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?
It began nice enough: with a hug. That's how Adam and Amber greeted each other during the season premiere of "Hell's Kitchen." The two already knew each other before the show, so it was all smiles and complimentary banter to start their time together. "I can't wait to go up against her," Adam said smiling, looking forward to their culinary sparring.
Eight episodes in: not so many hugs anymore! Adam and Amber may have started off as friendly acquiantances but after Thursday night, there's no more Midwestern nice between the two as Amber tried to save her own skin by chucking Adam under the bus. A crappy move – but hey, it was a craps themed night so props to her for staying on message.
After a quick and VERY useful demonstration from some acrobats from Absinthe – think Cirque du Soleil but for adults – Chef Ramsay introduced the episode's cooking challenge: Each contestant would roll a 20-sided rice on a craps table in some kind of horrifying blend of Vegas meets D&D. The roll would land on a letter, with the chef having to quick name an ingredient beginning with that letter. Each team member would then take their turn rolling and naming an ingredient that would pair well with their team's prior ingredients, as afterward the teams would take their rolled food selections to the kitchen and each individually cook a dish, with the best combined team score claiming victory. For instance, the red team rolled M, R, M, M, T and S – resulting in mushrooms, rice, monkfish ( ... good luck), miso, Thai chili and sprouts.
In blue's case, they'd already rolled an H and a C, resulting in haricot verts and celery root. With the veggies pretty much covered, Adam rolled a C, so obviously he said ... no, not chicken, but carrots. Declan wasn't particularly pleased, but Adam figured that anybody can do something tasty and interesting with carrots while chicken can be a secret landmine of an ingredient, so why not wait and see if a better protein pops up in the game? And indeed, Marc's next roll landed on P, which he selected pork. Paired with the following honey and serrano peppers, the blue team had a terrific lineup of food to play with.
Unfortunately, the food turned out less solid for many of Adam's blue squadmates. Amber, for instance, massacred her pork, cooking it too long – something Adam warned her about in the kitchen, seeing her put the sliced pork back on the stove – and only scoring a two out of five for her dish. Marc meanwhile went too far in the wrong direction and left it raw in the middle, racking up another two. So it was up to Cody, Declan and Adam to save the day – and Adam's five-spice-rubbed pork chop with a celery root puree did exactly that, looking delicious and scoring an immediate perfect score from Ramsay. Save for a mild slip-up on the Italian dish challenge – which he still scored well – Adam just keeps killing these individual cooking sessions. Halfway through the season, the man continues to represent Milwaukee well. Visit and eat our food; we're more than just curds and beer, dang it!
The good news: The Hell's Kitchen restaurant was closed for the night, meaning no service session. The bad news: There was still going to be an elimination, as Ramsay wanted Cody and Nikki – the two best dishes from the previous contest – to each select the two weakest members of their respective teams for a potential axing. Each one took turns interviewing the rest of their teammates – and Amber used her time to, sure, defend herself, but also toss Adam under the bus.
The Chicago chef claims that she's a better chef than Adam – which, of course; I would expect nothing less from somebody trying to stay alive, though perhaps it's a bold statement coming from somebody who most recently murdered her pork. However, she also claims she's a better leader than Adam, which is ... uh, no? Ever since she came to the blue team, she's been sulky, showed up upset because she didn't want to be with losers, struggled to bond or connect with her new squad and, just recently, needed to be talked down by Ramsay in the backroom after some bad service work. At what point has she ever been a leader – especially compared to Adam, who's often vocal during service guiding people and who, in fact, just last challenge tried to keep her pork from becoming dry crispy bacon.
Adam luckily knows all of this, and when Cody confronts him about the possibility of putting him up for elimination, Adam just lays out the facts. He's won them two competitions thus far with his cooking, and he drives to the end of their service sessions each time. "If you were to put me up," he calmly but curtly points out, "you would look stupid as **** in front of Chef Ramsay." Pretty much! Honestly, I'd be shocked if Ramsay didn't take that nomination and throw it back at Cody, selecting his own weak link to take into elimination.
Thankfully, that doesn't happen as Cody selects Marc and Amber over Adam for elimination – after all, the two weakest cooks in their last challenge. The good news: Adam was safe to live another week. The bad news: That meant that Adam pretty much disappeared from the rest of the episode as the final 30 minutes were all dedicated to the four selected chefs on the edge cooking for their lives, hoping to save their spot on the show with one great dish. The worst news: Amber's dish kept her alive, storming back to the chefs' dorm with a thirst for vengeance – and also for beer.
Will Amber continue her vendetta against Adam? But more importantly, what's her strategy here? Is she trying to eliminate him solely because he's been a little cold to her since her swap to the blue team? Possibly. Or is she trying to eliminate him because she sees him actually as her closest competition, and winning over the likes of Declan and Marc would be easier than winning over Adam? That would make sense – but then she'd also have to try winning services and challenges with a weaker team. Or maybe she was just trying to save her skin – and while Marc was pretty clearly going to be on the chopping block, she had to come up with a second person not named Amber to join him, and she figured her argument against Adam was better than the one against Declan. Adam, after all, did screw up scallops last week while Declan's mostly got a clean track record.
Hopefully this was just a desperation play and not a sign of future Brew City beard betrayals to come ...
- This week's episode was the most cooking-forward of all of this season thus far – and, not coincidentally, it was also one of my favorites. With fewer contestants, that meant more time getting to see and focus on the individual dishes and approaches in the cooking challenge instead of the quick montages in the past. And no service session meant we got another round of seeing personally created plates and individual chef skills instead of the same usual menu items along with Ramsay hurling insults and undercooked meat asteroids across the room. As it turns out, I like it when my food show actually focuses on the food a bit! Another serving of that, please!
- Lauren and Jordan were selected from the red team for elimination, with the former and her undercooked steak getting the boot at the end of the night. You may remember Lauren from ... actually, you probably don't remember Lauren. She really hadn't made much of an impact during her time on the show beyond burning some flatbreads and wandering about the kitchen not doing much. The most notable thing about her work on the show was that she was still somehow on the show. Now who will do the meandering on the red team!?
- Kori's such a solid and stable leader in the red kitchen; I'm just waiting for her cooking skills to leap-frog her to the favorite in the field. And ... I'm still waiting! Her monkfish dish on Thursday night apparently tasted good and earned her a respectable score – but it looked like a nightmare as she didn't remove all the veins before poaching the fish, resulting in something medical-looking on a plate.
- In addition to winning highwire lessons from Absinthe (which sounds like a punishment than a reward), the blue team earned a trip to the Michelin-starred Nobu for dinner. Just sliiiiiiiiightly better than getting Buca di Beppo for a prize earlier this season.
- Why do people hate Nikki on the show? The woman just keeps cooking well and being nice – and the red team's like, "GAH, GOTTA GET RID OF THIS HACK!" Is it some level of jealousy because she's made it this far despite not having the years of experience the rest of them have? If you don't believe she should have the power to put two teammates up for elimination, welp, you should've beaten her dish at the cooking challenge.
- Amber barking, "Don't you ever do that to me again," at Cody sure was a good way to turn your happy return into a bitter pill for your teammates to swallow. That being said, demanding Cody get her a beer to decompress after her tense night was both a boss move and also the most relatable thing anybody's done on this show.
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.