Today the contestants on America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation are going back to school—they even have their lunch boxes packed and ready to go, complete with a little note from a loving parent.
Well, that’s adorable.
It sure is, because in this episode’s First Task, the cooks will be creating a kid-friendly meal revolving around a certain global cuisine. Their challenge is to make it easy to eat and taste delicious.
Naturally, Molly Birnbaum, former editor in chief of ATK Kids and an expert in kid-friendly food, will be judging this episode alongside Cook’s Illustrated’s Dan Souza.
Let’s get globe-trotting!
The contestants waste no time in rushing to their lunch boxes to discover which cuisine they’ll be incorporating into their meals. As Jeannie sets her (superadorable) ramen timer, the cooks are already reflecting on their own nostalgic childhood meals.
But some of these ingredients are a little less conventional when thrown together.
“Spinach, coconut milk, mango . . . gummy bears?!” Jeannie cries as she approaches Christina’s station. “Oh, this lunch is about to be lit!”
Well, “lit” is one word for the test kitchen during this challenge; heated is another. As the cooks run around in the final minutes of the challenge, beads of sweat and flushed faces are plentiful. And then the ramen sings out: Time’s up!
Let’s dive into these lunch boxes.
While Brooke was confident in her concept of build-your-own mini pizzas with heapings of healthful benefits, it seems as though the judges don’t completely agree. Molly, a seasoned pro at developing recipes for young palates, admitted that sneaking veggies into kids’ meals was a pet peeve of hers.
“I love cooking for kids in a way that they know what they’re eating, and they can learn about and taste and see if they like [these foods],” she says.
The Complete Cookbook for Young ChefsThe Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs
Meanwhile, Marc’s Indian-inspired lunch box was a little on the spicy side, and Antoinette’s veggie people contained hazardously pointy toothpicks. When it comes to cooking for kids, are the contestants a little too cool for school?
Luckily, all is not lost as Garrett gets an A plus and a gold star for their delicious Japanese bento box, earning themselves an advantage in the next challenge.
So we’ve had lunch. Now it’s time for dinner.
Indeed it is! In this challenge, the contestants are working in pairs to use one common ingredient for two entirely distinct dishes, sating the palates of kids who might want completely different meals for dinner.
For Garrett’s advantage, they will be choosing their own partner, as well as which protein they’ll be working with . . . and everyone else’s partner and protein. They decide to work with Robbie, cooking the ground beef.
And let me tell you, when it comes to tactics, Garrett knew exactly what they were doing. They decided to pair Brooke and Antoinette together, giving them bacon to work with.
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What’s so tactical about that, you ask? Well, you may remember last episode when Antoinette didn’t quite deliver on her crunchy bacon dish. And Brooke . . . well, Brooke is a healthy food-loving kosher chef.
What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot and not just for Brooke and Antoinette. As Jeannie counts down the final seconds of the challenge, Robbie is feverishly grating cheese while assembling nachos, and Christina is desperately trying to finish her fish sauce as the rest of the contestants dash madly to finish their dishes.
Enough kidding around. It’s time to judge.
While Garrett came into the challenge on top, their shepherd’s pie was judged to be a little too “soft and runny,” lacking the fun and flair they usually incorporate into their meals.
Not the best start to judging.
Up next are Brooke and Antoinette, who reveal that while they were meant to offer a helping hand for each other’s dishes, Antoinette ended up cooking Brooke’s maple bacon for her entirely, which didn’t necessarily impress Dan.
“I would have hoped you would take that challenge head-on instead of passing off the main protein of your dish,” he says, and Brooke’s face crumbles like . . . well, like bacon.
Finally, Marc and Christina present a penne bake and chicken spring rolls. Unfortunately, the judges couldn’t quite taste the distinct cheeses in Marc’s penne, but Christina’s spring rolls were a hit that clearly any kid would love to dig into.
So who gets extra play time and who’s getting sent on a time-out?
Now let’s remember, while the contestants were working in teams, there can only be one winner and one person who gets eliminated.
In a move that surprises absolutely nobody, Christina’s delicious spring rolls secure the win for her, and the dish—which she said was inspired by her little girl Opal—will be published on the ATK website.
“It’s been really hard to be away from my daughter. I’m really happy, but I’ve been thinking a lot about her today. So . . . here it is!” Christina says through happy sobs as Jeannie informs her she’s won a culinary trip to New York City.
“Can I take my daughter?” she asks as she giggles through the tears.
Unfortunately, though, Brooke’s savory “breakfast for dinner” pancakes send her home, as she was unable to cook the meal’s main protein herself.
“You have such a bright future ahead of you, and I hope you hold your head high,” Dan tells Brooke as she leaves the test kitchen for the last time.