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MasterChef Junior’s Jack on His Many Hawaiian Shirts and Love of Fancy Food

Eleven-year-old Jack has recovered from being eliminated on MasterChef Junior, but I have not. Not that I’m rooting against any of these kids, but to my mind, making a roulade well is a hell of a lot more difficult than making fried chicken wings. The judges raved over both dishes, but when Gordon Ramsay announced the win for Alexander and Dara instead of Jack, I cried foul loudly and over Twitter. Jack, of course, is handling things a lot better. The East Rockaway, New York native just started middle school, and says he only began cooking seriously a year ago. (Now? He cooks like a beast!) When I spoke to him on the phone this week, I asked about the horrible injustice of his elimination, cooking kidneys for the first time, and his love of Hawaiian shirts.

Hi, Jack! How are you?
Hi! I’m good, thank you.

I’m still shocked you were cut in last Friday’s episode. The judges loved your roulade. What happened?
I don’t know. I mean, I like my dish. I thought it was really good. I tasted it and I thought it was nice and tasty. But all three of the kids, especially Alexander and Dara, they both did amazing, too. The judges had to make a decision I guess, and they just went with Dara’s.

Well, your dish looked more difficult to make.
I think my dish might have been a little more complex because there are a lot of components and steps to making it. But I know Dara’s also looks beautiful and probably tasted amazing.

You’re handling this better than I am.
I mean, I was pretty surprised. I was confident that I would be making it to the finale. But their dishes were both great and I felt really good for them. I was upset, but I shut that off after a little while.

Where does your love of Hawaiian shirts come from?
I was in Hawaii two years ago, and it was beautiful. The beaches were gorgeous, even the lifestyle was great. I saw lots and lots of people dressed up in these shirts, and I was like, Okay, that’s a little weird. But then I tried one on and it was like, Oh my God, these are comfortable! So then I got a couple and it was awesome.

How many do you own now?
Right now, I own ten. I’ll probably own twenty pretty soon.

Do you always cook in them?
When I’m at my house, I cook in them maybe 50 percent of the time. It’s sort of my thing to cook in Hawaiian shirts and it sort of gives good luck to my food. I think it makes me work faster because it’s so comfortable.

Which of the challenges did you like best?
I liked the layer cake challenge because I didn’t have that much experience baking, so once I tried it and did really well with it, I was pleasantly surprised.

Why was everyone so immediately threatened by Alexander? You’re all very good cooks, and you won the first challenge.
I think it’s just because he’s older and has a lot more experience than anybody else. He started when he was very young and he has a great passion for it. He likes to cook fancy dishes too, and he was just big competition.

Do you also making fancy food?
Yeah, my thing is fancy stuff. I strive for the fanciest and the most five-star.

When you guys were working in the restaurant, Gordon was impressed by the amount of work you had taken on by yourself.
I was just trying to do what Chef Ian told us to do. It was tough, and when I saw Alexander or Dara getting a little frazzled, I just tried to pull the team together and speed things up as much as I could. The toughest part was just the timing. There were so many orders coming in and right when you were done with one of them you had to go right into the next one, and you had to be done within like two or three minutes for the appetizers, five minutes for the entrees. That was really hard. And then there was Gordon Ramsay as the expediter, screaming at you the whole time. I think he was a little more demanding in the restaurant setting, so he was screaming and yelling a little more, but I think it was just to motivate us and push us forward to do better. I like the pressure, though, because I’m good under pressure.

You were in charge of fish, which, again, seems like a bigger challenge than making ravioli with premade filling.
Yeah, you have to get the skin crispy on that particular fish. That was probably the trickiest part about it. But my specialty … I’m, like, good with fish.

It’s your specialty?
Yeah, I’ve been practicing that a lot. It was one of the first things I learned to cook and it’s always been something I’ve loved to eat.

How do you like to cook it?
I like giving a piece of salmon a simple panko breadcrumb crust with some citrus zest and spices. You can totally twist it up and change it however you’d like. And if you get the skin crispy on that, then you have the crispy skin, the meat that’s nice and tender and soft, and the crispy, crusty shell. I think that’s a very nice, delicious meal.

When you had to make beef Wellington with Kaylen, you were yelling, “Quick! Quick! Quick!” What did you think when you watched yourself doing that?
Well, I just wanted to get things done really fast and she was going a great job. I was really just trying to encourage her. Maybe I went a little overboard [laughs]. But she didn’t, like, flip out on me or anything. We made a good team.

What did you wind up doing with those kidneys in week two? You said you hadn’t made or eaten them before.
I knew I had to deep-fry to make it as tasty as possible. I deep-fried them. but first I had to soak them in a little bit of milk so the bitterness would go away. If you just cook kidneys, it will have this bitter, harsh taste. Then I made a warm sauteed fennel salad and grilled artichokes and olive tapenade. I hadn’t even eaten kidneys before that, but then once some of them were fried, I tried one as a tester and it wasn’t that bad!

When did you start cooking?
I started learning two and a half years ago. That wasn’t completely hands-on. That was like cutting up a piece of celery for my mom for roast chicken and then walking away and watching TV. But hands-on cooking? Probably around a year ago. I started cooking real, full dishes by myself.

How did you get into it?
I think it’s just something I’m meant to do. I found it on TV one day and I got glued. I kept watching more and more and when I tried it out, it’s something I just loved. I would watch lots of competition shows on Food Network and Gordon Ramsay shows.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I definitely want to be a chef, and I want to own a couple of five-star fancy French bistros. I’d also like to have my own food show on TV where I can teach others how to cook, and win some awards and have a few Michelin stars. That would be awesome.

Photo: Greg Gayne/Fox