“MasterChef Junior,” the surprise hit of the fall, wrapped up its inaugural season on FOX on Friday (Nov. 8), with judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot deciding which finalist would take home the MasterChef trophy and the $100,000 prize.
For their final challenge, Dara Yu (12) and Alexander Weiss (13) were tasked to create a perfectly composed three-course meal, consisting of an appetizer, entree and dessert, in just 90 minutes. After a quick trip to the pantry, the awe-inspiring youngsters began to make the biggest meal of their lives.
Dara settled on a duo of ahi tuna for her appetizer, spot prawns with wontons in a Thai curry sauce for her entree and poached pears in a lemon ginger miso sauce for her dessert. For his menu, Alexander went with a basil lemon shrimp and heirloom tomato crostini for his appetizer, a pan-seared veal chop served over potato gnocchi with sage and shallot butter sauce for his entree and a deconstructed napoleon cannoli for his dessert. Again, 12 and 13 years old.
After some minor drama in the kitchen (Dara couldn’t find an ingredient, which Alexander kindly shared, and felt like she was going to faint with just 20 minutes left), it was time for the finalists to serve their meals to the judges.
Dara’s tuna duo came out ahead of Alexander’s crostini, which Gordon called delicious, but “so much simpler than Dara’s.” Alexander came roaring back during the second course, however. The perfect medium rare cook on his veal chop warranted this praise from Gordon: “Young man, that is one of the best visually cooked veal chops anywhere in the country tonight. There are chefs right now shuddering with the way that’s cooked.” So, yeah, consider that a win. Dara’s spot prawns were equally praised, though Graham took issue with the curry sauce, saying it was a bit too thick.
For the final course, both wowed the judges with their inventiveness. Dara’s decision to incorporate miso into her sauce was celebrated, while the sheer fact that, at 13, Alexander was capable of deconstructing anything left the judges awe-struck.
During final judging, Gordon said he felt Dara’s dessert was the perfect close to a “stunning dinner,” while Joe gushed that, in the four years they’d been doing the show with adults, they’d never been served a dish as good as Alexander’s veal chop.
In the end, the veal sealed the deal and Alexander was named the winner. Dara handled her loss with considerable grace, considering her age, hugging her opponent in sheer joy. Sure, there were some tears, but she smiled through them like a true champ.
“It was all worth it,” she said in her final interview. “I’m definitely gonna cook more … I mean, I’m a winner. I made it to the finale.”
Alexander was a graceful winner, as well, saying, “I congratulate Dara because she did an amazing job. I think this is an inspiration for kids to cook … It means the world to me.”
Do you think the right finalist won? And how did you enjoy the first season of “MasterChef Junior”? Let us know in the comments below.