Next Level Chef Season 3 episode 12 recap: Boxed into a flavor corner

Next Level Chef Season 3 episode 12 recap
Next Level Chef Season 3 episode 12 recap / FOX

With only seven chefs remaining in the competition, the bento box challenge had everyone feeling that their creativity was a little boxed into neat compartments. Could one chef smash expectations and finally break the basement curse?

At the beginning of Next Level Chef Season 3 episode 12, the chefs learned the team competition was over. While there have been ups and downs for the teams this season, the reality is that having support from a team can be a good thing. It is not necessarily just avoiding the elimination challenge. Learning from those other chefs in the kitchen can help boost everyone’s cooking confidence.

Since the teams have been dismantled, Zach had to return his immunity pin. Looking at the remaining chefs, he is the one chef who has received the least amount of negative criticism through the season. From helping his team avoid elimination to driving last week’s winning three course meal, Zach is a force in this competition.

While immunity may be gone, another reward is up for grabs. The time token for winning a challenge can be a game changer. Whether the winning chef uses the extra 10 minutes as a head start or as an impediment to put another chef down 10 minutes, that mental mind game can impact the outcome. It might not be the “curse” of Next Level Chef Season 3, but it can, and probably will, impact the next challenge.

For their first individual challenge, the chefs had to create a Japanese bento box. The box had to contain one sushi roll, one cooked protein, and a fried (tempura) item. While there were more than just three “boxes” to fill, the task was not an easy one.

The most surprising element to this challenge was that some chef never rolled a sushi roll prior to this competition. Even though there can be techniques which make the process easier or more straightforward, it does take a deft hand to tightly roll sushi. Poor Mada with his larger hands. It was hard for him to be delicate with that roll.

Looking at the sushi rolls, they were better than expected, especially for some first timers. While Gabi might have over stuffed hers and Nicole might have needed more ingredients, the sushi roll was not the biggest downfall. The cooked protein is where the chefs shined or faltered.

As seen in the exclusive clip provided to FoodSided, Zach chose chicken as his protein. While the chicken worked well as a cooked element in the bento box, the chicken sushi was not necessarily the best choice.

The more interesting judges’ feedback was that they wanted Zach to choose a different protein. Skipping over the black cod and prawns might have been a mistake. The debate over Zach’s protein choice is a curious one. An elevated ingredient can show his cooking expertise but using a humble ingredient can show his creativity. In either case, both directions require a well-executed dish.

Christina’s bento box was a top choice.  The judges appreciated her ahi tuna two ways. It was a full meal. The seared tuna was well executed, and the batter was crispy. More importantly, the bento box captured the totality of the challenge by offering every element in the box.

Winning the bento box challenge was Mada. His shrimp, which seems to be a lucky food for the chef, earned the time token and the praise from the judges. The tempura was perfectly crispy. All the elements went together. It was a well composed plate of food.

As the winner of the first time token, it will be interesting to see how Mada uses that advantage. Taking 10 minutes away from another chef could be a game changer in the next episode.

Even though Jordan’s “krab” was a mis-step, he was safe. His sushi roll was well done, but the cooked “krab” was a nightmare.  Still, he avoided another round in the bottom.

In a twist that no one expected, three chefs were sent into elimination. They were Izahya, Gabi, and Nicole. Each of those dishes had execution issues. Izahya’s tempura was soggy and the lobster was chewy. Gabi’s salmon roll was ventured into the burrito-ushi realm. Nicole did not highlight the black cod in an elevated way. Given that Nicole had never cooked with black cod, it was hard for her to appreciate the nuances of that prized fish.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs had to prepare wagyu beef dish. While that exquisite protein can stand on its own, the chefs needed to show that they could cook it properly. All three dishes showcased a lovely cooked wagyu.

The biggest difference in the three dishes was the ability to balance the richness in the beef. Since the plate needed an acid or something to offset the unctuous notes of the beef, one dish missed the mark with this concept.

Unfortunately, Nicole paired her wagyu with a tempura and a mayonnaise. Even though the beef had a lovely smoke quality from the grill, the three heavy elements needed a punch of acid to break up the flavors. Nicole was eliminated in Next Level Chef Season 3 episode 12.

With only six chefs remaining, the finale is quickly approaching. Could Zach, the last Team Blais member, make the finale or will another member of Team Ramsay earn the title?

Be sure to watch new episodes of Next Level Chef Season 3 on FOX every Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Episodes can be streamed the next day on Hulu.