OPELIKA — It was all about “Thyme Travel” on the seventh episode of MasterChef Junior, as the five remaining contestants were challenged to revamp the dishes they served on the first episode, using all the knowledge about cooking they’ve gained since then.
“Your challenge tonight is to take these dishes from your past and turn them into dishes from your future,” world renowned Chef Gordon Ramsay told the youngsters.
“Kids, I can see five amazing young home cooks here who might become five Michelin star winning chefs when they grow up — this should be your signature dish at your future restaurant,” judge Daphne Oz said, explaining that their revamped dishes must be “restaurant-quality, elevated and elegant.”
The winner of the challenge would not only move forward to the semifinals but would also win an all-inclusive family vacation to a resort in Mexico. Opelika’s Bryson McGlynn, who was 11 years old during filming of the show, made it clear he was all in.
“I really want to win this trip to Mexico, because Momma Cheesecake and Papa Cheese — we need to get out of Alabama and go to Mexico and get on a vacation,” the Cheese Curd said. (The family adopted the nicknames because Bryson’s father, Mike, is originally from Wisconsin.)
“It’s a good barometer to see how much [the young chefs have] taken in and absorbed through this whole process, but the pressure to really demonstrate what they’ve learned in one dish is a tall order,” celebrity Chef Aaron Sanchez said. “There’s a lot of pressure on Bryson, actually, because he won that [first] challenge off a rib cap… so he has to elevate it — twice.”
“This is gonna be really hard, because the first challenge I actually won, so the judges are going to have insanely high expectations,” explained Bryson.
In the first episode, he won the first cooking challenge with an impressive rib eye cap with compound butter and broccolini. For this challenge, he chose to make New York strip steak with gruyere mashed potatoes and sauteed mustard greens with a bourbon peppercorn sauce.
Jordyn, an 8-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to elevate her pan-seared pork chop from the first episode by making pork tenderloin in an apple cider barbecue sauce with baby turnips and greens along with a green pea puree.
Eight-year-old Asher of Yakima, Washington, made surf and turf in the first episode. He chose to elevate the dish by making filet mignon in a chanterelle cream sauce with celery root puree and butter poached lobster tail.
“I’m so excited to show the judges that I’ve learned from them,” said Asher. “This dish is gonna be so good that Gordon’s gonna want to serve it in his restaurant, but I won’t let him, because it’s my dish, not his!”
Remy, a 10-year-old from Hollywood, Florida, upscaled her original dish of roasted chicken thigh by making roulade chicken breast with mushroom stuffing, served with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and white wine truffle sauce.
Eleven-year-old Michael of New Smyrna, Florida, made shrimp pesto linguini in the first episode, which he transformed into hand-made tortellini stuffed with shrimp, garlic and ricotta in a white cream sauce with blanched tomatoes and a basil oil.
“This is a better version of my signature dish, because I made my own pasta, and it looks really good,” Michael said. “It’s just so much better than the original.”
When the 60-minute time limit expired, Bryson, Michael and Remy were confident their dishes would be favorably judged, but Jordyn’s plating was messy, and Asher didn’t have as much time to prepare all the elements of his ambitious dish as he hoped. The judging portion of the show went as anticipated by the contestants.
“Visually, it’s stunning,” said Ramsay said of Michael’s tortellini. “When you came to plating, you grabbed the tweezers. It was like you were performing surgery on a plate.”
“Michael, I have to say, this looks better than half the dishes that come out of my dad’s restaurant,” said Ramsay’s daughter Tilly, a guest judge this season. “Seven weeks ago, you were using store-bought pasta, and [now] here you are making it yourself.”
Taste-wise, his sauce was a hit, but the judges agreed he used just a bit too much garlic.
Ramsay told Remy her chicken breast roulade was “beautiful.”
“I love the colors, and it does look elevated,” he said. “The roulade is delicious, okay? The technical ability to roll that, stuff it, cook it beautifully, that’s a tall order, let me tell you.”
“I can’t get over that this is the same cook preparing these two dishes seven weeks apart,” said Oz. “The elevation on this plate — even the artful way that you turned the chicken skin up on its side, so it had height to the plate — that makes the plate so much more enjoyable, and the only thing I’m missing on this plate, give me some of that lime juice or some of the pickled chili heat. But such a beautiful dish. Amazing.”
Sanchez agreed the dish was “great,” but said that the carrots and root vegetables were a tad underdone.
When it was time for Jordyn’s dish to be judged, she admitted, “I’m really worried about my dish, because it doesn’t look like restaurant quality.”
“It’s kind of off-putting,” Sanchez said of the dish’s appearance. “I think you have all the components of a really great dish, but that puree? It doesn’t do anything for the dish… you just kind of put it everywhere.”
“The presentation was a real let down,” agreed Oz. “However, I think the taste of it, you really came close. It is so delicious, especially that sauce.”
“You’ve got the makings of a really good dish, but …the pork, sadly, is over-cooked. It’s dry,” Ramsay said. “But your seasoning, young lady, is on point. And so, that’s a redeeming factor for me.”
When it was Bryson’s turn to present his creation to the judges, he said he was worried, because it was difficult to upgrade what was already a winning dish.
“Visually, I think your new plate is lovely,” said Oz. “I also love that you chose to put the potatoes under the steak so it’s really drinking up that delicious bourbon peppercorn sauce.”
Bryson’s steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and he explained that the greens were seasoned with vinegar, a little bit of salt and anchovies.
“OK, Bryson, if you don’t open a steak house at some point in your life, it’s game over for everybody,” Oz said. “But, blowing my own mind, the potatoes and steak are not the best part of the dish. Those greens are out of control!”
“Young man, seven weeks ago, you raised the bar, right?” Ramsay said. “You came in super strong. And so I’m gonna be honest, visually I don’t think the dish looks better, but it does taste better. The steak is cooked perfectly, and the greens exceptional. Mashed [potatoes], delicious.
“But — breakfast, lunch or dinner, seven days a week — is there any dish that doesn’t have cheese in it? Do you put cheese on your Cheerios?” Ramsay teased.
As Bryson returned to his station, the chefs dug into his plate for another taste of the greens.
Asher, indeed, did not have the time he needed to prepare his dish, and the lobster tail was under-cooked, so it could not be safely tasted by the judges. The steak, however was a beautiful medium rare and his dish looked restaurant quality.
In the end, Michael’s shrimp tortellini was judged as the best dish, and he won the trip to Mexico. Bryson and Remy also had top dishes and advanced. The bottom two dishes belonged to Asher, with the undercooked lobster, and Jordyn, with the overcooked pork. Ultimately, the messy plating of her dish sent Jordyn home from the competition.
On Monday, May 6, the “final four” child chefs will face off in the semifinal challenge. Bryson will join fellow Opelikans Antione and Raven Harvis for a joint watch party at Walk On’s Sports Bistreaux in Opelika. The Harvis family will compete on the television show “Family Feud” hosted by Steve Harvey beginning at 6 p.m. on WTVM, followed by the next episode of MasterChef Junior at 7 p.m. on FOX.

The Observer will provide continuing coverage, and fans can keep up with Bryson on his Cookin’ with Cheese Curd page on Facebook.