By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 02, 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, we're still recapping the latest episodes. So ... 

How'd (the remaining contestants which unfortunately don't include) Adam do?

You would think it would be impossible for someone this season to register as even more irritating than Marc; but apparently for Amber, anything is possible. Well, anything but getting through a service session without having a breakdown that she blames on other people, than has the gall to act appalled and shocked when people point out that she can't get through a service session without having a breakdown. 

Admittedly, she's gone through the most of anyone this season, being the lone contestant having to switch teams mid-stream not to mention serving as the lone woman on the all-male blue team, putting her completely in an outsider position. And when given opportunities to cook her food, Amber brought it. I say she had misplaced overconfidence; but she's clearly a very talented chef with an impressive arsenal of skills, so it's not entirely unearned. I don't doubt she will head an incredible restaurant at some point. But Hell's Kitchen in Lake Tahoe isn't gonna be that restaurant after another night of irritatingly flipping and flopping between caustic cockiness and hostile insecurity during service. At least Marc was consistent: He was just always annoying. 

After some hot tub hijinks between Cody and Mary Lou (anything to avoid focusing on food on this show, apparently), the five black-jacketed finalists get their first cooking challenge in their new duds: a boxing-themed ingredient battle. Well, boxing-esque. OK, so it had nothing to do with boxing besides taking place in a boxing ring and also Bruce Buffer was there – but hey, we needed something Vegas, dang it. There's no punching but there was aggressive hand-jabbing and intense matchups as the chefs were presented a tray of ingredients – one filled with proteins, another with starches, another with veggies and so on – in intervals. The cooks gathered around the mystery tray and, when the lid was removed, dove their hands in to hopefully grab their choice before anyone else. So it was more Hungry Hungry Hippos than boxing. They'd then run the ingredient to the kitchen and get to preparing their dish before being summoned back to the ring for another round of Hungry Hungry Head Chefs. 

The resulting dishes, presented to Gordon Ramsay and guest judge Michael Cimarusti, turned out pretty good. Declan got things started with his rustic but tasty looking dish – most notable for his use of "champ," a particularly Irish take on mashed potatoes with some greens – that earned him a place in the champion's corner. He got to stay there as well after ranking better than Amber's dish – a nice karmic punch after Amber side-eyed Declan's cooking style as unsophisticated – but he eventually got knocked out by Mary Lou and her veal dish, an impressive feat since she apparently hadn't cooked veal before.

Mary Lou wouldn't leave the corner either, surviving the challenges from Kori and Cody to win the day – and win a day out on the race track and dinner at the Palms. As an added bonus, she could also take a fellow competitor with her – and as you'd guess considering her romantic hot tub interlude with Cody from earlier in the episode, she picked ... Kori. Hey, whatever ends this unnecessary subplot fastest. But really, Cody: Between Amber showing up and cooling off your hot tub time before (one of her lesser crimes this episode) and now Mary Lou choosing someone else for a date day, I'm starting to think the universe – and Mary Lou – are trying to tell you something.

So while Mary Lou and Kori enjoy a day of racing cars, the incidentally reunited blue team enjoys a day of rotting dumpsters. Yep, it's garbage day – and if you thought Hell's Kitchen was tough duty, wait until you see Hell's Recycling Bin. Safe to say nobody would have a good day milling though maggots and decomposing food – but these old chums have an even worse time since there's plenty of tension still in the air along with the flies and odors. Declan's vocally hated Amber for a long time now, and Cody's tired of her now too – probably at least a little because of helping cause his hot tub heartbreak. And if you thought things were going to get better between all of them, welp, now Amber's sulking and refusing to finish the work because the maggots are breaking her brain (which – honestly – relatable).

Can't wait to see them all try working together on the same team tonight!

Indeed, instead of two separate kitchens, now they're all one squad of black jackets. But while they may be united, there was nothing together about their service on Thursday night, starting with Declan serving up cold crab cakes much to the dismay of Ramsay and the WWE wrestler hungrily waiting to either eat food piledrive a slow cook into a marble countertop. Unfortunately, things do not get better from there as Amber is the worst thing to happen to fish since land. First she botches the scallops, seemingly forgetting to cook both sides, before burning a hunk of salmon and running woefully behind – to the point that she needs Mary Lou to watch her scallops and Kori to step in to help get the salmon cooked right. Declan eventually wandered his way over there, either to help or to get a closer view of the dumpster fire, so now there's four people cooking fish and poor Cody manning ... I guess everything else?

Ramsay obviously complains about the kitchen's chaos – but then so does Amber, annoyed that everyone's coming to help her out. Yes, it's true more hands does not make things more effective – but Amber, THEY WOULDN'T BE THERE IF YOU WEREN'T SCREWING UP! This is Amber's run on the show in a nutshell: blaming her teammates for not trusting her while she's messing up and giving them no reason to trust her. After mucking up a bit more, requiring a timeout with Ramsay, she finally kicks them out, and service finally smoothes out once everyone returns to their stations and Amber's feet return to stable ground.

Unfortunately, it's too late for her as the team sets her on the chopping block – though not without a mild fight as Amber is convinced that she's still the best leader in the group (as evidenced by everyone on the team needing to help her cook fish five minutes ago and her not having the leadership skills to remind everyone else of their work). Ah, yes, the problem wasn't that she kept messing up; it was that everyone came over to try and stop you from messing up. Sound logic. She instead puts up Declan – which, considering his botched crab cake and overall sturdy but sometimes surly kitchen composure across the entire competition, would be a fair vote. Well, fair if Amber didn't exist. Meanwhile, Kori puts up Cody because ... I don't know, misplaced loyalty to Amber? Cody's been a pretty strong leader thus far and an even stronger cook in the individual challenges. Mary Lou, however, sides with the guys (and logic) and votes for Amber to be up for elimination – which Amber says is because she's into Cody. Or maybe she's just into competent service, consistent leadership and un-massacred seafood?

So it's Amber and Declan up for Ramsay's final judgment – and while I wouldn't mind seeing Declan's casual sexism leave the show ("Amber's a hot mess ... well, you're not hot but you are a mess"? Can't imagine why Amber maybe a hard time working with him), Amber's been too frustrating as a cook and teammate to keep around for another episode. And Ramsay thankfully agrees, taking her black jacket back and sending her down the Hall of Photos and Shame – complete with a surprisingly long montage reminding you that she didn't like working with the blue team for the 471st time. 

And so we have our final four: Mary Lou, Cody, Kori and Declan. I've been betting on Cody and Kori for a while now – but Mary Lou keeps winning cooking challenges while also working confidently and competently in the kitchen during service. Maybe it's time to stop second-guessing the season's goofball – because her skills are no joke. 

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.