‘Hell’s Kitchen’ 18, episode 15 recap: Up, down and all around during Part 1 of the 2-hour season finale

Below, check out our minute-by-minute “Hell’s Kitchen” recap of Season 18, Episode 15, titled  “A Rollercoaster Ride”  — the first half of a grand finale — to find out what happened Friday, February 8, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.

Last week: The final four – Motto, Ariel Fox (right above), Mia Castro (left above) and Bret Hauser – competed in a tableside showdown and also took turns overseeing dinner service and running the pass while on the lookout for sabotages. Ariel was smart enough to stand out during the reward challenge by being the only one not using shrimp. Instead, she made pork dumplings with pozole and impressed all concerned. When it came to service, all four did themselves proud. But that was before Motto decided to nominate himself for elimination and leave the competition behind. His reason: He wants to return to Baton Rouge and use his newfound skills to elevate the city’s culinary scene. Or, as Bret colorfully put it: “Holy (bleep)-ing curveball, Motto.” Ariel was the first finalist picked but a cliffhanger awaited before hearing who was the other finalist.

SEE the 16 chefs of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Season 18 –“Rookies vs. Veterans”

8:03 p.m.  “Somebody else will be leaving tonight,” says Gordon Ramsay. “The second person moving on to the grand finale alongside Ariel is …  Mia!” OK, that was not exactly a surprise but it is definitely the right final two. Bret tells Mia, “You better (bleep)-ing win!” Ramsay calls him over and tells him “you are one of the most passionate chefs ever to grace this floor.” He mentions Bret’s recently deceased parents and says that he knows they are looking down and are “absolutely in awe with what you done” while Bret struggles to hold back tears. He adds, “I wish you nothing but the best … and I don’t want that jacket.”

8:06 p.m. Walking down the corridor, we hear Bret say, “It sucks that I didn’t win, but I am blessed to have this opportunity.” He does leave something behind – his signature risotto is on the Hell’s Kitchen menu. And the veteran, who had to drop out from Season 14 after suffering a slipped disc, says the reason he became a chef was because of his parents and, right now, they are proud of him

 8:08 p.m. Ramsay tells Mia and Ariel that “you two talented ladies need to get to work on designing an incredible finale-winning menu.” Mia gets Jocky as her Sous Chef while Ariel gets Christina. And off they go to their dorm. They get down to the business of planning their menu. Ariel is into Spanish, Latin and Asian flavors for her meal plan. Tataki arepas and mackerel vera- cruz style are mentioned. Christina asks Ariel if she thinks mackerel  is approachable for most people. But the veteran of Season 6 sticks to her fishy guns.

SEE ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ episode 14 recap: Showmanship, horsing around and a shockeroo conclusion

8:10 p.m. Jocky and Mia are going over her plans. The Puerto Rican native wants to do something “Latin in nature.” He suggests doing a croquette as a traditional one, but Mia insists she wants to put her spin on it. He just warns to not be so repetitive. Jocky also says she has to have faith in her helpers, namely her former teammates. But she says most of them don’t like her, she has gotten a lot of hate and she doesn’t want any sabotages from them. We get a flashback to where veterans Heather Williams, Bret and rookie Kanae Houston give her grief. Jocky assures that he has her back.

8:14 p.m. The sun is rising as the chefs put the final touches on their challenge plans. Ramsay  beckons both chefs  to the dining room. Ramsay wants to give them some inspiration, as he plays footage of Mia’s older sister and her niece. Mia’s mom tells her they are rooting for her and her dad says they love her. Ariel then gets a message of love and encouragement from her parents and one from a friend. “I’m an only child,” says Ariel, “It means a lot to be reminded they support me.”

8:17 p.m. Ramsay decides to pull a fast one, leading the chefs to believe they are about to meet some judges who have flown in from all over the country. “Show them respect, because they are here for you. Instead, Ariel’s and Mia’s parents walk in having flown from Arizona and Puerto Rico to cheer on their daughters. Ramsay goes full-on sweetheart, saying the challenge will be the next day and the chefs get to have quality time with their folks.

8:20 p.m.  Mia’s dad tells her she looks wonderful. Her mother says she is “glowing” and Mia admits she is enjoying herself. “This time with my parents is so valuable. To me, it’s all about family and food. Those are my two passions.” Her mother says she was always into competing, even when it came to writing poems in second grade. Adds dad, “But not running.”

8:24 p.m.  Ramsay must break up the love fest and announces he will reward both chefs with a fabulous brunch “at one of my favorite restaurants in L.A., Republique.”  Ramsay introduces them to the restaurant’s owner, Walter Manzke. Mia is impressed that they got a private table upstairs. He tells them both have been on quite a journey. For Ariel, there was Season 6 ages ago. “This time, the services have been 100 times better for me,” she says. As for low points, Ramsay brings up the raw halibut she sent to his daughter Tilly’s table when she was celebrating her Sweet 16 birthday. The high point for Mia was “having so many incredible chefs taste my food.”

8:28 p.m. Each chef talks about what sorts of dishes will the serve for their five-course menu. We get a sneak peek at Mia’s list that mentions appetizers like sliced Hamachi and cucumber lime “leche de tigre.”  She mentions she is serving a pollo a la braza – a brick-oven chicken, something that Ariel is planning as well.  Mia reveals she is throwing chicken thighs in a brick oven and Ariel says she is doing something similar.

8:34 p.m. “ Damn! Battle of the chicken,” Mia says. “My menu totally has what it takes to edge out Ariel.” As for Ariel, she says she is “very much in this Mexican mode with a little bit of Asian influence right now. “ She clarifies that her a la braza chicken will be a whole half bird and it will have a marinade. Mia knows she has to really nail her similar dishes.

8:38 p.m. Like the good daddy, Ramsay is taking Mia and Ariel to the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. More than that, “They have closed the park down, so forget the long lines. You will have the park to themselves.” The chefs giggle like schoolgirls. Even better, their families will join them.

SEE Did Chef Ramsay make a black jacket boo-boo? [POLL]

8:40 p.m. They are told by the park manager that 13 rollercoasters await them. They start at The Viper, with Ariel and Mia in the first seats.  They meet up with Ramsay and his rollercoaster-loving daughter, Holly. They will be trying out a new one called Full Throttle before it is open to the public.

8:42 p.m. There are bunches of cheering people there sitting in a Hell’s Kitchen arena. “This is their final challenge,“ Ramsay tells the crowd. “Your 60 minutes starts now.” That faceless voiceover guy tells us that the pair have just an hour to make five dishes with their sous chefs Jocky and Christina. They will need to make one cold and one hot appetizer and three different entrees with chicken, seafood and steak. Suddenly, the coaster is packed with riders and the screams are rather distracting. Ariel’s mackerel is on the grill and pushes aside Christina’s reservations about the fish. The minutes fly by.

8:45 p.m. The judge is Border Grill co-owner Mary Sue Milligan. Mia serves a Hamachi with a little bit of black truffle and fresh sturgeon caviar.  Milligan questions the truffles but she says the dish is really playful. Ariel’s dish is a shrimp cerviche  with an avocado espuma.  Mia gets a nine, Ariel gets an eight.

8:48 p.m. Judging next is Chef Rick Moonen, a seafood specialist, who will be scoring the hot appetizers. Ariel has wagyu tataki topped with a spicy aioli, red onion, garlic chips and micro herbs. He calls it “a party in your mouth.”  Mia serves fried balls with plaintain and pork fat. He calls it “comfort food,” but says it needed more seasoning in the center. Mia’s dish gets an eight. Ariel gets a nine. So they are tied.

8:50 p.m. Josiah Citrin of Melisse restaurant will be tasting the first entrée.  She serves a Puerto Rican dish with cuttlefish, shrimp and prawns. He says it has crave-ability, “you want to eat it again.” Ariel’s Spanish mackerel vera cruz is up. He says the mackerel was risky, but Citrin loves mackerel. He gives Mia an eight and Ariel gets a nine. Next: their chicken dishes.

 8:52 p.m. Next judge is Hubert Keller of Fleur. Ariel has her roasted chicken breast with sauce made with slow-cooked chicken skin blended into the chicken jus. Keller says the level of her spiciness is just perfect. Mia serves her Peruvian chicken marinated in soy sauce. Keller calls it “fresh.” Mia gets a nine and Ariel gets an eight. Tied again. Michael Cimarusti of Providence will be assessing the food. He will be the tie-breaker. Ariel has a mole-rubbed rib cap with roasted carrots and fresh watercrest. He notes it is a tricky piece of meat to cook but hers is done perfectly and is tender. Mia has meat topped with herb salad, plantains and aioli. Cimarusti says both dishes has “a little bit of heart, a little bit of heritage and a little bit of home.”

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8:56 p.m.  OK, who wins already? Mia takes the challenge – after all, she is the challenge queen. But Ariel knows she is better at dinner services than her opponent. The game is on. The returning chefs from Season 18 are Kanae Houston, Roe DiLeo, Motto, Heather Williams, Bret Hauser, Trevor McGrath, Jose DeJesus and Scotley Innis. Mia has the advantage of getting first choice to be part of her brigade. Kanae pipes up and says, “I do not want to be on her team.” Good news. Mia picks Roe. Ariel goes with Kanae. Mia then goes with Trev, leading Scotley to say she made the wrong choice. Ariel then chooses Bret. Mia then goes with Jose while Ariel scores with Motto. Mia gets Heather and Scotley goes with Ariel.

8:58 p.m. Time for both teams to bond while screaming together on the rollercoaster.

Next time:  It looks as if the chefs assisting Mia and Ariel did not leave their bad habits behind when it comes to dinner service. And, after an episode where Ramsay did not yell once, it looks as if he will make up for it on the second part of the finale.

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