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MasterChef Junior’s Sarah Lane on Diabolical Layer Cakes and What You Didn’t See on TV

Photo: FOX

As MasterChef Junior’s youngest and most excitable contestant (“Whip like a man! Don’t! Stop! Whipping!”), the now 9-year-old Sarah Lane had more to overcome than her competition. She used a step stool to reach her chopping board, and her formidable skills were often second-guessed by the older kids. And yet, before she was cut in Friday’s double elimination, Lane had won as many challenges as front-runner Alexander, 13, impressing over Gordon Ramsay and the judges with perfect beef Wellington and her take on deep-fried sardines. Vulture called up the budding chef, who is in the fourth grade, to talk about her survival strategy and the whipped cream disaster you didn’t see on the show.

Hi, Sarah. How are you?
I’m good!

So what did you think about the restaurant challenge? It looked like Troy was giving you a hard time.
Ummmm, wellllll, it’s kind of mutual [laughs]. I was giving him a hard time, he was giving me a hard time.

Are you and Troy okay now?
Oh yeah, we’re totally best friends! We talk all the time!

What was the hardest part of that day?
When we were putting the plates up it was really hard for me because I’m so short. So I would put all the plates up when they were finished, and then all the food would slide off. Like the whole plate would just slide back very slowly. It was a little bit frustrating because everyone was so much taller than me, and they could just throw it up there. I’m like, “You’re taking advantage of your height!”

I saw Chef Graham back there with you guys a couple times. Was he helping?
He mostly came in to oversee, but he helped a little bit because he saw we were struggling. He helped both the teams. He cut the burrata for us. The cheese would get everywhere because it’s such a milky, weird cheese. So he helped cut it and made sure it didn’t just run all over the place.

Let’s talk about your big hit: fried sardines! Chef Gordon loved them, but at first It looked like you were not excited to see them as an ingredient. Did you try them?
Yeah, I did. I made four; three for the judges and one to test, so I tasted my test one to see if it was the right cooking time I wanted to use for it. At first I was like, “Ew!” I had never worked with sardines, and I was kind of scared to try it. Like, I didn’t want it to be super gross! But then I tried it and I was like, “Wow, this is good!” It was really fun to make them and eat them. I would definitely make it again.

Did you have a strategy when you started on the show?
I had one major strategy after the very first challenge: Like, Boom! Get Alexander outEveryone knew he was tough competition. Everyone thought that. I’m not saying no one else was passionate, but he’s super passionate and has his future all planned out.

Is that why you picked the layer cake?
Well, I was thinking about all the options. Like, fruit tart. Alexander said before once to me that he knew how to do a fruit tart. So I was like, “Well, I’m not picking that!” Cupcakes. Everyone can do cupcakes. They’re really simple. Kaylen made them for her audition, so obviously she would love that! So then I was like, “Hmm, layer cake is really hard to make.” I don’t think most people can do that and make it amazing.

You were right. A lot of the kids had a really hard time with it.
I was so happy because I was like, Okay, if I had to cook something, I would pick cupcakes. But then I found out I didn’t [have to cook] and it was like, “Yeah, I’m choosing layer cake!”

Did you guys ever get to use recipes?
Just for the layer cake. It’s really hard to remember all the components and the measurements for it. And at the restaurant, we got little tutorials, like, “Here’s what you do for this, blah blah blah.”

How did you like watching yourself on TV? What did you think?
It’s really fun because I get to have friends over when we watch and they’re all super excited for me.

Is there anything they didn’t show on TV that you thought they would?
There was a lot, a lot of stuff they left out of the actual show that I was very surprised about. I was like, “Oh, they left that out?” The big one that they left out was of me. I had originally planned to make whipped cream with my molten lava cake. I tried and I tried and I tried over and over. I put [the mixer] on whip, which is the highest setting, and then I walked away for like two seconds to stir my sauce and when I came back it was like butter. Because that’s what happens when you over-whip cream. It turns into butter! I got really sad and started crying.

Oh no!
Graham came over and helped me. My test lava cake had just finished and I took it out and it was perfect and he was like, “You don’t need whipped cream!”

Were you surprised to be sent home?
Well, I was kind of thinking that I know everyone wants to win, and I kind of had the feeling that they wouldn’t let me win. Just because — I’m not saying they’re like, “Oh, because you’re 8, you’re not as good as everyone else and you’re not gonna win,” but I kind of had the feeling I wouldn’t make it to the finale when I made the top eight and then the top six.

You think being the youngest worked against you?
I think it was that, and the long days were kind of hard for me being on camera so much. The competition was getting harder.

What do you like about cooking?
My grandma has a restaurant and it is really chaotic in the kitchen but it’s fun to cook in the kitchen and use all the big equipment and a knife.

What was the first dish you cooked that made you want to keep cooking?
Um, the first dish I probably ever made was homemade cake. It was a simple chocolate birthday cake. It was for my birthday! I really liked it!

Was Gordon Ramsay as scary as he seems on his other shows?
Noooo. I just thought he had a little bit of a temper.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to own a restaurant, probably a Mediterranean one.

What is your favorite Mediterranean dish?
My deep-fried sardines!

Who are you rooting for?
I’m definitely rooting for Troy or Alexander. I feel like Troy, he has the guts to try these weird things that you would never think of in everyday life. And Alexander is just really super knowledgeable about the food he cooks.

Last question: What are you going to be for Halloween?
Well, I have two costumes. My school throws this event they call the Halloween Hurrah, and so for that I’m going to be a professional robot dancer. And for trick-or-treating I’m going to be a killer bride.

Talking to MasterChef Junior Breakout Sarah Lane