By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 19, 2021 at 1:16 PM

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, shattering their hearts one by one.

Ultimately, one chef reigns supreme ... and even though that chef didn't end up being Pawlak this season, dining editor Lori Fredrich and I are still recapping the latest episodes – complete with wine (natch).

So how's this season surviving without Adam? Let's talk (and drink) about it:

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

How'd (the blue team without) Adam do?

With Marc no longer around, yapping so much that even the stove turns itself off in protest, clearly things would turn around for the blue team this week, right?

Unfortunately, while the blue team fixed their Marc issue, they still had Amber's paranoia problem on the menu this week as right after Marc's elimination, Amber returns back to the apartment yet again on the brink of tears as she believes Cody and Declan are plotting against her. Listen: I want to feel sympathy for her. No one's had a harder season, getting thrown from one team to another, adjusting to all new people while having to be the lone woman on the blue team's testosterone fest. She can't be having a good time.

But she also refuses to own up to her mistakes and assumes that, anytime someone calls out her issues or questions her work in the kitchen, there's a conspiracy of cowards afoot. After all, her salmon last week got powderized by Chef Ramsay's fist, so it's not like there's not been cause for elimination.

Worst of all, as she continues to distrust Cody and Declan and assume everything they do is working against her, it only makes Cody and Declan think that she's not trustworthy or a team player – so the whole thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. To avoid taking the blame for mistakes, Amber assumes the worst of everyone else on her team and thinks they're not trusting her, which in turn causes them to distrust her. IT'S GREAT!

They don't have much time to kumbaya their issues out, either, as they're quietly brought back into the kitchen for the latest cooking challenge: Spells Kitchen, a word scramble game in which the remaining chefs are given a mixed-up ingredient and must identify the food. The team that guesses correctly gets to either incorporate the ingredient into one of their three dishes – ribeye, halibut or veal chop – or, if they don't like it, toss it over to the opposing team to deal with. Things go pretty well – save for Nikki, who correctly guesses pineapple then knocks the tricky fruit over to the blue team's to cope with on their halibut dish. A veteran move from the younger chef! Again, I'm always perplexed by how much her own team wants her gone. She certainly plays things smarter than Amber, who had a chance to deal the pineapple back over the red team at the very end, but passed. 

Oh well, it's Cody's problem now – but he seems pretty excited about the challenge in the end, coming up with some grilled pickled pineapple that should hopefully jive with the fish. Amber, on the other hand, gets herself into a far less enjoyable pickle. While smashing her ribeye with another pan to score some extra sear on the meat, she ends up accidentally searing the meat to bonus pan. Not sure how Ramsay would feel about the upside-down pan presentation. But luckily, not only does Amber free her ribeye from the pan's deathly grasp, the meat turns out delicious, scoring the blue team a point – and helping nab a win as Declan also scores a point and Cody comes up big with his pineapple accidented halibut (though it helped that Mary Lou's rival plate looked like smeared trousers and was the lone dish of the six to come up empty). 

While the red team's stuck baking thin and tempermental tuile cookies, the blue team gets individual Vitamixes and a sunny barbecue ... or at least they were supposed to. Even Mother Nature must be tired of their bickering (and annoyed Adam's gone), so she passes along the rare Las Vegas rainy day – and even some hail! – to shower all over their parade. So instead of a sunny and relaxing day at the pool, the blue team gets to hang out in the hotel's rec room and play ping-pong, pop-a-shot and pool. Just what you come to Vegas for: being stuck indoors playing games everyone's local bar has! Somehow, the Buca di Beppo dinner just got usurped as the worst of the supposed rewards this season – though at least the ribs looked good and Mother Nature left the Vitamixes alone. 

But now it's time for service, a very special service, as – instead of the usual dinnertime crowd – Hell's Kitchen is hosting two separate charity dinners: one for former football player Chris Long and one for songbird Sarah McLachlan – with one person getting sent home at the end of the night in the arms of the angels, flying awaaaaay from hereeee. The first dish is scallops, which Declan cooks a little slowly for Amber's taste; but they come out scrumptuous according to Long's table.

Meanwhile, on the red team, Nikki serves up some tasty scallops as well ... just not enough of them, only sending out ten plates for a table of twelve. Poor Sarah McLachlan; seeing her without food while her table waits to eat was almost as sad as one of those ASPCA commercials that always sneak up on you late at night. One minuet I'm trying to relax and now I'm crying about dogs; damn you, McLachlan!

Things stay a little rocky for both teams during the rest of the charity two-fer. Amber cooks up an excellent second course, but does so basically isolated on her own, leaving Declan and Cody out of the operation. And because that's not feisty and defensive enough, she also harrumphs at Declan and Cody trusting her to check their meats while they're plating and cooking for them when they need an extra hand. So who's not trusting who on this team? I'm just saying, one last time: You could've had Adam. 

Luckily, the red team has its fair share of struggles as well – unsurprisingly coming from Jordan as the queen of communication woes is put in charge of the meat dish ... and bungles it up. While she gets lost shaping asgaragus on the plate, she overlooks meat that's woefully undercooked and almost lets it out to Sarah McLachlan and company. It's such a faux pas that, when it comes time for the red team to put somebody up for elimination, they surprisingly skip over Nikki and put her on the docket instead. Maybe they've gotten over their Nikki hate finally – or maybe Jordan's just messed up communicating with her team so often that it's impossible to ignore at this point. 

Meanwhile, on the blue side, Declan and Cody agree that Amber should be put up because of her inability to communicate and let them in to help in the kitchen. Surprise: Amber doesn't agree – and says as much during her time on the chopping block, answering to Ramsay that they didn't run her during the service session as much as she ran them. Cue some dubious eyerolls from Declan and Cody – and maybe from most viewers. Amber's clearly a talented chef – her food's almost always turned out solid, even when she had to salvage it from being glued to the underside of a pan – but she seems wildly in her head, not trusting others while accusing them of not trusting her. She's not quite a team player – but then again, the blue side hasn't been much of a team at any point this series, so what can you do?

Stick around for another week, apparently, as Amber survives another elimination and probably won't have happy words about it next week. Ramsay instead sends Jordan home; and if you told me Jordan would last longer than Adam on this show, I would've thought you were nuts. That's the benefit, I guess, of being on a better team, though eventually her clear communication issues and easily overwhelmed kitchen brain got the best of her. Unlike Marc last week, though, she does leave with her head held high and with a few tears, befitting a week featuring Sarah McLachlan.

Which, on that note, sorry Jordan but ... 

Quick bites

  • I'm not a professional event planner, but hosted two charity dinners at the same place at the same time seems a little tactless. Also: If I was hosting a charity dinner, I probably wouldn't host it at a restaurant where the head chef might loudly berate the staff at any minute and waste a comical amount of food by four-seam fastball-ing it at my employees. Would kind of undermine the positivity and goal of the night, I imagine!
  • Important food analysis from Chris Long: "Halibut: That's a classy fish." He's not wrong!
  • Last week, the show spent most of its preview excitedly pushing potential sparks between Cody and Mary Lou. In the end, that was all of 30 seconds of screentime Thursday night, and the romance involved ... playing card games with some flirty banter and some celebratory booty shaking. Wow, truly things are getting heated! CAN YOU EVEN SHOW ALL THAT ON TV!? Next week's overheated preview features our chefs being terrified by ... a service elevator? Somehow, this show thinks all of that is more compelling than looking at good food. 
  • I feel like some combination of Kori, Cody and Declan is pretty much locked in for the final three at this point. 
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.