Next Level Chef episode 8 recap: Time to rise to the occasion

NEXT LEVEL CHEF: L-R: Mentors Nyesha Arrington, Gordon Ramsay and Richard Blaise in the “When Pigs Fly” episode of NEXT LEVEL CHEF airing Wednesday, Feb. 9 (8:00-9:00 ET/PT) on FOX © 2022 FOX Media LLC. CR: FOX.
NEXT LEVEL CHEF: L-R: Mentors Nyesha Arrington, Gordon Ramsay and Richard Blaise in the “When Pigs Fly” episode of NEXT LEVEL CHEF airing Wednesday, Feb. 9 (8:00-9:00 ET/PT) on FOX © 2022 FOX Media LLC. CR: FOX. /

After a double elimination in the previous episode, Next Level Chef episode 8 opens with the cooks learning of a new twist. Instead of an unlikely ingredient or another kitchen twist, the team protection has been 86’d. With each cook standing on their own, who surged to the top and who feel from grace?

When Gordon Ramsay announced that the teams were no more, there seemed to be a little gasp from everyone. Although the team aspect helped to get the culinary competition rolling, the reality is that some bad dishes were able to get a pass thanks to the efforts of the team.

To be clear, there are no bad cooks in this Next Level Chef bunch. But, in the first couple of rounds, there have been a few clunker dishes that wouldn’t pass muster if it wasn’t for a great teammate keeping them safe. Even though anyone can have a bad day, that scenario now has bigger implication in the culinary competition.

In Next Level Chef episode 8, the cooks are divided between two kitchens, middle and basement, based on their previous performances. It was clear that Reuel was going to be in the top. He has proven himself time and again. The same can be said about Pyet. So far, these two cooks seem to be on pace to do well in the competition.

As for the basement cooks, there seemed to be a pattern as well. AE was up for elimination in the previous episode. Mariah missed plating in a challenge. It makes sense that they would have to prove themselves in the basement.

For this challenge, the cooks had to create a next level pork dish. While some people might be scared of seafood, this pork is quite hard. Anyone who has had dried, over cooked pork appreciates that it takes skill to make a flavorful, luscious pork meal. No dried-out pork covered in apple sauce here.

Before looking at the highs and lows, the mid-cook twist didn’t seem to be a factor in another challenge. The addition of stone fruit, (although how did Courtney not know the term stone fruit), didn’t seem to sway the judges. It would be nice to see the mid-cook twist have a great impact.

The top dishes were clear. From Reuel’s rasta pasta to Mariah’s skewers, those dishes were able to highlight the pork yet show some creativity. In addition, these dishes seemed to rise to the top not only because they executed well, but the flavors were bold. From Mariah’s Korean Kansas barbecue to Reuel’s Trinidadian flavors, the judges seem to be looking for a dish that excites the palate.

From there, the middle dishes seemed to be just ok. Those dishes, like Courtney’s and Angie’s, were fine but were missing elements to make them stand out. From lacking enough sauce to slightly off execution, the dishes were close but not quite there. At some point, middle ground is  not going to be enough to stay in the competition.

Unfortunately, the bottom three dishes had several errors. While she had received praise in the past couple of challenges, Pyet fell to the bottom. Her dish was far from inspiring. As Richard Blais described it, the dish had cruise ship buffet vibes. It was just boring.

Kenny’s choice to reverse sear his pork was a mistake. While that technique is smart for a marbled steak, it is not for pork. It caused the protein to be dry. That execution error could not be overlooked.

Lastly, AE was in the bottom again. While a vegetable rice might be a food trend, it has to be well-executed. Lacking flavor and texture, AE might have longed to have grabbed rice from the platform.

More importantly, AE’s mistake happened when she was unwilling to adapt beyond her initial food thought. When she didn’t grab rice, she should have pivoted with the ingredients that were in her basket. That stubbornness to make the ingredients fit into a dish that would not work was her downfall.

With the three bottom cooks going into the elimination round, the cooks should be happy to see that bacon was the main ingredient. While everything is better with bacon, it was interesting that bacon was more of an afterthought in these dishes. Where was the banh mi or pasta carbonara or even a great breakfast dish?

Looking at the three elimination round dishes, it was clear that execution would or would not keep a cook safe. While there can be an “A” for effort, the reality is that the judges want a next level dish, not just a plate of food.

Pyet’s bacon wrapped scallops were good. More importantly, she was smart to cook extra scallops given her cooking error. Compared to the other dishes, it was clear that she would be safe.

Kevin took a risk making his own pasta, but that decision paid off. Even if his pasta wasn’t perfect, it was good enough.

Unfortunately, AE did not measure up with the drunken noodles. While it might have been a good dish, there was a bounty of ingredients to be used and she went too simple. AE was eliminated.

This elimination round should stand as an example to the Next Level Chef competitors. Creativity and execution need to be in harmony on a plate. Just any plate of food will not earn the title.

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Looking ahead to the upcoming Next Level Chef episode, the judges said that the challenge will be twice as hard. Could fusion food have a favorite getting a ticket home?