SEASON 18 OF TOP CHEF IS HERE, and 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 (who has a great focaccia hustle) as they battle each week (Thursday nights on Bravo).
The season continued with episode seven Thursday night. How did our chefs do?
By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.
How Dawn Did
We start the episode with the return of chef Jamie Tran, who won her way back into the competition through Last Chance Kitchen. Chef Burrell was very happy about it, even getting some talking-head time to discuss it further.
Then we headed into the Quickfire Challenge, where chefs had to take a second chance on a dish that didn't work so well the first time, while using some not-so-tantalizing ingredients (moldy cheese, fish collar, bread). Burrell opted to re-do her first elimination challenge dish, which nearly cost her completely as she ran out of time and didn't plate everything. The result was fire-roasted tuna kama and peanut sauce, which was called out as one of the best. Did it win her the Quickfire Challenge and immunity?
Nope. Chef Shota Nakajima took home the prize.
Onto the Elimination Challenge, where Top Chef finally dove into the subject of Covid-19. The show turned its kitchen into a World Central Kitchen site (with a virtual appearance from WCK's founder, chef José Andrés), where the chefs had to make 65 portions of a dish that could be packed in to-go containers and reheated well. The dishes had to have a protein, vegetable, and grain, and would be sent to first responders like doctors and nurses, working around the clock to care for people stricken with the coronavirus.
Burrell said some poignant things in a talking head spot about the spirituality of cooking for those who need it most. Then she got to work to prep her dish, though we didn't get a chance to see any of the work. Instead, between prep day and cook day, we got a moment between Burrell and her mom, Delores, who had suffered a stroke. Burrell and her brother had been caring for her over the pandemic.
We finally got to see Burrell's dish when it was presented to the judges: tamarind-braised top sirloin with coconut rice grits and maple red onion-braised cabbage wedge. Was steak and cabbage too bold a choice? Nah. The judges loved it. "She does not lack on the flavor," said judge Kwame Onwuachi. Very true.
Once again, Burrell was singled out as one of the top dishes, but the winner was Tran, who cooked kimchi tofu soup with bulgogi-braised pork, eggplant, and steamed rice.
How Sasha Did
After last week's wild Last Chance Kitchen that resulted in Grumman's comeback, she had to face off on this week's LCK against newly eliminated Avishar Barua.
The chefs were asked to make a "bloody" dish with ingredients like blood oranges, blood beets, and blood sausage, so Grumman went with a beet-forward dish with blood sausage. She also had a lot of banter: fielding dad jokes from Barua and joking about pig heart with host and judge Tom Colicchio. Hey, chef Grumman is good TV.
Her dish was brown-butter-basted blood sausage with beet puree, pickled onions, and blood orange segments, while Barua made a "Bloody Good Breakfast" of blood sausage with blood scrambled eggs, blood orange, and blood vinaigrette. The verdict: Grumman won again. She lives to see another week.
After a third-straight top-three finish in the Elimination Challenge, and with the most number of top-three finishes among all the competitors, one can argue that chef Burrell might just be the overall favorite in Top Chef. That said, read enough Reddit boards and blogs and people are betting hard on Sara Hauman, who nearly aways has a top-three finish. Other favorites include Austin's Gabe Erales, who has nearly matched Burrell in finishes; and Nakajima, who slipped a little this week but makes plenty of high-quality fare.
The final eight will be tested big time next week ... it's Restaurant Wars week. The chefs will split into teams and put together a pop-up restaurant with a tasting menu. Oh, baby.
Meanwhile, Grumman is kicking butt in Last Chance Kitchen. She may have to outlast a few more competitors, but she's seriously capable. Either way, it's been fun watching her carve out her own corner of the Top Chef universe this season.
One last thing: Burrell, Grumman, and Erales (the Texas chefs) will be together Saturday at Night Market. Head to 4100 Montrose Blvd. between 6 and 9 p.m. to meet the chefs and get a whole bunch of food from local vendors, restaurants, and bars, including Tatemó, Underground Creamery, Burger-Chan, and Two Headed Dog.