Master Chef Junior – Season Finale, Part 2 – Live Blog and Discussion

Tonight is the crowning of the first Master Chef Junior, the nation’s most talented gourmet cook who cannot legally drink wine with the luscious meal he or she prepares.  Young Alexander, he of the chubby cheeks and masterful macarons, will battle Dara, whose combination of steely resolve and a family pickle recipe ferried her to the Top Two.

I give Dara a leading edge going into this evening’s challenges, owing to the savvy preservation of her brand as represented by her giant plastic hairbows. You can just see a graphic image of one adorning the packaging on her line of cookware. This late in the season, the only way Alexander can nose ahead is either by cooking superior dishes or having a memorable tantrum at least equivalent to “the Red Hots were for my mommy!”

Proving I am ahead of the cultural curve on blogging about reality TV shows, the New Yorker posted about the show today, a piece in which some credulous person rhapsodizes about watching the “diminutive chefs” preparing sophisticated meals while Gordon Ramsay does not emotionally assault them. “Mixing precocious kids and competitive cooking might sound like an exploitative fusion…” the writer begins buoyantly, compelling one to pause and reread the line to ensure that she did indeed use the word “might.”  I thought the New Yorker had fact-checkers.

“This is a television first,” announces Voiceover Guy at the start of the show, although you could say the same for the remake of Bionic Woman and it wouldn’t be a good thing. “The whole of America is talking about it,” insists the statement Gordon’s publicist wrote for him.

Dara is introduced first. She has impressed the judges from the start with her ambitious cuisine, plating intense flavors with youthful spirit. Mostly because it’s pretty difficult to plate youthful flavors with intense spirit.

From New York City is 13-year-old Alexander, known “affectionately” as Big Al. A serious competitor from the beginning, his rivals put a target on his back, and likely also salt in his sugar bowl. Why do the judges call him a home cook? Do they think we might mistake him for a restaurant chef? Although, true, he’s taller than Geoffrey Zakarian.

The judges tell the kids to welcome their parents and all their past competitors, who are lined up screaming and clapping in the balcony, something everyone appreciates while trying to cook under a deadline. The two have 90 minutes to create a perfectly composed three-course meal. I can see why I never would make it on a show like this, as when presented with that challenge, I would just order in.

In the pantry, Dara and Alexander find their beloved relatives–although not their parents, but let’s not look too deeply into that–staring at them from an HD screen to offer support and an extreme close-up of their pores. Encouraged by the culinary pep talk, the kids rush to start collecting ingredients. Alex is doing crostini, gnocchi with a veal chop, and a goddamn deconstructed Napoleon. Dara is making dual ahi tuna, something else extravagant and Asian, and a poached pear. Sorry, these kids read their scripts too fast.

Some guy with a Chico Marx accent, apparently a former Master Chef Senior winner, explains that he couldn’t make a fried egg when he was their age. Must this point be emphasized every quarter hour on this show? We didn’t constantly hear Miss Muriel on Romper Room marvel at the children’s ability to emulate Mr. Do-Bee.

“Like, omigosh,” says Dara sagely in a talking head. Warming to the theme, Alexander notes that his dishes may represent his having bitten off more than he can chew. My bathroom scale says the same thing every morning.

The judges exchange what we hope is their final commentary on the fact that these are children, who are young and inexperienced, cooking like adults, who are grown up and experienced. This has now been expressed more often in recent weeks than the view that Obamacare may be flawed.

Interrupting the children’s efforts, Gordon asks Dara about her curry recipe, and enthuses that her pears sound incredible, possibly causing the FCC to intervene. Joe and Graham interrogate Alexander like they’re prosecutors at the Scopes Monkey trial. The Chico guy says he knows that they are excited and scared as they cook. He’s a real asset to our comprehension of events.

Twenty minutes to go, and Alexander is just getting his veal chops searing. You can practically hear the Jaws music playing. The parents cheer, food processors whirl, then suddenly Dara is feeling lightheaded and calls upon her Method training as she starts to cry. Cut to commercial.

Instead of finding her flat on the floor with her shrimp burnt to a crisp, which would actually be dramatic, we return to find Gordon solving the medical emergency with some cold water and kindly words. Everyone claps. In a striking departure from the cooking-show theater of possibly-uncooked food, missing ingredients, or fallen souffles, they went with contrived physical peril, and not just your garden variety nicked finger. Touche, producers!

With five minutes left, Dara is plating and Alexander is still “making stuff.” “Edible art, that’s what we want,” screams Graham. He appears to have already ingested the entire collection at MOMA.

Everyone counts down the final seconds on the clock. Alexander and Dara throw up their hands in classic cooking show competition style, then hug in relief and joy. They both feel good about their dishes. But how do the actual chefs feel?

The judges are seated at a huge, black slab of a supervillain-type conference table to eat the food. Dara is first, presenting her dual tuna appetizer. “This is effectively two appetizers in one,” observes Joe, revealing the dazzling perceptive skills that got him so far in the business. Gordon comments in awe that he ate canned tuna with mayonnaise when he was her age, offending those of us who still enjoy canned tuna with mayonnaise well into middle age. If he dares attack Fluffernutters, there’s going to be blood.

Alexander brings up his crostini with shrimp and assorted vegetables on it. Graham says it “looks like you stumbled on it in the woods,” although I think it’s pretty rare to find crustaceans lying on the forest floor. The reaction is somewhat less laudatory than for Dara’s, and they point out the dish is not as technical as hers. It’s the old “careful pre-determined balancing of the evaluations in each round to prevent an obvious victor from being established before the official announcement” trick. Conspiracy theorists will also note that the kids’ chef coats appear unblemished by tonight’s labors.

Entrees next. Chico exclaims at how scared he was when he went in front of the judges a few months ago. Everything is about him. Dara’s got fried spot prawn heads and shrimp and scallops in a Thai coconut curry sauce with dumplings. Very impressive, but note that peanut butter and jelly on toasted white bread with potato chips and a glass of chocolate milk also has a lot of components. There’s mild disagreement about the consistency of the curry sauce. I disagree with the idea of eating a prawn head.

Alexander agonizes over his veal chop. Is it good enough? We’ve all been there, Big Al. Gordon slices it as dramatic music soars over the image. He pronounces the young cow meat perfectly cooked. The hero of the dish is YOU, says Joe, like he’s writing a Whitney Houston song. With this accomplishment, Alexander has gained back what he lost in the appetizer round, evening the odds again.

“It’s down to the dessert,” says Alexander meaningfully. I believe Kahlil Gibran said that, too.

Dara presents poached pears in a lemon ginger miso sauce with a tuile. A tuile, really? That’s so derivative.  Graham clearly wishes it were a hunk of chocolate cake with frosting. Glaring malevolently as he tastes the fruit, Joe asks where the acidity comes from, virtually 60 seconds after Dara has described adding lemon juice and lemon peel to the dish. Lydia must have regularly whacked this guy with her whisk when he was a child.

Finally, Alexander brings forward his “cannolli Napoleon” with mixed berries and mascarpone. On Chopped, a Napoleon is a cop-out. Gordon laughs in astonishment and declares that the kid shouldn’t be deconstructing anything at his age. I think Gordon shouldn’t wear his hair that way at his age. Anyway, isn’t a deconstructed Napoleon just another way of saying you were too lazy to make a real one?

Now it’s time for the judges to confer. Dara says she should win, while Alexander insists it’s too close to call. So he will actually win. Expressions of toe-in-the-dirt humility always rule the day.

The judges babble for a few moments about composition, balance, flavor profiles, and the stunning revelation of children who can cook before making a decision on the winner. Gordon looks overcome with emotional exhaustion, even though it appears they have discussed the outcome for about 15 minutes. He’s probably just upset that there will be no more paychecks from this season after they announce a winner.

The judges march into the kitchen studio and stand in a row, feet planted apart like cartoon superheroes. After their journey, Graham says, the two kids have proven that they are so much more than young, amateur home cooks. Since they’re still young and amateur, what is the man’s point? Oddly, they’re invited to switch places with the judges on the little platform from which they view the action during the show, as if that represents some kind of acknowledgment of culinary respect. Of course, it does represent the attainment of reality show success for sell-outs from the culinary world, so I guess that does say something.

The results were thisclose, raves Gordon. But just one can win! Just one can hold the stunning trophy! JUST ONE. Until next season, that is. The winner is . . .drag the moment out for ten seconds, since it’s only 8:58. . . Alexander! Confetti flies, parents weep, Dara looks crestfallen that her agent suggested she might get to put the title on her resume. Alexander joyfully says his winning the competition signifies that this is what he really wants to do. Because you can’t just do something because you like it. Reality competition shows have taught us that much.

Good night, absent commenters, and my love goes with you until our next show together. Don’t be a Don’t-Bee!








About E.M. Rosenberg 240 Articles
Favorite 40-volume series issued by Time-Life Music: Sounds of the Seventies. Favorite backsplash material: Subway tile. Favorite screen legend I pretend wasn’t gay: Cary Grant. Favorite issue you should not even get me started about: Venal, bloodsucking insurance industry. Favorite character from the comic strip “Nancy”: Sluggo, or maybe Rollo. Favorite Little Debbie snack: Nutty Bars. Favorite Monkee: Mike.