Season 18 of “Hell’s Kitchen” certainly has had its share of unexpected upheavals. The biggest shake-up arrived in episode 4, when Gordon Ramsay decided to crumple up and toss away the much-touted concept of “Rookies vs. Veterans” and went back to splitting the chefs into two gender-defined teams.
But last week, rookie Motto, one of the black-jacketed final four players, outdid them all. He took himself out of the competition just when he was on top of his game and the finale was in reach. He preferred to follow his heart and go back home to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and use the skills he learned on the show to raise his city’s culinary standard. So no executive chef position at Ramsay’s new Las Vegas restaurant for him.
That leaves Mia Castro as the last rookie standing alongside veterans Bret Hauser and Ariel Contreras-Fox. Only two chefs will compete in the finale. Ariel was declared the first to go through last week. The second chef will be revealed early during the first half of this week’s two-hour grand finale that begins at 8 p.m. ET/PT Friday on Fox . Let’s size up this trio and see who is most worthy.
Chef de cuisine in Brooklyn
Veteran of Season 6, came in third.
Age during Season 18: 35
Up for elimination? Never this time around.
Quote: To Trev after he totally blew the blind taste test: “Trevor, you should’ve gotten nicotine as a flavor, you would’ve got that one.”
Her strengths: Ariel might have lacked confidence during her original season and kept a low-profile early on this time. But she regularly did quite well during rewards challenges and, by the end, during dinner service. Her big moment came in episode 7, when she volunteered to be the last chef standing in a challenge that required teamwork and she was able to make sure her team’s five entrees were properly finished.
Her weaknesses: Not many. I can’t remember one incident where she unnecessarily berated a fellow team member or blamed others for bringing down her performance – although she did call them out when they failed to communicate in the kitchen. Ariel was a calming influence on others and was just about the only chef to tolerate Bret’s emotional outbursts. She also did Mia a favor by taking Bret, her male nemesis, on a horseback riding reward last week. Overall, Ramsay declared her one of the most consistent performers and she sailed on through to the finale.
Private chef in Fort Lauderdale
Veteran of Season 14. Left before 8th service due to a slipped disc
Age during Season 18: 34
Up for elimination? Twice this season.
Quote: Whenever he was called out during dinner service: “I’m so sorry, chef.”
His strengths: Bret is a guy’s guy who too often says whatever is on his mind, including plenty of sexual innuendo and personal TMI. But he has a big heart as he deals with the recent loss of both his parents and is abnormally proud of the food tattoos on his biceps. But the guy has created some fine dishes even if they sometimes lack finesse. That most of them are Italian in origin is both a plus and a minus. Sous chef Christina even teased him this season when pasta wasn’t a possibility for a challenge. What is still on the “Hell’s Kitchen” menu is his signature asparagus and shrimp risotto from episode 2.
His weaknesses: Bret’s plating can be messy, he rarely strays from Italian dishes and he likes to finger point and call out others. Sometimes, he can suck all the oxygen out of the room with his overflowing emotions. He tends towards sexist commentary when it comes to women and gets annoyed whenever Mia pushes back. But he is a hard worker and didn’t complain as much as some male chefs about their lack of reward outings and series of punishments.
Private chef in Miami Beach
Age during Season 18: 28
Up for elimination? Twice.
Quote: About the veteran team: “If they were previous ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ winners, I would be nervous. But they are previous ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ losers.”
Her strengths: Mia is a sassy lass with a killer smile, one who snaps back when the male chefs tried to hit on her and that one time Bret swore in front of her and condescendingly called her “sweetheart.” She also stood up for herself when her female teammates overstated her mistakes during dinner service. Still, Mia was up for elimination twice for basically zoning out in the heat of battle when undercooked meat and overcooked fish plates were going back and forth. But she was a beast when it came to rewards challenge, winning all but two by getting perfect or close-to-perfect scores.
Her weaknesses: Mia would practically go into a fugue state when orders poured in and plates of undercooked meat and overcooked fish were going back and forth during dinner service. She also slaughtered a bunch of beef Wellingtons once by slicing them open to see if they were done. Mia did better last week, recovering from the previous service when she froze after Bret asked her about the timing of her garnish. Her recipes are great, but inconsistency in the kitchen has been her weak spot.