Despite her prowess in the kitchen, chef Carla Hall says she was a late bloomer when it came to cooking. The "Top Chef" alum and co-host of ABC's "The Chew" recalls the first meal she ever made as a child -- spaghetti and an apple crumble she hoped would earn her a coveted Girl Scouts badge -- but it wasn't until age 25 that she really began to hone her culinary skill.
Hall may not know what it's like to be a preteen chef, but she does know what it's like to compete for kitchen credibility, experience and wisdom she's imparting on a group of 8- to 12-year-olds as host and mentor of "SuperChef Kids," a YouTube reality series debuting online this week.
The cooking competition, a spinoff of Food Network's "Iron Chef," and partnership with Bounty paper towels, puts young foodies and their culinary know-how to the test, from how to make cupcake frosting and duplicate a sauce they've tasted, to the ongoing challenge of keeping their work spaces clean.
In one segment, the kids are asked to sample a pesto made by a celebrity chef and then recreate it using the ingredients given to them. "There will be more ingredients than they need, so it's about developing their palette," Hall told The Huffington Post. "It's just really nice to see their creativity and even their flavor profiles and their palettes," she says.
With $5,000 and the title of SuperChef Kid on the line, the competition has the potential to get intense, but it never gets nearly as cutthroat as its adult inspiration. In fact, the kids aren't even allowed to use knives or cook over an open flame.
"You always worry about how kids will react in a harsh, competitive environment, but this project was so nurturing and all of the kids get to participate for a number of challenges, so they all have equal opportunity," Hall said. "It's not like you're in and you're out suddenly because you don't deliver on a particular challenge."
If feelings do get hurt, Hall is there to offer moral support. "One of the things that I tell them all the time is to be you. Don't worry about your competitors, don't worry about what they're doing, just do you and to do the best that you can do. Have no regrets based on what your dish is," Hall said.
And though she isn't judging, she's happy to taste test what the kids are cooking up.
"There's this one kid, he will throw everything in but the kitchen sink and in the end it all works! I'm like: Is this how Richard Blais was when he was a kid? It would have 11 ingredients and they all came together... every single time. It was crazy!" she said.
The most memorable dish she's tasted over the show's 15-episode run? A cheese-filled "volcano" burger, cooked to perfection and served on a toasted bun. "You know how most kids think that something isn't done because it's pink? Not [Petra]... She even toasted her bun!"
When it got down to the semi-finals and kid-testants began to be voted off, Hall says it was the adults who had to work hard to remain composed.
"When... people were voted off, I don't know if they were crying, but I was!" she said.WATCH: A behind-the-scenes clip of Carla Hall her young mentees.