Next Best Junior Chef: The Winner Is . . . by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Aurélie Blard-Quintard, 180 pp, RL3
Last summer I gobbled up Lights, Camera, Cook!, the first book in the Next Best Junior Chef trilogy by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated Aurélie Blard Quintard. Besides loving any kid's book that is about food, I love to cook and I love to watch competitive cooking shows. So, to get to read a book about kid's competing on a cooking show is pretty darn perfect! And this trilogy by Harper is also pretty darn perfect! She clearly knows how to cook (each book contains cooking tips and facts for kids) and how cooking competition shows work. As a prolific author (and illustrator) of picture books, middle grade novels and graphic novels, Harper brings an experience and understanding when it comes to bringing the creative and emotional lives of children to the page. Lights, Camera, Cook! introduced us to the four young chefs competing to win a food truck and the chance to accompany judge and celebrity Chef Gary Lee on a trip to Italy to film his show, Adventures in Cooking. With one chef eliminated, the second book, The Heat is On, finds the three young cheftestants facing new challenges like cooking for a quinceañera as they fight to be in the final episode. Now, with The Winner Is . . ., the final two face new hurdles - including that favorite of all cooking competition shows - as they try to out cook each other for the win.
I definitely don't want to give away any spoilers, so I decided to focus on the food in this review! The cheftestants begin the last leg of the competition with a favorite challenge of mine - they taste a chilled soup prepared by Chef Porter and have to create a new dish based on the ingredients that they think are in the soup! Harper adds a twist when one of the cheftestant's dish is bumped by a cameraman and needs to be remade. As with all three books, each cheftestant speaks directly to the reader in dialogue boxes that appear in each chapter, giving insights into what the cheftestants are thinking and feeling throughout the challenges. A trip to a cranberry bog leads of a cranberry relish competition with another cooking show favorite twist - making the cheftestants cook with a dish prepared by a different chef! The crispy spring rolls with a spicy sweet cranberry sauce make my mouth water as I write. A donut challenge reminded me of an episode of The Great British Baking Show, with cheftestants making a sophisticated donut and a donut with kid appeal. I especially loved the ice box cake challenge, which sent me researching recipes to make at home. That said, my favorite challenge of The Winner Is . . . came near the end of the book when a chef known for his food mashups (think cronut) came on to judge. I would love to talk to Harper and find out how she researched the food she included in this trilogy because, even with my experience watching hundreds of cooking shows and cooking myself, I don't think I could come up with the recipes she did! The mashup chef is known for his "banh mi donut, the waffle roasted chicken, the beef pot buns, and now his newest creation: the creatively wrapped egg sandwich - the eggi-gami." On top of that Harper comes up with mashup recipes for the cheftestants to cook after being randomly assigned a food item and a cuisine! One cheftestant gets a BLT sandwich paired with Aisian cuisine while another gets chicken nuggets and French cuisine! And Harper's cheftestants come up with delicious recipes nonetheless!
If you have a little foodie at home or know one, definitely, POSITIVELY share this uncommon trilogy with her or him! It is well written all around, from the food to the young cheftestants and their emotions and challenges.
Source: Review Copy