For Houston foodies, Top Chef: Portland has been pretty eventful.
The 18th season of Bravo's popular cooking competition started with two H-Town chefs—Dawn Burrell (previously Kulture, soon-to-open Late August) and Sasha Grumman (previously Rosalie, currently Sasha's Focaccia). The goal, of course, is to win the whole thing, which means money, a magazine feature, and the kind of acclaim that lifts a career from here to Here.
Note: Spoilers ahead!
Not only is Burrell still in the competition, but she's also arguably the favorite at this point. Meanwhile, Grumman was eliminated from the main show back in the second week, but that meant a move to the YouTube one-on-one competition Last Chance Kitchen, where if you keep winning ... you can get back onto Bravo.
And she nearly did that! Grumman won four times on LCK ... but then fell last week to Sara Hauman. Shoot.
With Grumman (seemingly—you can never be too sure) out of Top Chef: Portland, Houstonia spoke with her about the experience.
It obviously sucked that you were eliminated early, but you thrived on Last Chance Kitchen. What did the early exit and immediate move to LCK do for you?
A lot of the stress and pressure was gone. Once you're eliminated the first time, well, that was bone crushing. But then you're just hanging out with your friends, able to chat more. And (Last Chance Kitchen) is more of a special one-on-one interaction with your competitor. In the main competition you're more worried about who's watching me?
It seems you saw the silver lining in being eliminated.
It was horrible going out on the second episode, but honestly I think I got a lot of screen time. It's me all over the place. It was really hard to see the positive in leaving Top Chef, but now it's like, that was great! (Producers) were telling me. "Just wait 'til it comes out." After watching episode by episode, I was like, this is actually really great! I'm very, very pleased.
So how did you get chosen to compete?
Previous contestants nominated me for the season. (I found out) two weeks before we had to fly out (in August 2020). It's a long process where you're talking to everybody, you're having conversations, you're taking tests and things ... they really push it to the end. But they say as it gets closer, "Start planning, but nothing's for sure," and then you get the phone call and it's "Holy shit, this is happening. Now I have to figure out my life for the next two months." But it's all very exciting.
You recorded a video for Top Chef discussing your struggles with alcohol use and your decision to stop drinking (note: Grumman is coming up on her one-year sobriety anniversary). Was that your choice to do that video, and how important was that for you?
Yeah, absolutely I wanted to talk about it on camera, and if there were ever questions that we didn't want to answer, we were never forced to answer anything. But at the time I'm only three months without alcohol, and they were very respectful with what I needed during the recovery period.
As for the video, it was, yeah, that's why I'm here. If I heard more people talk about the terrible things alcohol has done to them, maybe I would've found more strength in the beginning to really look at my behavior, look at my patterns, and see where I could improve. The peer pressure is there, but there are always ways to work around it. There should be other ways to deal with my stress than drinking. It's really just a battle of your mind, not giving in, and waiting that 10 seconds or until that craving is gone.
And since, people have been reaching out. It feels like I've made the right decision. It's reaching people.
After being eliminated from the main competition, you started a group called The Eliminators with fellow ousted chefs Roscoe Hall, Brittanny Anderson, and Kiki Louya. What's next for The Eliminators?
We'll be in Birmingham, Alabama, in August (where Hall lives). We'll get together quarterly, I think, and invite people on the show to cook with us. We just want to cook all over the country and start spreading the good word of what we care about in the industry and what gets us excited. We want to talk about food deserts, we want to talk about substance abuse, we want to talk about wage inequality, we want to talk about women in the industry. ... Really we're making The Eliminators a positive place and resource for people in the industry, and we just wanna eat good food and go on a culinary journey.
Grumman continues to bake and sell some primo focaccia (along with other goodies she'll make and advertise on her Instagram). Find Sasha's Focaccia here.
Note: The interview has been lightly edited.