Top Moments from Chopped Junior Champions

Relive the ups and downs of the five-part tournament, and find out which kids earned a place in the finale for a chance to become the Grand Champion and win $25,000 to make their dreams come true.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Photo By: Jason DeCrow

Age Is Just a Number

"I'm very nervous for Buck, because he's the youngest," says judge Marcus. "My competitors shouldn't underestimate me," says Buck, confident in his skills, and not worried about being the youngest at all. He presents the judges an appetizer of camel and pine nut meatballs served with earthworm jerky and tomato candy marinara sauce. "Using the worm jerky in marinara sauce was genius," Marc tells him, however, the judges find the meatballs dry.

Facing the Basket Head On

"These basket ingredients are screaming for a burger," says Aidan, deciding to use the appetizer ingredients of ground camel and baby kale to make stuffed burgers. But in his haste, he forgets to heat a pan, so he ends up deep-frying them. "I love the idea that you do not run away from the basket," Marcus tells him, but Maneet finds the burger dry. Aidan is chopped for it.

An Expert at Almost Everything

With experience in butchering, Buck expertly breaks down the entree basket's goat leg, which he sautees with the sweet cherry ketchup. He decides to serve it with mashed potatoes, but he can't get them through the food mill. "I'm just going to have to throw them in the blender," he says. Marc finds his meat perfect, but Marcus and Maneet point out the potatoes were undercooked.

Ingredient Inexperience

"I've never butchered a goat before," says Tavia, but she does her best to cut it into pieces, which she glazes in the sweet cherry ketchup. She also makes mashed potatoes, which she packs onto pieces of the goat, tops with grated cheese and finishes them in the oven like a gratin. "You crushed it," Marcus tells Tavia about her presentation, but Maneet shows Tavia she didn't break down the goat well. Tavia is chopped.

Pulling Out All the Stops

"My dessert needs to be beyond perfect," says Isabella, who knows her Thai soup in the appetizer round was lacking. Using the cherimoya, she decides to make a Filipino dessert called turon. "Whenever I do something, I never do it halfway," she explains of putting it all out on the line. But as she's working on her turon, she finds her caramel burning. Luckily she saves it by pouring in some of the sparkling cider.

Maturity Beyond Years

"I'm going to make a deconstructed berry tart," says Buck, using the food processor to make his crust. "I think the simplicity of my dessert is going to benefit me," he explains. For the berry filling, he combines the freeze-dried blueberries with fresh ones as well as strawberries. He finishes the dish with cherimoya whipped cream. "This is so sophisticated," says Maneet, having trouble believing he's only 11.

The Chopped Junior Grand Champion

The judges decide to chop Isabella for not highlighting the ground camel in her appetizer and not doing enough with the succotash in the entree round. "It was really by a hair," Marc tells her. Ted announces Buck as the "first ever Chopped Junior Grand Champion." Buck can barely hold back tears. "I'm just so happy," he says. He leaves with $25,000.

Crab Shell Shocked

"I want to be really creative," says Haley, deciding she won't use the appetizer basket's Parker House rolls for a sandwich. Instead she turns them into crumbs to top her Jonah crab claw tacos. But taking the meat out of the claws takes way too much time, and she ends up with very little meat, and she's unable to get enough crema on her tacos. Maneet praises the taco concept, and Dale loves the crema but gets a lot of shell pieces.

Vinegary Punch, Soggy Lunch

"Mayo is not my favorite thing so I decide to marinate the crab in acid," says Emma, going for a crab salad roll concept for her appetizer, plating it on toasted Parker House rolls. In the last few minutes, she pickles the red finger chilis using the vacuum sealer for some more punch. "The cut of the chilis were a bit uneven," Dale tells her. Maneet and Marc point out the bread became soggy from the vinaigrette. Emma is chopped.

First to the Finish Line

"I did not have any problems with time management," says Aidan, after he finishes before the time is called. "Do we need to shorten these rounds for you," Ted jokingly asks him. But once time is called, Aidan worries his venison might be undercooked. Although Dale points out Aidan's venison is not as good as Jack's or Haley's, the judges agree that the components of Aidan's dish are great.

It's All About the Plating

"Even if these nasty chips are in here, they're going to add a nice flavor to my venison," says Haley of her entree direction, grinding up the cheesy tortilla chips to use as a rub for the loin. Just before time is called, Haley borrows some mushrooms from Jack to add to her sauteed side, hoping it will add texture. The judges dislike her plate's composition and find the raw mushrooms an odd addition. Haley is chopped.

An Egg-stra Error

"Redemption," shouts Jack as he extracts his mascarpone ice cream from the machine during the dessert round. Luckily it's a lot better looking than the last time he was on the show. In the last minutes, he decides to add a meringue topping to his berry tarts made from the basket's fruit lasagna. The judges ding him for not using pasteurized eggs. "If we eat this, we might get sick," Maneet explains.

Risky Baking

"I'm freaking out because my cupcakes are not cooking," says Aidan. But they've baked long enough that he's able to scoop them out of the silicone molds. He plates his passion fruit whipped cream and bacon-jalapeno-ginger candy, but forgets to drizzle it over with the syrup made with the basket's lime leaves. Marc's disappointed an ingredient is missing, but he loves the whipped cream. Dale commends Aidan for taking big risks.

Part 4 Winner

"I think it evened out the game," says Aidan of the errors both he and Jack made in their desserts. But the judges decide Jack's error of serving close-to-raw egg whites is enough to get him chopped. Ted declares Aidan a Chopped champion, and he'll be back for the finale. "It feels better the second time," says Aidan.

Incomplete Rendering

"The guanciale looks like bacon so I'm going to render off the fat," Mischa says of the appetizer basket ingredient. She decides to sear the scallops in the fat, and serve the bok choy as a side salad with a clementine vinaigrette. Maneet loves the fresh quality of the raw bok choy but Marcus finds a piece of undercooked guanciale.

The Perfect Sear

"I see that this braising liquid is not going to sear the scallops," Claire worries after she adds the seafood to the same pan in which she cooked her bok choy. Her plan B is to get another pan screaming hot, and finish them there. Although her sear comes out good, it's Buck's scallops that get the highest compliments from Marcus. Mischa is chopped at the end of the round.

Tricks Up His Sleeve

"I'm looking at these chocolate sardines and I'm thinking mole," says Buck, taking his entree in a Mexican direction. He also roasts poblanos on the stove to go in his sauce, and he toasts tortillas in a baking sheet over a flame. "I learned that at 31," says Marcus, impressed by the trick. The judge calls the grated radish his favorite, but finds the chocolate flavor missing.

Crunch-Time Decision

"I have so much going on I forget to stir my polenta," says Lucy, planning on serving it with the short rib from the entree basket. Unfortunately, the polenta has burned, so she decides not to serve it. "It doesn't feel like a complete plate," says Marc, who also doesn't find Lucy's chocolate sauce any more successful than Claire's. Lucy is Chopped for her missing component.

Every Ingredient in Its Place

"I feel like this basket will fit perfectly into my no-bake oat cake," says Claire, grating the carrots, mashing bananas, and incorporating the Japanese-style pancakes into a batter. Using the caramel latte macchiato and the aleppo pepper flakes, she creates a chocolate drizzle. Although Marcus calls her dessert "the smartest approach," Maneet doesn't taste the aleppo.

Clever Workmanship

Like Claire, Buck also adds the pancakes to a batter, but for ricotta fritters. He juices the carrots, using the liquid in the batter. "In seven seasons of Chopped Junior, this is the first time that a kid has gotten the juicer out," says Maneet. With the macchiato and aleppo pepper flakes, Buck makes a granita that impresses Marc. But Marcus doesn't think the component is incorporated into the dish.

The Part 3 Winner

"It's very, very close," says Marc during deliberation. He and the others decide to send Claire home since some of her "basket ingredients didn't shine through enough," he tells her. Ted announces Buck has won the chance to move onto the finale. "It's pretty much the most exciting moment of my life," he says, adding "I still have three competitors to go through."

Thinking Outside of the Can

"The chicken in the can — that would make anybody nervous," says Judge Marcus Samuelsson of the appetizer basket ingredient, which Ted has specified as his favorite. Caroline's not afraid of it — she shreds the chicken to fill her grilled escarole leaves. Marcus loves the use of the lettuce as a vessel, but Alex thinks it feels unfinished. "The chicken tastes a little bit too much of this sort of canned flavor," Marcus says.

Kimchi by Whose Definition?

Sticking to her Korean roots, Isabella decides to make bibimbap in the appetizer round. She makes use of the fried pickles to make a kimchi to top her dish. "Is there kimchi in this dish?" Alex asks her. "I believe it is," says Isabella, maintaining it's still a kimchi despite it not including cabbage. Marc commends her for hiding the canned flavor of the chicken. At the end of the round, Caroline is chopped.

An Unorthodox Approach

"I really want to show the judges that there isn't only one way to cook a beautiful steak," says Henry as he puts the Porterhouse steak from the entree basket into a food processor. The judges cringe as they look on. But Henry thinks his take on Thai larb will impress the panel. Alex isn't at all happy with what Henry did with the steak, but she's wowed by his flavors. Marcus, however, warns him not to overuse fish sauce.

Cooking from the Heart

"My strategy is to serve the judges food I like to eat because then they'll know it's from the heart," says Aziza in the entree round. She decides to use just the strip from the Porterhouse steak. And to serve on the side she makes fries from scratch with a spiced-up ketchup. "At a party, this would be the most popular dish," Marcus tells her. Unfortunately, Alex finds the steak overcooked, and Aziza is chopped.

Ice Cream Redemption

"Today I have to give the judges the best ice cream they've ever had," says Isabella, trying to make up for issues she had last time in the dessert round. She incorporates the burrata from the basket into her hot custard, but as she pours it into the ice cream machine, she realizes it might have curdled. "It's going to be a repeat of last time," she worries. Luckily it comes out great.

Flavor vs. Texture

"Last time I made whipped cream and I overwhipped it," says Henry. This time he's making sure his burrata cream comes out perfect. Unfortunately, his pomegranate fritters come out dense. "I think my flavors will give me the edge," he says. "This is one of the best whipped creams I've ever had," Marcus tells him. But the judges can't get over the dense fritters.

The Part 2 Winner

Ted reveals Henry has been chopped. Isabella is proclaimed the winner of Part 2, and advances to the finale for the chance to earn $25,000. "I cannot believe that I won," she says. "I'm so excited to show them what I've got in the grand finale."

Protein Perfection

"I have to fry these," Tavia says upon seeing the frogs' legs in the appetizer basket. Last time on the show, she impressed the judges with her expert protein cookery, and she didn't disappoint again. "I think the frogs' legs are the most successful," Alex tells Tavia, adding, "You have the best ones so far." Alex's only negative is Tavia's wilted mache salad.

Hopping to the Challenge

"I've seen deep-fried frogs' legs before, but I want to do something different," Jack says. So, he decides to use the grill. During the round, he burns peanuts he picked out of the snack mix, and has no choice but to use the rest of the snack mix. "You don't have time to think, you just do," he says of the challenge. Despite his effort, the judges find the frogs' legs inconsistently cooked, and Jack is chopped.

Good Sportsmanship, and Even Better Cooking

"I don't want to win because I kept someone from doing their best; I want to win because I did my best," says Cassidy after she shares some bacon with her competitor Danielle. Cassidy's searing the entree basket's pork tenderloin and cooking the bacon with the haricot verts. "My pork is cooked perfectly," Kristen Kish says of the dish. And Alex calls it "a tough dish to beat," however, she wants more sauce.

Something's Unique, but Something's Missing

"I'm adding the cinnamon to give a little earthiness," Danielle says of her decision to make apple chutney out of the basket's apple blossoms. Meanwhile she checks on her pork to find it slightly underdone, so she puts it back on the heat. "I only got a small piece of pork," says Marc. And Alex finds the cinnamon an unusual choice, but a good one. However, because Danielle's dish lacks a sauce, she is chopped.

Balanced Yet Lacking Focus

"I can't get the balance the way I want it to be," Cassidy worries about her kiwi and skyr cream in the dessert round. She decides to add some confectioners' sugar to sweeten it a little bit, plating it with her honey pie mousse and chocolate brittle. Upon tasting the cream, Alex calls it "really balanced." But Marc feels Cassidy's combination of components doesn't feel like a complete dessert.

Multitasking Merit

"I have a lot going on at once," admits Tavia. With puff pastry in the oven and multiple pots on the stove, she's bound to lose track, and she worries her caramel has gotten too dark. But with only three minutes left, she decides to go with it. "I did as much as I can do with 30 minutes," she says. "Presentation-wise, this is a beautiful plate," says Marc, who also appreciates the bitter caramel. And Kristen praises the balance of flavors Tavia achieved.

The Part 1 Winner

"This was almost a photo finish," Alex tells Cassidy after she is chopped. Tavia earns the first spot in the finale for the chance to win $25,000 and the champion title. "I'm so excited," she says. "I'm going to kick everybody's butt, hopefully," she adds.