By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 05, 2021 at 10:36 AM

A Milwaukee chef is finding out if he can stand the heat in the world's most famously intense kitchen. Adam Pawlak – owner of Egg & Flour pasta bar has taken on 17 other cooks (and infamously irritable celeb chef Gordon Ramsay) on the latest season of FOX's "Hell's Kitchen."

Airing Thursday nights at 7 p.m., the long-time reality competition pits chefs from across the country (and the globe, in this season's case) for a chance to win the head position at Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen restaurant in Lake Tahoe, complete with a salary of $250,000. Along the way, dishes and egos are broken, some contestants burn their food, and Ramsay famously burns contestants, breaking their hearts one by one. Ultmately, one chef reigns supreme ... and hopefully, this season, that chef ends up being Pawlak. 

So will Pawlak serve up four-star food – or at the very least four-star entertainment? Watch dining editor Lori Fredrich and me recap the latest episode – complete with wine (natch) and, this week, a VERY special guest star: Chef Adam Pawlak!

Be sure to join us every Thursday night at 8:10 p.m. to talk about the show and discuss who's having a heavenly time in "Hell's Kitchen."

How'd Adam do?

Adam and his fellow contestants may have been blindfolded and earmuffed for a blind taste test challenge;  but it was Chef Ramsay who seemed to lose his senses last night, at least at the end of the episode. He may throw plenty of tantrums and whirlwinds of food, but after Thursday night's truly nonsensical elimination decision – shockingly sending Adam home instead of Marc – he's about to be on the receiving of some all-too-deserved rage. Someone fetch me two slices of bread; I must make an idiot sandwich!

Perhaps we should've seen it coming, though, based on the foreboding way the episode started.

After cooking for her life and surviving, Amber arrives back with the blue team in a harrumph, insisting Cody never do that to her again, demanding she fetch him a beer (can't be mad at her for that; A-grade power move) and, new in tonight's episode, complaining about Adam and how he's a bad leader due to his cockiness and nonchalant demeanor. That's all to be expected. Of course Amber would come in mad and wanting to nudge others toward the chopping block; but what was actually more concerning was the next moment as Cody tells Adam that could've been him up there sweating for his spot on the show.  Adam shrugs it off, calling himself a savage and saying, "Even if I go up, I'm not going home."

ADAM! YOU CAN'T TEMPT THE REALITY SHOW GODS LIKE THAT! That's like talking about how you've got a wife and kids at home you can't wait to see in a war movie! We should've known he was doomed at that very moment. 

But first, the teams had to endure a blind taste test, a favorite challenge from past seasons brought back with a diner-themed twist this year. After giving each of the contestants a milkshake to quick quiz their palates – a tasty test only Nikki seems to ace – the real examination begins as Ramsay blindfolds and earmuffs the contestants while a fellow team member sits underneath a "Double Dare"-esque shower ready to go with ice cream sundae ingredients. Each chef gets four ingredients to guess only using their taste buds; if they get one wrong, it's all good, but after that, each wrong guess earns their teammate a dousing of dessert, from ice cream to chocolate sauce to a topping of cherries. It is the wrong kind of sugar rush. 

Considering that Adam put a bullseye on his back, I expected him to embarrass himself in this competition and put himself in trouble; but he really didn't screw up THAT bad. Sure, he only got one out of his four ingredients correct, giving Declan the full sundae shower with all the toppings, but few on either team did particularly well and it's not like Adam didn't leave the tank unscathed, getting a beard full of ice cream that should've cooled off any grudges. Most importantly, though, the blue team claimed victory, so all should still be well, right?

Well, it was until service. Unfortunately, after a killer service last time around, Thursday night was a different story. That included Adam, who was manning the garnish station for the episode and unfortunately got lost in it, struggling to communicate with Cody on some of the orders and even appearing so in his own space that even Ramsay called him out. 

But he was by no means the worst chef in the blue team's kitchen Thursday night. That (dis)honor would go to Marc, who looked utterly overwhelmed by the evening's business at the fish station. First, he needed to go to Adam to get the baseline recipe and cooking techniques for the lobster, not the egregious sin, but definitely did not one that inspired confidence that he had the area on lockdown. And indeed, he did not. Not only did he need Adam to step in on certain items, he also served up a shrimp scampi that was missing key ingredients. As you can imagine, that went over great with Ramsay. To make matters even worse, Marc couldn't communicate well with the rest of the blue team either, failing to tell people where he was at on dishes and getting sulky about things not going right.

And indeed, things were not going right as Marc topped off the night by delivering a murdered sunnyside up egg to Chef Ramsay that inspired a clean, calm and simple "Go f*ck yourselves" from the bristling Brit. And with that literal bad egg, the blue team's shift was shut down. 

So Marc has to be going home, right? RIGHT?!

As the blue team chats about their two nominees for elimination, Marc is easily the first name put on the table, and there's not really an argument there. It's more a question of who claims the spot for second worst chef in the service. While Adam certainly makes an argument for Cody, who got confused on meat and messed up an order, there's also one for our favorite Brew City beard, due to his lack of communication and leadership during the night. And unfortunately – but fairly – that argument wins the night as the blue team puts up Adam and Marc for elimination, a proposition Ramsay accepts. 

But again: Marc has to be the one going home, right? Somehow ... no.

While Adam makes his pitch to Chef Ramsay that he's the most passionate and solid chef of the two in front of him, and that – while he struggled with communication tonight – he was burdened with helping others during the service but will improve and continue to serve as bedrock for the blue team, Ramsay SOMEHOW still comes to the conclusion that Adam was the weakest link of the episode, asking for his jacket and ash-ifying his hallway photo. 

And to all that, I say nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Even the rest of the cast seems to know that decision was ridiculous, judging by the faces after Adam gave his jacket back.

Marc has, after all, been up for elimination multiple times. He's profoundly –and quite obviously – disliked by several of his teammates and has proven in the past that he LOUDLY struggles to work as a unit. Even simply based on tonight's service, sure, Adam struggled with communication; but Marc struggled worse while also delivering botched food. Adam's got the better resume through the series, including multiple wins in cooking challenges and an overall lack of service slip-ups. If Adam was truly the worst station on the night, as Marc argues to Ramsay – an argument Cody calls out as a lie  – it didn't show up in the edit.

Ramsay's end rationale for axing Adam is that "unlike his beard, he stopped growing." OK, I'll allow it. But compare that to Marc, who went from a loud aggro blabbermouth with communication issues to a sulky, more subdued chef with communication issues. Is that really better? Seems like just a new flavor of the same failure. If Adam stopped growing, he's still miles above Marc in terms of cooking acumen and working with others, and it's not particularly hard to see.

I can accept my favorite losing, but not when it doesn't feel deserved. If Adam was going to lose, you want a sense that he earned it, that he failed somehow and was the worst option on the chopping block. Ramsay's decision, however, demonstrated seemingly different standards for Marc and for Adam, presenting a profoundly unsatisfying way for Adam's run to end. It's as if he's getting punished for coming out of the gates so strong –  rather than improving – but based on a low bar. 

Welp, I hope whatever drama you wring out of Marc these next few weeks is worth this weird choice. The beard deserved better. 

But hey, while it's sad Adam left and on such frustratingly debatable terms, it's better to be the fan favorite who got eliminated too soon than the villain who overstayed his welcome. And though he's gone, Adam made his mark on "Hell's Kitchen," for both himself and for Milwaukee. It may be a silly show, but over the course of these first episodes, Adam made the city look seriously good, regularly cooking up outstanding food and, when given the chance, shining a spotlight on the place that helped mold him.

He may be eliminated, but that pride won't be gone any time soon. 

Quick bites

  • Hey, if Adam had to leave, at least he went out on a high – literally – as the prize this week for the blue team was a helicopter ride through the Grand Canyon. Sure, it's no Buca di Beppo, but that's a pretty outstanding memory and experience to take home with you. Plus, it sure beats hauling massive dead cow hunks around like the red team was tasked to do as punishment. 
  • Based on how the milkshake taste test went, it looked like another week of wondering why Kori was a frontrunner as she guessed her mango milkshake was ... garlic? Ah yes, that famous refreshing dessert treat. But, she fared better during the actual blind taste test, and then totally salvaged herself during the service session, manning the meat station on the red team's side like an unflappable boss (on a bustling steak night at that) and communicating incredibly with the rest of her squad. While mango versus garlic may be a blindspot, she can clearly balance a lot of spinning plates – and that's more important when it comes to earning the Lake Tahoe gig. 
  • Why'd Kori and Mary Lou get shower cap privileges during the blind taste test? That was an option?! I call shenanigans!
  • I've had Nikki's back this entire series thus far, as her teammates seem to resent her lack of experience while ignoring her simultaneous lack of screw ups thus far. BUT THEN she had to go and tempt the reality show gods, poking fun at Kori for her garlic/mango gaffe and feeling smug about her taste testing abilities. Cue Nikki not guessing a single one of her four ingredients right and turning poor Jordan into a human sundae. I hope we've learned a valuable lesson this week, everyone: Don't upset the reality show gods. Be sure to watch your mouth and post one Instagram selfie a day as dutiful sacrifice. 
  • MVP of this week's episode: That one customer who delivered and shared his table's appetizers with a nearby group oogling their orders. I hope karma paid him back kindly on the casino floor later that night, because that man is a champion, and also I would very much like to be seated by him in the future in the hopes of scoring free food. 
  • Perhaps this isn't the last we see of Adam this season? (*wink, wink*)
Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.