By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 15, 2021 at 10:26 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?

After making quite the impact in the season premiere, Pawlak fell into the background in episode two. But, considering how wretchedly the guys' team performed, maybe it was for the best to lay low and stay out of the Ramsay's notorious culinary crosshairs. And that's seemingly what he did, holding down the fort as a quiet lone pillar of competence while letting the screw-ups and drama kings take the spotlight.

Boy, were there plenty of the former on the second episode. I admit I was a little scared Pawlak would be amongst them on the first challenge: a shrimp cook-off that would make Bubba Blue proud, featuring all of the pawns for perusing. Pawlak's dish, a bowl of linguini with spicy tomato sauce, pancetta and shrimp sounded delicious – and was certainly reminiscent of the dishes he cooks up at his Egg & Flour pasta bar – but Ramsay's sous chef Jason, serving as the blue team's judge for the challenge, seemed unimpressed by the fact that there was only one (albeit sizable) shrimp in the dish. That was all we saw of Jason's take on Pawlak's food – a potentially ominous sign – but one that didn't appear to hurt him. While he wasn't amongst the top picks in this surprise elimination test, there was significantly more suckage on his team as Elliott and Kenneth were put on the chopping block, with the latter (unsurprisingly) getting sliced. 

Other than that seemingly dodged bullet, Pawlak kept quiet for the rest of the episode, a wise choice as the guys' team biffed it hard during their first dinner service at the restaurant. While the ladies' team had their early troubles, they at least finished their service while the men were sent back to the locker room early thanks to a plethora of miscooked meats.

Pawlak did have the unfortunate luck of being in the proximity of one of Ramsay's signature tirades, slapping some poorly cooked lamb chops to the ground in a rage, but while Pawlak may have suffered from some lamb explosion debris, thankfully the mangled meat wasn't his fault as he was working the fish station with his Irish pal and fellow top contender Declan. 

In the end, Pawlak's low profile was a highly successful strategy as he was nowhere near the bottom two chefs selected for the chopping block – and nowhere near the epicenter of a total bomb of a performance for the blue team. Last week, he made an impact. This week, he passed the first important test of a reality show competition: Don't be the first one eliminated.

That makes him already a winner in my book – and thanks to his low-key and level-headed showing in a rough week two, he's potentially set up to be a winner in Ramsay's too. 

Quick bites

Here are a few quick bonus observations from episode two:

  • Surprising no one after his five-minute mess of a debut plate last week, Kenneth was the first one eliminated this season – thanks in no small part to a mystery "potato" in his dish that turned out to be a massive chunk of parmesan. During his short stint on the show, he made some awful chicken and rice, then served a dish seemingly not knowing how some ingredients got into it. So, it was not too big of a surprise that he was cut.
  • I really hope that all that shrimp in the crate dropped out of the helicopter and shattered on the ground in the opening was fake. Seems like an egregious waste of seafood otherwise. Then again, that was far from the last food item Ramsay would chuck to the ground this episode. 
  • The minute Eliott said, "I'm feeling good about this week" in the opening scenes, I knew he was doomed. Classic reality show cliche: If you're confident, you're probably dead – and indeed, he quickly tripped up on the shrimp challenge. I'm no culinary expert, but when the person eating your dish asks, "Is there any seasoning in this?", you've made a whoops on a plate. Thanks to Kenneth, he survived that round only to suffer a massive humiliation in the dinner service, spending the whole night looking utterly lost in the kitchen, holding a utencil like a child waiting for his mom to tell him he can stir the dish. And if you thought that was passive, YOU DON'T KNOW THE MEANING OF THE WORD. Put on the chopping block along with Drew for his miscooked meats, Ramsay asks the two chefs if they're better than the other. Drew simply answers yes, while Eliott tries some mealy-mouthed, "Wellllll, we all have strengths, and really, what does 'better' mean?" When pushed again to answer, Eliott says, amazingly, no, he's a worse chef. Congrats, Eliott: You've just been self-eliminated. On the way out, he says, "Love me or hate me, you're gonna see me again." Dude, settle down. You weren't here long enough for anyone to have feelings about you. 
  • Syann and Kori didn't make much of an impact last week, but with double the actual cooking in this episode, the two pushed themselves to the front of the female contenders. Syann won the shrimp contest with her take on the classic shrimp and grits, earning the win, a punishment pass and a bump up the standings. Meanwhile, Kori seemed like the head chef in the red team's kitchen during the dinner service, guiding the ladies through tough times and into a successful night. She seemed like the leader – we'll see if that continues and if it burns her at some point. 
  • How satisfying was it when smug, self-appointed king of the universe Cody undercooked the French fries during the dinner, serving as the final straw on Ramsay's back as he then sent away the men for the night? Answer: the most satisfying. You're telling me the gigantic ego may be trying to overcompensate for mediocre cooking skills? WHAAA!?
  • I need Marc's facial expressions and reaction shots to be approximately 2,000,000% toned down. Not every moment requires a bug-eyed head tilt or horrified yell, man. 
  • This was my first time witnessing a dinner service in "Hell's Kitchen," and gotta say: I don't think I'd ever want to eat there. Nothing says a relaxing night out to eat like hearing the sounds of incensed yelling at every mistake in your dish and meats whizzing through the air! Plus, apparently you can just bring your pocket dog in to sit with you at the dinner table. While Wayne Brady serves as the guy team's celeb customer and commentator, the red team got reality star and restauranteur Lisa Vanderpump ... and her dog, which even got its own lower third. Anyways, this may be hard to believe, but the lady who brought her toy dog to a fancy dinner was a little persnickety about service. Between the dogs, the devil sounds coming from the kitchen and the meats getting dispatched like four-seam fastballs, I think I'll just do the casino buffet. 
  • So last week, I wondered if Ramsay's new, mellower public persona would translate to "Hell's Kitchen." Judging by the profane yelling and multiple meats spiked like footballs in episode two, I'm gonna say that's a hard no. 
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.