Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Now You're Cookin'! And the Winner Is... (Next Best Junior Chef) by Cherise Mericle Harper

Caroline turned 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. Now it is the battle to see who would be the winner.



It's time to cut the mustard! Caroline and Rae are the last cooks standing in the reality TV show "Next Best Junior Chef." They've beaten out the competition--Tate and Oliver--and now it's a week-long cook-off for the culinary crown--with the grand prize the winner's very own custom-crafted food truck.

The theme of the finals is "innovation." Caroline and Rae think they are already creative cooks, but now the fat is really in the fire!

But after the first day's competition, the producers throw a pickle into the porridge. They bring back the vanquished boys, Tate and Oliver, for a second-chance round! Rae's temperature rises to a boil, and Caroline is steamed. The two guys are talented, but... well, arrogant. Both of them think they're the big cheese, and they are not above trying to curry favor with the three top chefs. The girls vow to remain friends through the finals, but the two boys are all too ready to send each other to the bottom of the food chain. The girls are determined that both Tate and Oliver are going to have to eat crow.

The competition is as stiff as an over-beaten meringue, as the junior chefs rise to their best efforts to be inventive. Rae mixes candied jalapenos in her deviled eggs, and Oliver uses mac and cheese instead of bread in his bruschetta. Caroline comes up with a chive-spiced potato-cake taco with creme fraiche, and Tate "dies at the pass" when his cranberry concoction fails to jell and his creativity caves. He's eliminated, and at last it's Ta ta, Tate!

Now it's down to the terminal trio and the heat is truly on, in Cherise Mericle Harper's The Winner Is (Next Best Junior Chef) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.) The finale to her Next Best Junior Chef series is fresh, with plenty of gastronomic improvisation in the young chef's creations. Winning is never a piece of cake, but the girls remain friends and a good time is had by all in this latest fest for young chefs. This take-off on the reality chef TV competitions is, in a nutshell, the cream of the crop for competitive cooking comedy. A culinary battle with the boys, best friends to the end, and lots of foodie fun make for a satisfying summer read, and as in all her books, Harper's own drawings add zest to the savor of the story.

The author of the mega-popular Just Grace series (see reviews here), Harper's earlier books in her culinary series are Lights, Camera, Cook! (Next Best Junior Chef) and The Heat Is On (Next Best Junior Chef).

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