jack, whose egg must have cooked longest. Is his goose cooked? Graham, a pretty egg-shaped fellow himself, slices off the top. Alas, the yolk is as solid as the needle at the 300 mark on his bathroom scale. He lets the chunk drop to the tabletop in yellow defeat.
Dara’s egg is up for review next. Joe savagely slashes at the top of it, taunting her about whether she ever thought so much could be on the line for a single egg. Hers is hard-boiled, like Joe.
Now Alexander must face Gordon and his spoon. “That, young man, is a hard-boiled egg,” seethes the celebrity chef, shaking his head in disgust, as if the child had been caught shoplifting Mounds bars at the Wal-Mart.
He descends on Troy. The egg white seems sexy enough for Mr. Egg Fetishist, and the yolk, while not perfect, is closest to soft-boiled. Gordon’s contempt for the others’ failed breakfast foods is evident. Imagine the bloodbath if they had been charged with making toast as well.
Next the kids are presented with four cloches under which are an assortment of chicken parts (Foghorn Leghorn, Chicken Little, Robot Chicken, Little Red Hen). Troy, with the advantage, gets to choose which part of the chicken he gets to cook and which one everyone else does, too. There’s breast, thigh, wing, and liver. None of the kids like the liver. What is it, chopped liver?
Troy chooses the thigh, believing a good sauce will carry the day. Wise words. Either a good sauce or getting sauced good. He assigns the liver to Alexander, the wing to Dara, and the breast to Jack, probably the last time he will be likely to handle one. It’s a strategic move for the cold-blooded competitor Troy, as he reasons Jack will win with the simple-to-cook part and Troy will then be able to crush him in the final two. But as in all morality plays and reality competitions, those who dispassionately undermine weaker opponents for personal gain always end up undercooking their chicken.
And they’re off. In the kitchen, they dash from refrigerator to produce bin, crying out for shallots and asparagus like characters in a really odd production of Les Miserables. The judges again discuss in amazement that they are all children. Gordon looms over Alexander as he sorts his livers, and expresses sympathy for his having to deal with something unfamiliar and which horrified everyone else. Much how the child must feel about puberty.
From the front, Graham yells a reminder that two of them will be going home if they screw up. What a pleasure he is.
Troy is up first for judging with his pan-fried chicken thigh with Romescu sauce and herb oil. His stand-in chef made that oil before, I recall. Gordon loves the sauce. He ominously questions how long the chicken was cooked and looks dubious at the reply. Slicing into the meat, he reels back as if stung, crying, “Damn, damn, damn!” Troy is stricken. Cut to commercial and we are left dangling as to whether it’s undercooked or overcooked. It’s like waiting to find out whether Dewey or Truman won.
Finally, we see it’s raw. As Gordon contemptuously pokes the pink, naked meat, the other judges draw near and they all sigh as one to a background of sad piano music. Joe steps up to commiserate over the birdflesh that came out of the oven much too soon. Troy slinks away like a beaten dog.
Next up is Dara, with soy and ginger glazed wings served with pickles. Graham pronounces them gorgeous and says the dish could be the best thing he’s had in the show. Joe is pleased, too. Dara returns in triumph to her station, her bow standing straighter than before.
Alexander presents his wooden plank bearing crostini with pate topped with bacon. Ah, bacon, the last resort of the desperate gentile. Gordon crams one into his piehole and declares it delicious. It’s a lesson, he instructs the child severely, in the value of trying things you did not think you liked. Wrong: I tried Joe and I still hate him.
Jack is last, with chicken breast roulade stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, wrapped in prosciutto, and served with asparagus and roasted potatoes. Rather faputzed, as my grandma would say, but then she thought a boiled chicken was good eating. Gordon likes it. Graham looks like he was stuffed with the same ingredients. Everyone blathers about the marvel of Jack being 10.
The judges confer and re-enter the studio, summoning the four kids to the front. After the de rigueur compliments to them all, we have to wait for another commercial to hear the results. The first one to go through to the finale is Alexander. He bows his head in gratitude. Gordon says he cooks like a chef, sounds like a chef, and looks like Julia Child’s lost grandson. I suppose that’s less insulting than saying he looks like Guy Fieri.
The other finalists get the routine pep talk before Gordon reveals which one joins Alexander in the top two. That turns out to be Dara, because they couldn’t be sexist. Her dish oozed complexity, says Gordon. I bet he says that to all the girl chefs.
Troy tells us that we haven’t seen the last of him ™. Jack says we’ll see him cooking more amazing things. Is there a Master Chef Bar Mitzvah show in the works?
Next week the final two go head-to-head in a television first, cries the voiceover, not telling us what first that is. Be there to find out and comment about it!