Friday—Week Three Begins
Caroline turned away from the studio door and studied Rae’s face. “Friends . . .”
“. . . to the end!” They finished the sentence together. After two tough weeks of slicing and dicing, they were the only ones left. This was it! Now it was the battle to see who would be the winner.
“Shhhhh.” Chef Nancy put a finger to her lips.
Rae rubbed her palms against her shirt. In just a few seconds the door would open and it would begin all over again.
Rae counted the days on her fingers and then wiped her hands on her skirt. In seven days one of them would be the winner—the Next Best Junior Chef! And the other . . . She didn’t want to think about that. She studied the back of Caroline’s head. Was she nervous about winning or—worse—losing? The producer’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
And then the announcer began. “Welcome to Next Best Junior Chef! This is week three, our FINAL week of competition. After Thursday’s elimination round, we’ll have a winner for the Next Best Junior Chef! We have two remaining talented junior chefs, who have certainly earned the right to be here, but are they ready for what lies ahead? This week’s challenges will test their culinary knowledge, ingenuity, and maybe even the bonds of their friendship. It’s time to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Will they sizzle or fizzle? We can’t wait to find out—so without further delay, let’s bring out our final contestants.”
Chef Nancy tapped Caroline’s shoulder. Caroline walked confidently to the front of the studio, pacing herself to match the announcer’s tempo.
“Congratulations, Caroline, and welcome to this exciting final week of competition. Caroline is eleven years old and from Chicago, Illinois. She worked some fast-food magic last week, elevating a hot dog to an haute dog. She has continually impressed the judges with her creativity and culinary talent.”
Chef Nancy held the door for Rae.
“Congratulations, Rae, and welcome to the final week of competition.”
Rae blinked twice, focused on the front, and started down the ramp. The energy of the room quickly changed her nervousness into excitement.
“Rae is eleven years old and from Port Chester, New York. Last week, she won unanimous praise for perfecting a cookie classic and served up a winning dish in the elimination round. This young chef is a master of both pleasing the palate and presentation.”
Rae stood next to Caroline in front of the three judges.
“Our esteemed judges include Chef Vera Porter of the famous Porter Farm Restaurant, the renowned pastry chef Aimee Copley, and Chef Gary Lee, restaurant proprietor and host of the award-winning show Adventures in Cooking. The judges will be watching our competitors throughout the week, and everything that happens along the way will be taken into consideration when we get to the final elimination round. In addition to choosing a winner, the judges will have to dismiss one of our junior chefs and ask them to hang up their apron. This decision will be based on performance, the taste and presentation of their dishes, and their overall creative vision.”
Caroline reached for Rae’s hand, then gave it a squeeze and held on. Rae squeezed back.
“Our junior chefs are mentored by Chef Nancy Patel, the 2013 recipient of the Golden Spoon Award. The winner of Next Best Junior Chef will receive two life-changing prizes: a custom food truck and a guest spot on Adventures in Cooking when it begins filming this summer in Italy!”
Chef Gary stepped to the center of the room. “WOW! This is it!” He nodded to each of the junior chefs. “Congratulations. You’ve made it!”
They smiled back.
He shook his head. “I have to be honest, this is not going to be an easy week, but”—he raised a finger—“it will be exciting. We have twists, turns, and lots of surprises. You will not be disappointed. As in previous weeks, there is a theme, and we’re especially excited about this one. Our theme for the week is innovation. So we’ll want to see some fresh new ideas. Are you ready to battle it out and flex your creative muscles?”
“And you’re still friends?” He pointed to their joined hands. “Remarkable! Well, that calls for a celebration. Let’s have a toast!” He motioned to an assistant standing at the side of the studio. “Bring out the champagne!”
Champagne? Rae looked worried, Caroline confused. They weren’t old enough to drink champagne!
Chef Aimee laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s not champagne. We have something even more special. Any guesses?”
“Sparkling apple juice.”
A stagehand pushed a rolling cart with six fancy glasses to the front of the room. Caroline frowned. It definitely wasn’t ginger ale.
Chef Aimee handed out the glasses. “Chef Porter has prepared one of her favorite chilled soups for this occasion, and she’ll lead us in the toast.”
Rae studied the glass. The soup was light green with one perfectly cut square crouton floating on top.
Chef Porter raised her glass. “Congratulations to you both, and may our final week be one of discoveries.”
Chef Gary emptied his glass in one gulp, chewed up the crouton, then nodded to Chef Porter. “Thank you, Chef, for that refreshing start to the week.” He turned back to the junior chefs, a smile on his face. “Are you ready for fun?”
They nodded. Caroline winced and forced herself to swallow. The soup tasted like soap. That meant only one thing—cilantro! Two weeks ago, Chef Nancy had told the junior chefs about the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. People are just born with it; they can’t help it. Caroline was one of those people.
Chef Gary clapped his hands. “Great! Glad to hear it . . . because the fun starts now! RIGHT NOW!”
“WHAT?” Rae covered her mouth, but it was too late. Everyone had heard.
Chef Gary wagged his fin...