By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 12, 2021 at 10:56 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 of the latest episode – complete with wine, natch – and be sure to join us every Thursday night at 8:10 p.m. to talk about the show and discuss if our Milwaukee chef is having a heavenly time during his stint in "Hell's Kitchen."

How'd Adam do?

You can't blame Adam for feeling a bit confident after a week in which he crafted the best dish in an entire contest, got rave reviews from both Chef Ramsay and guest judge Aarón Sánchez, and got to wave the flag for Milwaukee on national television. He was on fire last episode, and this week, you could tell he still had some residual heat from it, sprinkling a little extra spice on his interactions and interview segments. 

Don't worry; no one should hand in their Adam Fan Club membership cards after Thursday night's episode. He didn't fall to the level of Declan or – heaven forbid – Marc. For one, he wasn't loud and obnoxious about any of his complaints or criticisms – and most importantly – he was always in the right. But riding the high of last week, Adam was roasting a lot more than dinner for magic fans in the new episode. 

Before that service, however, the episode started with a challenge right up Adam's alley: remixing and modernizing classic Italian favorites, which contestants chose by smashing guitars (Between Phoebe Bridgers on "SNL" and now this, brutal week for guitars). Considering Adam has a background in Italian cuisine and runs not one but two pasta restaurants (plus a pizza joint), I figured the Milwaukee chef had yet another test in the bag. Plus, he didn't brag about how good his dish was going to be, avoiding hexing himself. However, his take on chicken saltimbocca – a pan-seared spinach and pistacchio stuffed chicken with tagliatelle – wasn't the smash hit that he or I had hoped.

Though Ramsay and the guest restauranteur judges liked the flavors and seasoning, they harrumphed a bit about – ironically enough for a pasta man – the excessive pasta on the dish. It wasn't a bad showing, as Adam still scored a six out of nine and helped get the blue team another win; but it wasn't the number one chart-topper that seemed possible. 

Still, a win is a win, and considering some of the other dishes we saw Thursday night, a solid B is better than a horrendous F. (Just ask Syann and her cheese-logged wonton tortellini). Plus, any worries that he was somehow off his game were alleviated as Adam was back in his usual calm, composed, bedrock foundation role on the blue team for the service round, serving up an Italian menu to diners in a rush to eat and see Penn & Teller next door. If my memory serves, Adam has yet to bungle a service session, always cooking up solid food, always communicating and always avoiding Ramsay's wrath. 

The same can't be said for his teammates, who pulled a magic trick of their own and made Gordon Ramsay's good vibes disappear. Josh struggled to communicate and stay aware in the kitchen, causing timing issues and getting some annoyed hand-holding and loud side eye from Adam as he tried to get on the same page with his garnish station. But, although he was clearly frustrated, Adam was still professional and trying above all else to get the orders right without erupting Mount Ramsay. He even fist-bumped Marc after the dishes all turned out. The man will clearly do anything to keep team morale and the team on the rails! 

Adam saved his frustration of the night, surprisingly, for Amber, a chef he'd previously pointed out as a solid chef he knew. But you wouldn't have guessed that from their testy interaction during a seafood snafu, as Adam tried to set up the timing right but Amber insisted that she didn't need six minutes to cook her salmon. Spoiler alert: She needed the six minutes – and as a result – Ramsay had a fair grumble, complete with Adam chiming in that he'd told her the fish needed to go on the fire sooner than later.

Is that Adam throwing one of his teammates under the bus a bit there? Spicy! Then, when she snapped at him for reiterating the timing on the salmon, Adam said in his confessional, "We're not here to (bleeping) babysit." SO MUCH FOR THAT PAST FRIENDLINESS!

Amber ended up mucking up that order; but after a mild breakdown, she got it together along with Adam and the rest of the blue team, not only finishing service but landing as the losing squad compared to the red squad. Considering his quality, firm-hands-on-the-wheel performance throughout the episode, unless there was some four-dimensional chess strategy going on, Adam wasn't at risk of elimination; but he did make his voice heard about who should leave.

First he put up Amber – not surprising considering her poor performance along with their mild spat in the kitchen – but instead of Josh and his bad communication skills and salt woes, he picked Marc as his second elimination nominee, later saying to the camera that, "If I was going into a job, and someone told me that this guy was going to be my boss, I woulda (bleeping) walked right outside the (bleeping) door and go to the next restaurant." Tell us how you really feel! So much for that fist bump before, Adam!  

In the end, Adam only got half of what he wanted with Amber alongside Josh, rather than Marc, being selected for elimination. And while he still ended up on the losing team, he had a winning week. Last episode saw Adam grow his culinary reputation; this week, he grew his voice, not so much to his teammates' delight,  but definitely to the delight of the producers and those who agreed with him (aka everyone). So rock on, Adam. 

Quick bites

  • Happy birthday, Josh! We got you an elimination for your special day! Indeed, thanks to his issues seasoning the mashed potatoes and his all-around communication woes, Josh celebrated his 29th year of life on this planet by getting his time on "Hell's Kitchen" snuffed out. Look at the good side, Josh: Turning 30 has to go better, right!?
  • Hurray for the Marc rehabilitation project! Perhaps finally realizing he's teetering on the edge, Marc quickly decided that being the most aggro man in the world wasn't the best approach in the kitchen, apologized and made good(ish) with Declan and vowed to be a more subdued and just all-around better team member. Just a feeeew weeks too late on this turnaround – as seen by the fact that he still almost got the axe – but hey, if it means less yapping and yelling, this is a win for everyone. 
  • Kori has been a favorite of mine to win since early on, showing off impressive leadership skills in the red team kitchen. These were skills she admirably showed off Thursday night helping talk a pressured Jordan down from a panic attack and making sure she stayed away from the bottle after six months sober, a surprisingly tender and human moment for this show. But ... is her food actually good? This is the second week in a row disappointing in the cooking challenge, falling short last week with Mexican food and now this week with Italian. I'm starting to wonder if she's the front runner I thought she was ...
  • Rest in peace, that undercooked salmon Gordon Ramsay punched into oblivion. I like to think that was less Chef Ramsay angrily slap-murdering a filet of fish and more Chef Ramsay generously attempting to give everyone in the restaurant a tasty salmon shard to try. So kind, so giving. 
  • No offense to Buca di Beppo, but considering you're hosting professional chefs, surrounded by great restaurants in Vegas, working with a FOX budget, I feel like "Hell's Kitchen" could've done better for its winning team's prize than a dinner at the same place I went to before my sophomore year high school homecoming dance. It is hilarious piles of pasta, though, and Adam seemed happy. 
  • Instead of the Italian menu, that Spandex Nation lead singer should've been served as a nice lozenge after all the howling and screeching he did helping announce dishes in the earlier cooking challenge. I wanted a Luden's just listening to it. though all respect in the world to the healing power of tortellini. 
  • I can't imagine Lauren and Syann are much longer for this world. After spending last week's episode meandering around, this week Lauren revealed she can't make pasta. WHOOPS! Meanwhile, Syann's attempt to replace tortellini with wontons in the Italian food challenge was a big goopy mistake... though, judges, if you're asking a chef to remix a classic dish and make it their own, you can't be too mad if they indeed go off-script. OK, you can be a little mad if it results in saucy gunk.
  • Props to Mary Lou for calling back to this classic "Hell's Kitchen" line in tonight's episode.

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.