SEASON 18 OF TOP CHEF IS HERE, and one (we started the season with two, but Sasha Grumman was eliminated from competition … right? Read below …) Houston chef is competing for the ultimate prize ($250,000 and other things) in Portland, Oregon. We’re keeping our eyes glued on Dawn Burrell (who’s soon to open Late August) as she battles each week (Thursday nights on Bravo).
The season continued with episode six Thursday night. How did our remaining chef do?
By the way … SPOILERS BELOW.
How Dawn Did
We began with the Quickfire Challenge and a lot of mushrooms. The chefs were asked to make a mushroom-forward dish using only a stump (Portland’s nickname is Stumptown) as the prep station. Burrell started by working with lobster mushrooms, which are known for their meatiness, and with ovens and fryers being occupied, she found herself frantically searching for a place to finish cooking her ingredients. Her dish, wood-fired roasted mushrooms with tarragon mascarpone cream and chili vinaigrette, seemed to look good and have a nice balance of flavors. It also won favor with judge Tom Colicchio, but she didn’t get the top prize of $10,000 (there was no immunity given for this challenge), as chef Gabriel Pascuzzi—who grew up foraging mushrooms in the Oregon woods—claimed the win.
Next came the Elimination Challenge, in which the chefs had to concoct surf-and-turf dishes to honor Indigenous people. The chefs drew knives for proteins, and Burrell got bison. Then the chefs had to pair up, and Burrell aligned with El Paso’s Gabe Erales, who drew catfish. Bison and catfish … not bad, huh?
To learn more about the foods of Indigenous people and receive some special ingredients, the chefs visited the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a local fishing dock. We got a small glimpse of Burrell and Erales planning their dish, and that seemed to go well. The next morning while cooking under tents, we got more chemistry, with “Team Texas” working pretty well together as Burrell discussed making a pumpkin seed mole to tie together the bison and catfish. Still not bad, huh?
After absolutely no drama between them, Burrell and Erales produced bison tenderloin with catfish and pumpkin seed mole. It looked simple, likely to highlight the big flavor of the bison, and it won over the judges completely. Most comments were directed toward Burrell’s mole and how it perfectly connected the proteins.
The verdict? Burrell and Erales’s dish was considered one of the top two, but it finished second to a rabbit and smelt dish by Sara Hauman and Shota Nakajima. Out went both Pascuzzi and Nelson German, whose dish was considered the worst. As a wrinkle, both were asked to compete on Last Chance Kitchen for an opportunity to get back into the competition (more ahead).
Burrell has to be considered a favorite at this point. In fact, it’s a clear four-person battle at the top between her, Erales, Hauman, and Nakajima. At this point, it’ll take another signature dish or two, plus high-level consistency, for her to possibly win it all.
Then There’s Sasha!
A lot happened on Last Chance Kitchen this week. With the double elimination, German and Pascuzzi were supposed to battle against current LCK winner Jamie Tran for the opportunity to get back into the competition, but German’s knee problems caught up to him and, instead, he dropped out completely. That meant it was Pascuzzi against Tran, and the latter won to re-enter the main competition.
But that’s not all!
Because German dropped out, host Tom Colicchio decided to put all the eliminated chefs back into the Last Chance Kitchen pool. They, and Pascuzzi, all battled for the chance to stay in LCK as the new winner.
And Grumman won. In 30 minutes she cooked ricotta cavatelli with harissa, chili and tomato sauce, fontina and espelette pepper garnish. It wowed Colicchio, who put her back in front at Last Chance Kitchen. She’ll compete against the next eliminated chef next week.