OPELIKA — The semifinal of MasterChef Junior took on a more serious tone than previous episodes, with the four remaining young cooks challenged to keep up with world-renowned Chef Gordon Ramsay as he prepared one of his signature dishes.
Straightaway, Ramsay was all-business, giving the contestants a hands-on demonstration of how to properly butcher a duck. One of the judges commented that it was nerve-wracking to watch the contestants, who ranged in age from 8 to 11, working with long, sharp knives as Ramsay rapidly barked instructions.
The challenge was to prepare Ramsay’s recipe for duck a l’orange with chili and garlic broccolini and caramelized endive — but the twist was that the youngsters would be working at the same pace along with the famous chef as he prepared the dish.
“Now, I’m going to show you exactly how it’s done, and if you want to make it into the finale, you cannot fall behind,” Ramsay told the contestants. “This isn’t just about speed tonight; it’s about making a dish that looks and tastes exactly like mine.”
“I’ve gotta keep up with Chef Gordon, the number one, the G.O.A.T., the best chef in the world?” said 11-year-old Michael from New Smyrna, Florida. “I’m only 11 — how am I sup-posed to do this?”
“This dish is probably, like, made in the 1800s,” said perplexed 10-year-old Remy from Hollywood, Florida. “That’s how old it is. And I don’t even know what duck tastes like. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that it’s pink, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be purple…”
“I don’t even know how to say it. It’s just like, so fancy,” said Opelika’s Bryson “Cheese Curd” McGlynn, who was 11 when the show was taped. “It was hard keeping up with Chef Ramsay breaking down the duck, so how am I supposed to keep up with him doing this whole entire cook? He has been cooking this dish for more [years] than I’ve been alive!”
Only 8-year-old Asher from Yakima, Washington, was confident.
“I feel like a lucky duck, because I’ve cooked a duck many times,” he said. “I think I’m probably the only one who’s cooked duck before here.”
Ramsay yelled instructions at the contestants as he worked, who answered, “Yes, chef!” as they struggled to keep up with him, each cooking in three skillets at the same time — one for the sauce, one for the endive and one for the broccolini — while the duck breasts finished in the oven.
“C’mon guys, keep up!” Ramsay yelled.
“He’s going as fast as he does with adults,” celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez said to the other judges.
“Oh, my goodness, chef Gordon is going so fast,” said Bryson. “And it’s really, really hard to manage three pans and only a little bit of time. So, I feel a lot of pressure right now.”
Looking on, the judges motioned for him to remember to shake his pans to stir the vegetables.
“I feel like everybody is keeping up with Chef Gordon, but I am falling behind right now, and I am very worried,” Bryson said. “It’s not going well for me. My veggies are burnt. Like, this is not good. But I’ve got to hurry up, I’ve got to do this right.”
The timer ticked down to zero, and Bryson was visibly upset that he didn’t finish plating his dish.
“It just looks terrible,” he said through tears. “My plate looks like it just got thrown together, it went through, like, a hurricane.”
The other three contestants quickly surrounded him in a consoling hug, offering words of encouragement.
“I don’t want to let my family down, I don’t want to let my dad down, and I am praying for a miracle right now,” Bryson said.
In the end, Michael won his second straight challenge, producing the dish that most looked and tasted like Ramsay’s. He sprinted to the safety of the balcony, followed shortly afterward by Remy, whose dish also looked and tasted good, even though it needed more sauce and her broccolini was slightly undercooked.
For the first time this season, Bryson’s dish fell in the bottom. His disappointment was clear as he admitted to the judges his plate was rushed and sloppy.
“Bryson, do you know what I was doing when I was 11?” Ramsay asked. “Kicking a soccer ball. So, remember what you’ve done, even if it’s the last time you cook in the kitchen tonight, whatever happens, you’ve got to hold your head up high.”
Ramsay sliced into the duck breast and the judges each took a bite.
“Okay, young man, the good news is, the duck is beautiful,” said Ramsay. “Skin is crispy, seasoned to perfection. Now for the bad news. The broccolini is hammered… it’s charred. But remember, whatever happens tonight, you cooked the duck beautifully.”
Also in the bottom was Asher’s dish. Not only was his duck too rare, but his dish was missing a crucial ingredient — the orange sauce. The judges were torn between which of the two contestants would be eliminated.
“Bryson nailed the hard part,” said guest judge Tilly Ramsay. “He managed to cook that duck perfectly, and he did get the other ingredients on the plate, and they did all taste very well. It’s just a shame about that broccolini.”
“It’s a tough one,” Ramsay said. “Do we go with the dish that looked closest to mine but undercooked the duck or the one with the messy plate but nailed the duck?”
Ultimately, Asher lost the contest. Bryson let out a huge sigh of relief when Ramsay told him, “The plating was a mess, but it was more than enough to get yourself into the finale.”
Next week the three remaining young cooks will face off in the final challenge in front of a studio audience to see who will go home with the trophy, the $100,000 prize and the title of MasterChef Junior.
There will be a watch party for the final episode on Monday, May 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Hey Day Market in Auburn.