So by now you must all know that these kids aren’t flesh-and-blood moppets who just happen to love to cook as well as your average four-star restaurant chef. They’re plants, all of them from California or the New York area despite a nationwide casting call, and some are acting professionals. Troy and Nathan were extras on Modern Family, which probably required no cooking skill whatsoever. The scandal!
Even worse, or maybe perfectly understandably under the circumstances, some guy has published a blog claiming that he was one of the on-set chefs who actually cooks and plates the food for the kids. The footage of the young’uns chopping and sauteing is mere theater, he reports, while real chefs labor in anonymity to prepare the demi-glaces and vinaigrettes that earn the judges’ praise.
But some viewers are not yet in the know, including an indignant forum poster who wrote:
What I find more disturbing is that people don’t believe young children, in general, are able to master something as mundane as cooking. Do we, as a nation, have such low expectations of children that putting flour and eggs together (pasta) seems like a radical impossibility? Those “fancy” macarons are made from sugar, almond flour and egg whites. Fish?? Just score it, add some spices, and put it in the oven. Steak?? Add some spices to a piece of meat and put it in a pan.
In other words, the countless other chef-stroking shows that insist cooking is a craft mastered only after years of specialized education and grueling apprenticeship, and that even then, only a rare few are gifted enough to merit plaudits for superior macaron-baking or fish-cooking, are wrong. Is Gordon Ramsay famous just because he’s good looking and has a cute accent? Okay, I just answered my own question. But how does that explain Joe and Graham?
Tonight they have to challenge the kids to cook something even more difficult than Gordon’s unparalleled Beef Wellington. There are Mystery Boxes at their stations when they come into the kitchen. As one, they lift the covers and yell, “Ewwww.” Liver, kidneys, snails, stinky cheese, sardines with their faces on, artichokes, eggplants, dates, olives. All that’s missing are Lunchables and Charleston Chews.
Troy tells us again that he has a very sophisticated palate. Did he sneer at the craft services table on the set of Modern Family? Sophia is making nettle soup with escargot. Give me a break, she is not. Sarah is deep-frying non-beheaded sardines to be served with Brussells sprouts. I am rushing to order in some Chinese.
The judges marvel at these kids having “a perspective of global cuisine.” I marvel at the judges’ ability to jabber ceaselessly without informing us of anything.
Dara’s souffles, which she watched anxiously at the oven door, didn’t set, and are pathetically dripping off the spoon. Now she knows how she’ll feel when she doesn’t get accepted to the college of her choice.
The judges decide which three dishes are the top ones to try. Troy of the sophisticated palate is called up first, offering a snail chowder with eggplant chips and herb oil. I notice all these cooking shows use the same brand of white dishes. I notice that because I’m trying to block out the idea of snail chowder.
The second dish “clearly looks like it comes out of a restaurant.” Is that their singular standard for excellence? No one ever cooked something at home that tasted really good? It’s Alexander’s sticky toffee pudding with some other ritzy accoutrements like candied fennel. Everyone’s candying everything these days. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll see candied Twix. Graham writes WOW in caramel on the side of the plate. Or maybe it’s MOM because he’s feeling helplessly undermined by a child who can cook better than he can.
Next they call on Sarah, who scored high with every component. Joe bites the head off the sardine, an excellent metaphor. He asks her if she’s scared of anything, since she is so undaunted in the kitchen. “Clowns,” she confesses, which means she must be terrified of Graham. She explains that she started learning to cook when her mom brought her to her grandmother’s restaurant at nine months old. She then began making her own formula.
The best dish is Sarah’s. Now she is automatically in the Top 6 and in control of the Elimination Test. The men lure her into the back room and ask who she wants gone. It’s not at all creepy. Alexander and Troy, she blurts without hesitating. Do not cross Sarah; she’ll fry you with your head still on.
The theme of the next challenge is baking. Sarah, who is freed from participating, has the choice to assign the other kids one of three desserts. The first is cupcakes, which Joe says are hard to make correctly. No, they’re not: Buy a box of Duncan Hines and follow the directions. Otherwise, they can make a layer cake or fruit tarts. Sarah chooses the layer cake, which must have at least three layers. The kids discuss the pitfalls of layer cake creation. This show is wretched for making cake with frosting seem perilous.
Dara says she’ll be okay because she made her mom’s wedding cake when she was 10. There are too many contemporary social issues involved in that revelation to address properly. Alexander is making a lemon cake to match his lemon-sucking expression. Then he confuses flour for confectioner’s sugar, and has to start all over. The judges murmur darkly that he may not come back from this devastating error. Have faith, children, for Alexander is not invincible.
With 65 minutes to go, some of the kids have their pans in the oven. But not only Alexander is lagging. Sofia is sobbing piteously, pushing aside the oversized horned-rim glasses that were surely purchased to make her memorable among the crowd of on-screen faces. Gordon rushes over to help, speaking gently and supportively and without the subtitles reading “You self-obsessed, delicate, dainty, insecure little psychopath!” She has a bowl of powder in her mixer, apparently having forgotten to cream the butter or add the eggs or something that’s taught in Cake 101, which she passed on because they were paying too much already for her vocal coach. Jack is making a meringue buttercream with about 20 sticks of butter. He probably watches Paula Deen.
The decorating efforts are looking pretty lame as the clock ticks down. Alexander is up first again with his lopsided lemon cake with lemon curd and Lemon Pledge. Joe torments him as he brandishes the cake server. “Light and airy? This is DENSE,” he seethes, holding a slice aloft like Perry Mason indicating Exhibit A in a murder trial. Sarah grins demonically from the balcony.
Now Dara presents her very pretty chocolate cake with spiced cayenne pepper ganache. It looks suspiciously more polished than the one she was just shown frosting rather ham-handedly in the countdown footage. They’re all impressed with the look and taste, balancing out the souffle debacle, so we’re now uncertain if she’s going home. Job well done, producers.
Kaylen’s got a pink-frosted berry cake. It looks like a hat somebody sat on.
Gavin brings up what he calls Chocoholic’s Delight. I can get behind that. It looks good, too, so it must have been frosted by the same secret hired adult chef as made Dara’s. After they praise it, they give Gavin a taste and he declares it “stupendous.” The chef smiles wearily backstage.
Troy has a lemon cake, too, paved with yellow sanding sugar. It’s met with “meh.”
Jack presents a vanilla cake with that weird frosting. It looks nice. The cake is delicious, says Gordon, despite having the entire dairy case worth of Land o’ Lakes on it. He and the child share a tender moment wherein we learn that Gordon’s son is also named Jack and likes to cook.
Sofia finally produced a chocolate cake with strawberry and raspberry buttercream. It’s too squashed and the icing is too buttery. Finally, we learn two useful things about cooking: A too-hot oven makes a crispy edge on your sponge, and British people call the layers in a cake “sponge.”
Gordon announces that the best cakes were made by Gavin and Dara, now in the Top 6. They climb the stairs to gloat with Sarah. Alexander starts crying. Jack is declared safe next. He says he is proud to beat Alexander. It’s nice too see kids participating in a healthy competition that emphasizes teamwork and doing your best.
The other two kids moving on are Troy and Alexander. WHAT? Snuffles are heard as Elton John reaches for the phone to issue a press statement on sexism in kids’ cooking competition shows. At least Kaylen can take away the memory of pouring unwhipped cream on Gordon Ramsay’s head.
And Alexander will remember about the clowns.