Chef Dawn Burrell is hitting her stride.

SEASON 18 OF TOP CHEF IS HERE, and two (yes, two!) Houston chefs are 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) and Sasha Grumman (Sasha's Focaccia) as they battle each week (Thursday nights on Bravo).

The season continued with episode three Thursday night. How did our chefs do?

By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.

How They Did

Dawn Burrell

On a thoughtful episode of Top Chef, with competitors exploring the African diaspora, Dawn Burrell came out on top. Yup, Chef Burrell won the Elimination Challenge.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs had to make ... a layered dessert (save your groans, please) using sponsored product Talenti gelato (again, save those groans). Burrell went for a parfait of toasted rice mousse, blackberry caramel, and black sesame crumble. Judge Carrie Baird said, "Thank you, good job." That's what we got; she finished somewhere in the middle. 

Then came the Elimination Challenge, for which the chefs headed into the city and visited a number of pan-African restaurants to better acclimate them with African cuisine. At Akadi PDX, Burrell and chefs had dishes like cassava and fish with peppers, onions, and sides of spicy sauce. At Bake on the Run, a Guyanese eatery, they had bites like bacalao (Portuguese salt cod stew).

"This is like a dream come true. I'm almost in tears that pan-African food is being featured on such a platform," said Burrell. Houston has a fair number of African restaurants, thanks to a large population of Nigerians from West Africa and Ethiopians from East Africa.

Each chef had to cook something inspired by pan-African cuisine. Burrell, who was shown rushing around and mostly in great spirits, prepared a Guyanese-inspired curried goat and crispy roti with fondant potatoes and green pepper sauce. It was a rousing success in the dining room with multiple diners raving about it and folks wanting recipes, plus jars of her pepper sauce.

Ultimately, she was chosen the winner of the Elimination Challenge.

"I've had a few ups and downs, but I think I'm starting to hit my stride," she said. Heck, yeah.

Sasha Grumman

Chef Grumman is still alive! Though she was taken from the main competition last week, she was placed in Last Chance Kitchen, where she could get back in the game by surviving week after week.

She started by defeating Roscoe Hall last week, and she continued this week by beating newly eliminated chef (and good friend) Brittanny Anderson. Grumman took Anderson down with a one-pot dish of chicken thigh cacciatore with red bell peppers, Calabrian chilis, mushrooms, and raisins. 

Their Chances?

Hey, Grumman can still do it. Just survive and advance!

Meanwhile, last week we wrote, "If Burrell can ... you know ... get her timing down, she might just be a favorite." Well, she has to be considered one of the favorites now.

While Portland's Sara Hauman and Tokyo and Seattle's Shota Nakajima seem to be the leaders of the pack, Burrell is likely right behind them. Her experience in big and small kitchen spaces, her ability to adapt to different styles, and her ability to execute comfort food at a high level is serving her well. Again, if she stays in her zone, she can win the whole thing.

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