Plenty of reality cooking show contestants would relish the opportunity to whack arrogant, berating celebrity judge Gordon Ramsay in the face with a lemon meringue pie and smear it into his hair.
Kayla Mitchell, 11, of Center Moriches -- currently in the running to grab the $100,000 prize in Season 3 of Fox television's "MasterChef Junior" -- does just that during Episode 2 of her competition. "If I did this at home, I'd probably get in trouble for it," Kayla says before planting the pie in his kisser.
More than 80 of Kayla's family and friends screamed with laughter during a viewing party at the Moriches Yacht Club as Kayla and the 13 contestants still left on the Jan. 13 episode one by one smooshed pies into the faces of Ramsay and fellow chef-judges Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich.
Revenge was literally sweet.
"That felt so good," Kayla says now. "He told us his hair takes three hours to do."
But Kayla says Ramsay -- who, with his fellow judges, tastes each dish contestants prepare and decides who goes home each week -- was actually kind to the kid cooking whizzes during her time on the show. "He could make you laugh," she says. The sixth-grader at Center Moriches Middle School won't say how long she lasts on the show; that's a secret she's had to keep since she flew to Los Angeles with her mom, Michelle, for filming last March, battling 18 others for the prize money, trophy and monumental bragging rights.
Kayla heard about the show through her mom's friend Gillian Castiglione, who knows Kayla loves to cook. "She texted my mom, 'Go watch Fox right now. I think Kayla could totally do this,' " Kayla says.
Kayla was asked to go to Manhattan for a casting call where she had to chop celery and cook an egg. "I'll be waiting for your call that says I'll make it to the next round," she boldly told the interviewers.
She got that call before she even left the building. The following day she had to prepare her signature dish -- lemon chicken with sauteed asparagus, shallots and garlic -- under bright lights while being filmed. Then, she had to make a home video of her kitchen, bedroom and family, which includes Michelle, 41, dad Chris, 46, little sister Lauryn, 8, and their Havanese dog, Jameson.
When Kayla learned she'd been chosen, "I did this," Kayla says, dropping her mouth open wide. "I think my mom was more in shock than I was."
They shouldn't have been so surprised, says Kayla's dad, who works in software security. Kayla got interested in cooking when she had pneumonia at age 7 and was home for two weeks. She watched cooking show after cooking show, and then asked if she could cook for the family.
"It just kind of built from there," Chris says. "So much so that she started helping on the holidays. Then it progressed to every gift she got had something to do with cooking." A pasta maker, a knife set, a mandoline, an ice cream maker, a blowtorch for crème brûlée.
Before going to California, Kayla memorized and practiced preparing recipes between homework, piano lessons and lacrosse. "I did a lot of research and I looked up a lot of different terms so I seemed more intelligent," Kayla says.
Kayla's mom, an adjunct professor of business at Suffolk County Community College, accompanied Kayla to Los Angeles. So far on the show, Kayla has prepared mango turnovers with a coconut crème anglaise and a mango coulis and a venison-and-pork sausage with sauteed vegetables and polenta.
On the first episode, Kayla cut her fingers while slicing a lime. She had to call out, "Medic!" and stop cooking while the medic bandaged her. She thought she was, excuse the pun, toast. "I had no hope," she says. "I cried on national television."
But it turned out to work in her favor, she says. "Cutting the finger was a good thing because I actually got shown on the episode," she says. And, the judges were impressed that she didn't give up. Now, kids at school will say, "Aren't you that girl who cut your finger on 'MasterChef Junior?' " Or they'll tease her by yelling, "Medic!"
At the Yacht Club viewing party, #TeamKayla -- which includes her lacrosse team, school friends, school principals, yacht club members, baby-sitter, grandparents, and more -- cheer for Kayla and enjoy three types of macaroni and cheese Kayla prepared: jalapeño macaroni and cheese, bacon macaroni and cheese, and a four-cheese macaroni and cheese.
Says Kayla: "I get to watch myself on TV with all my friends who supported me while I was away and told me all the drama that was happening at school while I was gone." One of those friends was Julia Pascucci, 11, of Center Moriches, who filled Kayla in on who was starting to date and who had gotten in so much trouble they couldn't go on the class trip to Splish Splash.
During the episode, Kayla yells, "I want to go home as a winner!" While Fox hasn't announced how many episodes the show entails, both previous seasons had seven. So time will tell if she did.
LI's other 'MasterChef Junior' entry
A.J. Espinoza, 10, of Freeport, had high hopes of winning the $100,000 prize during Season 3 of "MasterChef Junior," but she was disappointed when she was eliminated after the first episode of the season, leaving only Kayla Mitchell to represent Long Island.
It was the pappardelle challenge that did her in, she says. "Pappardelle is not my best pasta," she says. "The sauce kind of went wrong because I was so focused on the pasta." When she was eliminated, she says she felt like "I just missed a shot in basketball and made my whole team lose."
A.J., a fifth-grader at St. Christopher's School in Baldwin, had been sure she would last longer -- at home they call her "the queen of curry," she says. Plus, she's an aspiring actress who has auditioned for other shows, so she knows what it takes to be a lively contestant.
But, she says, she enjoyed the time she did have in Los Angeles and the new friends she made. Meeting Gordon Ramsay also was inspirational. "I've never met a celebrity chef before," she says.