‘Hell’s Kitchen’ 14×8: Popping Bottles

Alcohol is thrown into the mix as 11 chefs remain

A horrified Fred Willard watches on as contestant Josh drops a few f-bombs
A horrified Fred Willard watches on as contestant Josh drops a few f-bombs

Eleven chefs remain in Hells Kitchen — six men and five women — and the intensified competition is affecting the contestants in different ways. Some are rejuvenated, having made it this far. Others see the thinning herd as a chance to step up and assert themselves. But no-bullshit Meghan makes the most astute observation about the recent eliminations: “All the crazies are gone.” I’m not as confident as she is that the kitchen has been cleansed of insanity, but at this point in the competition, the uptick in quality is dramatic. The chefs are learning to work together (sort of), and when cooking individually, their dishes look significantly more accomplished. Finally, it’s time to focus on the food.

Well…okay, not quite yet. The episode kicks off with the usual chef post-mortem in the dorms, which is always a chance for at least one of the contestants to say something unlikable on camera. Usually, it’s a mean crack about the most recently eliminated chef, but this week, we get a montage of Josh objectifying Christine, telling her he’s glad she survived another week because she’s “eye candy” and he needs “something to look at.” Apparently, Chef Ramsay’s menu is not the only artifact from a bygone era in Hell’s Kitchen. Chauvinism is alive and well, too. Christine, who all season has been neither awful enough nor talented enough to make much of an impression, is just happy to be there, and she accepts the compliment demurely and politely, like a woman should.

On to Chef Ramsay’s challenge, which actually has some culinary potential. The theme is cooking with alcohol. Each chef can prepare whatever they want, as long as the dish incorporates either beer, wine, or liquor. The girls put their heads down and get to work, while the guys chest bump around the kitchen uttering variations on phrases involving the words “dude,” “sweet,” and “money.” This week’s guest judges are John Ratzenberger, who was once on a TV show where people drank, and Ramsay’s very own maitre d’, Marino, who is obviously planning to one day murder Chef Ramsay in his sleep with a carving fork.

Thankfully, the alcohol challenge results in some of the best-looking plates put out this season, including a technically impressive chocolate stout soufflé from Michelle, and Nick’s sweet potato doughnuts with stout caramel sauce. Dessert has a tendency to trip up otherwise competent chefs (at least, as far as my food competition show-watching experience goes), and it’s nice to see the contestants get creative and actually succeed. Of course, the whole thing is bogged down by the ridiculous judging. First, each team can only present one dish using each type of alcohol, because why waste a chance to throw food in the garbage? And yet again, the judges rate each dish on a scale of one to five, which is meaningless when literally every judge awards every single contestant either a three or a four. Ramsay himself keeps telling chefs they’ve earned a “strong three,” which is basically saying the dishes are confidently mediocre. Just pick the one you like, guys. It’s not that hard. Anyway, the scales tip in the guys’ favor, winning them a day at a local roller rink and beer garden, which I was pretty excited about because they’re both just a few blocks from my house. I think you’ll agree that makes me pretty cool. Follow me on Twitter!

As the chefs begin prepping for dinner, Bret excuses himself to go to the can. When he doesn’t return, we’re treated to some footage of Bret grunting and groaning and howling “Why? Why?” from inside the toilet stall. Did I say we were focussing on the food? Sorry, I just lost my appetite. Of course, it’s a misdirect. The truth is not that Bret was having violent diarrhea. No, what really happened is that he took a shit so hard he threw his back out. I’m not kidding. Apparently no stranger to back problems, Bret is unable to cook and Chef Ramsay decides it’s unsafe for him to continue in the competition. Bret is sent home, but not before a hilarious moment where he’s forced to shake Ramsay’s hand while lying on the floor. Bret, being the bro-iest of the bros, was responsible for some of the best unintentional comedy on the show, and it seems fitting that his exit was due to a defecation-related injury.

Service begins, with the added wrinkle that two celebrity guests will eat at chef’s tables in the kitchen. These guests are Fred Willard and, as Ramsay teases, “America’s favorite nerd.” “Jaleel White?” ventures Christine. “Urkel,” says Ramsay. Thank you, Christine, for having enough respect to acknowledge the man has an actual name. The chefs get to it. Guess what? Some meat was undercooked and some fish was overcooked, but the mistakes are fewer now, so Ramsay really has to crank up the grimacing and eye-rolling. This week, the big breakdown is with Randy and Adam, who can’t seem to get their timing down and trade off firing their own dishes and hollering at the other guy to slow down. Meanwhile, Josh displays his professionalism in the kitchen by unleashing a string of F-bombs in front of a hungry and horrified Fred Willard and his guests. If you like listening to people scream while you ask for more bread for the fifth time, Hell’s Kitchen is the place to be.

Predictably, Randy and Adam are up for elimination, and it’s Adam who gets the boot. He departs with a smile and a good attitude. Bye, Adam. You seemed like a pretty good dude. But let us end this recap with a brief prayer offered by Nick, who, upon hearing of Bret’s toilet mishap, comments, “I just hope he got to wipe.” I think I speak for everyone when I say…we all hope he got to wipe. Seconds anyone? ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ 14×8: Popping Bottles