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Belchertown’s Poehnelt moves on to ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ finale

Butcher Mary Poehnelt has made it into the final two of Fox’s cooking reality show, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

The 26-year-old Belchertown resident has survived 20 rounds of competition against top chefs from around the country to become renowned chef Gordon Ramsay’s first choice to move on to the Season 11 finale.

“(Mary) is one of the strongest individuals in competition and someone who has absolutely taken off,” Ramsay said when he announced Thursday night that she would be moving on to the finale.

“When I first met you I thought you wouldn’t last four dinner services,” Ramsay said to Poehnelt, “but the growth and the talent you have shown, you have converted me to a believer.”

Poehnelt showed both her culinary palate and leadership abilities in Thursday’s Episode 20: Four Chefs Compete.

Ramsay tested both the palate and the leadership abilities of the final four to determine who would make the cut for a position as head chef at Ramsay’s Pub and Grille at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

In the first challenge, Ramsay gave the chefs a dish with meat and vegetables and asked them to recreate it using only their sense of sight, taste, and smell. The chef who most closely reproduced the dish would win the challenge.

Poehnelt struggled in the first task, misidentifying the meat as lamb and then undercooking the dish. The challenge went to Cyndi Stanimirov, who correctly identified the meat as venison and the vegetable as turnip. Stanimirov won a $1,000 shopping spree and one-on-one time with Chef Ramsay, while the three losers had to spend the day cleaning out the Hell’s Kitchen dormitories.

In the second challenge of the night, Ramsay tested the final four’s leadership abilities to see who would be best suited to run his kitchen in Vegas. Each of the four chefs took a turn leading the kitchen in a dinner service challenge. The challenge tested their ability to manage the kitchen and their fellow chefs. The chefs were also subjected to a “quality control” challenge, in which Ramsay would substitute a key ingredient in an order with a wrong ingredient, to see if the chef in charge would catch the mistake.

Poehnelt excelled in the dinner service challenge, showing exceptional leadership skills and a strong ability to manage the kitchen.

“It’s the one time that Mary’s high-pitched, squeaky voice has served her a purpose,” joked fellow chef Jon Scallion. “I can hear her over everything else in the kitchen.”

Poehnelt also passed the quality control challenge with flying colors, immediately noticing the error when Ramsay stuffed Wellington with lamb instead of beef.

“I’m a butcher,” said Poehnelt, “I know my meat.”

At the end of the challenge, Chef Ramsay called the final four to state why they deserved to stay in the competition.

“I am talented, I am creative, and feel like I have progressed,” Poehnelt said. “I feel like I am a leader, and I’m willing to learn whatever I need to be your head chef.”

Despite winning the first challege, Stanimirov was the first to be sent home.

Poehnelt was the first chef chosen to advance to the finale.

Poehnelt’s challenger in the finale will be announced at the beginning of next week’s episode.

She will compete against either Ja’nel Witt, an executive chef from Houston, or Scallion, a “chef de cuisine” from Pennsylvania, in a final challenge in Las Vegas which will air next week.

The two-hour finale of Hell’s Kitchen Season 11 will air next Thursday, July 25, from 8 to 10 p.m.

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