By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 05, 2021 at 11:36 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 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?

Typically, being brought to tears on "Hell's Kitchen" means something bad just happened; but in Adam's case on Thursday night, it was the complete opposite. After weeks of laying low and letting everyone else use up all of the oxygen, the local chef finally stepped into the spotlight during this episode, making Milwaukee proud on a national stage. 

It didn't look wholly promising at the start. For their pre-service challenge, the two teams were given a Mexican food match with duos from each team cooking up a dish of either tacos, enchiladas, chile relleno or tostadas. Since the blue team had an uneven number of members, Adam went it alone with his enchilada dish – a tricky situation. If he succeeded, he'd get all the credit; but if things went sideways, the egg would entirely be on his face.

Worst of all, before even starting to cook, Adam proudly proclaimed that his enchiladas were going to "blow them away." Have we learned nothing?!  Inevitably, coming off confident and smug before a challenge, the reality gods doom you to fail! Of course, the odds also looked stacked, since he was up against Kori, who'd movingly set the stage with talk of winning this challenge for her grandma and her Mexican heritage. My thought: this can't end well. 

But actually ... it did.

After literally wrangling his ingredients together – that's right, to gather their ingredients, the chefs had to race around a small barnyard grabbing food-labeled eggs and herding ducks, cattle, chickens and pigs into their respective pens (because this is one of the most important skills I'd be looking for in an executive chef) – Adam puts together delicious looking marinated flank steak enchiladas for Chef Ramsay and special guest judge, restauranteur and food show regular Aarón Sánchez. The two raved about his dish, with Sánchez even calling it "a beautiful example of where Mexican cuisine is going."

Meanwhile Kori and Mary Lou's green mole dish looked – and I mean this as politely as possible – like poop on barf. It was ugly, murky browns and green hues slopped on the plate. The dish tasted better than it looked, according to Ramsay and Sánchez, but considering its appearance, that's not saying a whole lot. In the end, Adam earned the point for the blue team – and when the two squads landed even at the end of the tasting, his dish was selected as their best dish and their final representative for the tiebreaker. There, Sánchez peppered his bright and beautiful plate with more compliments – saying he's proud to see chefs treating his culture's cuisine with respect and care – impressive and powerful comments that moved Adam to tears of validated elation. 

It was quite the moment, and one made even better as Adam shared it with his city. Ramsay asked the chef where he learned how to cook like that. Adam's answer: a welled-up but proud "Milwaukee." Hell yeah.

I'm not sure why some of the other contestants laughed after that answer. Maybe it was his tear-rattled voice; maybe they just thought it was funny for some reason that a guy would learn excellent cooking skills in Milwaukee. If it's the latter, not sure why you'd look down on the city's culinary scene while looking far up at one of its chefs at the top of the leaderboard. Laugh at Milwaukee at your own risk. 

Other than some digs in the confessional during the service portion of the show, knocking some subpar team efforts – Josh's halibut hackery, Peter getting overwhelmed at the garnish station – Adam mostly returned to his usual place as the blue team's quietly confident, firm foundation in the second half of Thursday's episode.

But the glow acing one of the season's most notable challenges thus far – a task actually putting one's cooking ability and creative skills to the test, graded by not one but two acclaimed experts in their field – didn't go anywhere. After standing as a silent contender this far into the show, he made quite the loud statement last night – for himself, for his chances of winning the show and for the city he calls home. 

Quick bites

  • What's up with people self-imolating themselves on this show?! First Eliott said he was a less good chef than his rival in front of Ramsay, then Brittani admitted she couldn't really cook fish, and now Peter –when asked by an angry Ramsay during service if he had the skills to run Hell's Kitchen in Lake Tahoe – loudly and proudly straight up said no to his face. So yeah, he's gone now, axed mid-shift. Peter seemed like a decent guy who just couldn't handle the stress and the distance of the show anymore. But come on, couldn't you make things a little tough for Ramsay? The guy makes things brutally hard on you; might as well return the favor in what few ways you can!
  • Do I ... like Cody? After coming off as the decorated admiral of the S.S. Douchecanoe in the first few episodes, Cody's come off like a solid guy lately... and it's not just because anybody seems like a decent and sensible person next to Marc. Cody actually demonstrated logic in speaking for his teammates (and the audience) when pointing out Marc's unpleasant, unproductive behavior. But he also handled being on the receiving end of Syann's punishment pass with grace, even though it meant having to clean up the farm pens instead of getting a spa day with the dudes. To top it all off, he was adorable with the ducks and pigs too, saying hi to the barnyard animals like he's Mark Wahlberg on "SNL." Maybe he doesn't have to launched into the sun after all!
  • Enough talk about "elevating" Mexican food. In an episode seemingly trying to pay tribute to the cuisine, the use of the term came off more like condescension than praise, as if it's some low-grade pap that needs redeeming as opposed to centuries-old traditions involving carefully cultivated techniques and flavors. It's like when a movie director says he made an "elevated horror film," like they're embarrassed by or above the unsophisticated genre they're working in. "I made a horror movie – but don't worry, this one's good and smart, not like the others." Mexican food – like Chinese, Indian and other "ethnic" cuisines – doesn't need "elevating." What it needs is the racist and classist assumptions that judge both its quality and worth to go away.
  • And while I'm grumbling, I appreciate Chef Ramsay's at-best five-years-late observation that quality food can come out of food trucks! WHAA!? I look forward to more behind-the-times lukewarm takes next week like "Have you heard of the cronut?" and "Wow, people sure like bacon."
  • Everybody hates Marc: his fellow contestants, you, me, the people we live with who don't even watch the show, but still have to overhear his bickering from rooms away every Thursday night. But you know who likes him? The producers. So he's not going anywhere next week – especially while Lauren is just wandering lost around the kitchen not doing anythign and Josh keeps making rookie mistakes during service. 
  • Despite plenty of mistakes, both teams still endured and finished their service tonight. I don't think there was a single food projectile from Ramsay either! They're improving ... or maybe it's just that all the bad, lackluster chefs are now gone. But still! PROGRESS!
  • I was SO ready for a twist at the end of Thursday's episode. After service, Ramsay asked both teams to select somebody not for elimination, but somebody their team would be better without. Because of that careful wording, and since Peter was already self-eliminated, I thought there was a fun turn on the horizon, with the two selected weakest links – Marc and Lauren – not getting potentially axed but instead flipping teams, letting all new people get annoyed by them. WHAT FUN NEW DRAMA! But instead, Ramsay just didn't eliminate anyone and sent them back to their usual respective squads. "Hell's Kitchen": Hire me to write your show!
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.