Next Level Chef Season 2 winner: Smart choices earn the big win

NEXT LEVEL CHEF: L-R: Contestant Tucker and Mentor/Executive Producer Gordon Ramsay in the 2-hour season finale of NEXT LEVEL CHEF airing Thursday May, 11 (8:00-10:01 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2023 FOX Media LLC. CR: FOX.
NEXT LEVEL CHEF: L-R: Contestant Tucker and Mentor/Executive Producer Gordon Ramsay in the 2-hour season finale of NEXT LEVEL CHEF airing Thursday May, 11 (8:00-10:01 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2023 FOX Media LLC. CR: FOX. /

As five chefs entered the Next Level Chef Season 2 semi-final, only three chefs would make the finale and only one would be crowned the Next Level Chef Season 2 winner. While cooking execution is key, smart strategy and managing the pressure earned one chef FOX culinary competition victory.

For the semi-final, the five chefs had to create a fusion style dish. Combining two U.S. states on a plate might have been a nod to the upcoming MasterChef season 13. Still these dishes were about bringing a flavor harmony to the plate. One state should not overshine the other. It was about bringing the best of both locales to the final product.

With two chefs earning automatic bids into the finale, the pressure was high. Although she started in the basement, Pilar soar to the first pick of the finale. Her mahi mahi was beautifully steamed in the banana leaf. More importantly, her use of the blood sauce in the dirty rice was innovative. She definitely deserved that finale spot with this dish.

The second automatic entry belonged to Tucker. Her ribeye with peach might have been an unlikely flavor combination, but it was her execution that earned her place.

The three chefs going into the sudden death cook-off were Chris, Nuri and Omi. The chefs could pick anything from the platform and create whatever they wanted. That food freedom was showcased in three of the best dishes. If these chefs had presented something similar in the previous round, they would have been top picks.

Nuri went out of his comfort zone and picked a NY Strip. Given that he hadn’t cooked beef in the competition, it was a smart move. The detail on the mushroom was well received, but the dish needed some finishing salt.

Omi made an ocean trout. While the dish had freshness and vitality, it needed a sauce to bring it all together.

Chris went for veal and made fresh gnocchi. The judges gushed over the talent and technique from the gnocchi.

Earning the third spot in the finale was Chris. With that decision, one chef from each mentor was in the finale. Similar to season 1, it was anyone’s title to win. Plus, all three mentors are in it to win it.

For the Next Level Chef Season 2 finale, the three chefs had to create a three course meal. While there was 90 minutes on the clock, the time was cumulative. The finale was all about managing the clock. Too much time spent on the appetizer could derail the meat course.

Given that the chefs had to create a hot appetizer, fish dish, and a meat dish, it was interesting that the dishes stood on their own. It was not necessarily about creating a progressive or cohesive meal. Maybe that idea was not possible with the platform ingredients, but it might have been nice to see that connection across each chef’s culinary story.

For the hot appetizer round, Pilar finished first. The judges loved the textural contrast of her soft shell crab bao. Although it might have needed a touch more pickle and sauce, it was successful.

Tucker presented steamed mussels. It might not have been the most technically difficult, but the broth was a standout. The dish might have been safe, but it was good.

Chris decided to do duck. Although the doneness caused pause, it was a gutsy move. Overall, the spiced duck breast was good and it was ballsy. That effort served Chris well.

For the fish course, Chris made a smart choice to wine poach his halibut. Not only did that cooking technique help to keep the fish from becoming dry, it was a time saver. Again, he took a big risk, but it was a great cook.

Tucker had a mis-step during her cook but recovered. The sea bass was an umami bomb. Even though the beets should have been left off the plate, the salty sweet flavor combination wowed the judges.

Pilar continued her Cajun/Asian story. The blackened salmon might have been unlikely, but the fish was cooked perfectly. It might have needed a touch more on the plate, but it was impressive.

For the final round, the meat choices were bold. Tucker, who had the least amount of time, picked a pork chop. Her final dish was cohesive, balanced. From the aioli to the truffle sauce, it looked like she had the most time.

Chris took another big risk by cooking a tomahawk steak. It was a formidable protein, but the rustic flavors were nailed. It was a simple pleasure to eat.

Pilar made a classic filet mignon. It might have benefited from a touch more Cajun spice notes to bring together the course progression, but it was an impeccable cook.

The Next Level Chef Season 2 winner was Tucker. Another Gordon Ramsay mentee earned the title. With smart choices and good strategy, Tucker earned the title.

Now that Season 2 is over, it is time to look ahead to Next Level Chef Season 3. For all those cooks who want this opportunity, they better start preparing.