There's no question that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is the king of the kitchen tantrum. So as the newest series in Ramsay's "MasterChef" franchise takes off, the real question is not the talent level on the new "MasterChef Junior," but how many episodes it will take until the hotheaded Ramsay unleashes his temper on the young cooks, ages 8 to 13.
Tonight's season launch is all sweetness and light -- plus pistachio macarons, fish tacos and enough perkiness to satisfy any TV executive.
"I think of my palate as very sophisticated," says towheaded Nathan, age 8. You can practically hear the TV execs gleefully high-fiving.
As the show opens, 24 kids are vying for 12 spots. They get their aprons and catch a glimpse of the big glossy trophy before they're divided into three groups.
The first elimination challenge is a restaurant-quality seafood dish from group one. Jack chops madly as he begins prepping Dungeness crab cakes with a garlic-celery seed aioli. Daniel braises octopus. And Molly, age 12 from Pasadena, is doing codfish tacos with pomegranate salsa and crema -- and she's making her own taco shells. The judges watch incredulously.
Young Brooklynite Roen, age 12, has done a sushi platter that includes perfectly seared ahi ."You've got, like, some super special ninja sushi skills," judge Graham Elliott tells him.
Just half the kids make the cut and it is beyond painful to watch, even though Ramsay does it with gentle grace. "Hang onto those aprons and wear them with pride," he tells the kids who are going home. Just four kids -- Jack, Sofia, Molly and Roen -- are moving on to the next round.
The second group must tackle homemade pasta. Troy, age 12, has no qualms whatsoever over the prospect. "I started making (pasta) when I was about four years old," he says, rummaging for the semolina flour.
Troy is doing fettuccine with sea scallops and tiger prawns with a garlic sauce. San Francisco's Gavin, age 10, is making his own tortellini. And Dara, who is making spaetzle and rack of lamb, is wearing an inflatable bow headband, which Ramsay promptly dons as he asks about her life ambition. Dara wants to be a judge on MasterChef. Which one? Joe Bastianich. Ramsay asks her to give him her best "death stare," as the camera cuts between her face and Bastianich's baleful glare. It's hilarious.
When the tasting begins, young Dara begins weeping happy tears. "You have every reason to be happy," Elliott tells her, lavishing praise on her dish. It nets her a place in the next round, along with Gavin, Jewels, Troy and Tommy.
We were expecting grumpy judges and sappy kids. Instead this show is giving us nothing but amazing dishes and awww moments between adorable children and smitten judges.
The final group is tackling dessert.
"It's amazing to cook in that kitchen but some of the equipment is bigger than me," says 8-year-old Nathan, hoisting a mixer onto the counter and clambering on a step stool to make a meringue roulade.
Sarah, 9, is doing molten lava cake -- Ramsay gives it a 10 out of 10.
And Alexander, age 13, is making pistachio macarons with a vanilla bean dulce de leche filling. In an hour. Good lord.
Alexander's macarons knock the judges out. "Here's the bad news," Ramsay tells him with a twinkle -- and I cannot believe I just typed the words "Ramsay" and "twinkle" in the same sentence. Alexander, Sarah and Kaylen are moving on to the next round. But, Ramsay continues, "You've now perfected the most dangerous dessert anywhere in the world, and everything you do from now on in this competition is downhill." Alexander just grins.