We're down to the wire. It's the first half of a two-part finale and just four young chefs remain on "MasterChef Junior," Gordon Ramsay's clever, kid-centric twist on the reality TV franchise.
When last we saw them, Gavin Pola -- the San Francisco 10-year-old we were all cheering for -- and Sarah Lane were bidding a tearful farewell, after a truly impressive performance in the kitchen of a swanky Los Angeles restaurant. None of the diners at Drago Centro had realized the chefs cooking their lunch were children and they greeted the youngsters with a standing O. Of course, we were still getting over our disappointment that the Khaleesi's hunky hubby was not, in fact, affiliated with this Italian bistro. Oh wait, that was Khal Drogo, not Drago. Well, anyway.
As tonight's episode unfolds, the four finalists are anxiously awaiting the first challenge. Among them: Jack Hoffman, the small New Yorker with the huge personality; Troy Glass, the young blue-eyed blond whose acting career has landed him bit parts on "Modern Family" and other shows; the irrepressible, bow-topped Dara Yu, who did such a killer impersonation of judge Joe Bastianich in the show's first episode; and cherubic-cheeked Alexander Weiss, the old man of the competition. Alexander's 13 and the front-runner.
As tonight's episode unfolds, there are chickens -- and eggs. The first challenge is to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg. It's a timing challenge and whoever's in charge of the soundtrack is trying very, very hard to make the overcooked yolks dramatic.
Only Troy manages to cook a fairly soft-boiled egg and his prize lies in the second challenge. He gets to choose which part of the chicken everyone is cooking: thigh, breast, wing or liver, the body part that grosses the kids out. Troy takes the thigh and gives Alexander the liver, Dara the wing and Jack the breast. Troy's reasoning: He wants Jack, his weakest competitor, to make it to the finale.
Troy has made chicken thigh with romesco sauce, spaghetti squash and zucchini, but the thigh meat is raw in the middle. "Damn," Ramsay whispers.
Dara has made soy and ginger-glazed chicken lollipops with pickled vegetables. The judges love it. Alexander has made chicken liver pate over garlic crostini with a balsamic glaze, a dish Bastianich deems "remarkable" and "a masterpiece." And Jack has done a chicken roulade with goat cheese and grilled asparagus, a dish that leaves Ramsay "at a loss for words."
Who stays and who goes? The two finalists, who will vie for the $100,000 prize next Friday, are Alexander and Dara.