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 eight Thursday night. How did our chefs do?
By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.
How Dawn Did
Time for the most anticipated challenge of each season: Restaurant Wars. The competitors broke into two teams, each needing to establish and open a pop-up restaurant resulting in developing and executing a seven-course menu. This year, Top Chef went with a chef's table concept for the restaurants, meaning the contestants had to prepare each dish in an open kitchen in front of guests and judges. That made for extra scrutiny and, at least in this case, plenty of drama.
Burrell flipped a coin and was grouped with Gabe Erales, Sara Hauman, and Chris Viaud—a team of three favorites. The approach, led by Erales, was to create a global concept called Penny that was focused on seafood. Hauman said that in Restaurant Wars, global never works. Moreover, the team didn't really have a strategy for crucial things like expediting service. Not good!
The night before, the Penny team discussed the dishes, but nobody seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Burrell said she still had to figure out her items. Still not good! The opposing team, creating a Latin-Asian restaurant called Kokoson, seemed much more focused and intent.
After grocery shopping, the teams started prepping and cooking. Burrell said Penny's first course was hers and would include crab and caviar, while the third course, also hers, would be scallop with tasso ham XO. The problem was "crab and caviar" are just ingredients. Burrell was still unsure what she was going to do. Even more not good! With three-and-a-half hours to go, Burrell let the team know she was going to "probably" do crispy corn cake with crab salad, which seemed to alleviate fears.
Then Kokoson had its service, which went over extremely well with the judges. Clearly, Penny had to be flawless.
The judges arrived at Penny for dinner and immediately noticed a lack of communication, cohesion, and fun. Hauman in particular seemed seriously uncomfortable and nervous. Burrell was all business during service, and maybe too much so, not projecting much joy herself. But her courses—warm crab salad in a corn puff and island coconut sauce, and seared scallop with creole XO and ham hock broth (there was crawfish in the dish!)—were praised effusively. I really, really hope Burrell does that scallop with XO and ham broth at Late August.
Ultimately, Kokoson was undoubtedly the winner. For Penny, the judges brought up the team's communication issues; moreover, it was clear that the chefs were too independently focused, leading to obvious gaffes like—uh—not expediting and having a regular front-of-house person to keep the guests' attention.
Thus, someone from Penny had to go, but it sure wasn't Burrell, who was considered the top member of her team. In the end, the judges decided to eliminate Hauman. Considering how well she has performed on the show, it was a surprise.
How Sasha Did
That meant Hauman went to Last Chance Kitchen to face off against chef Grumman.
In a nod to Restaurant Wars, the chefs had to make a progressive menu. The catch: They had to make three bite-sized dishes. Grumman went with tomatoes with feta and lemon sumac vinaigrette, scallop with pesto, and flank steak with creamy caramelized onion puree.
It turned out that both Hauman and Grumman made similar second and third courses, so the margin of error was tight. And it came down to one course falling just short. It's over. Chef Grumman is out.
"I fought the shit out of it in Last Chance Kitchen and I'm so happy for that," said Grumman, wiping away tears.
So, Grumman is finished with (probably) no chance left to return to competition. That stinks—she battled for a while and proved she should've had a longer run in the main show. The silver lining is that her run of entertaining internet television won't go unnoticed. Maybe Grumman gets to return in a future season of Top Chef. Maybe someone is already developing a TV show about a badass yet fun-loving chef with a Sicilian streak. She'd be perfect!
And Burrell? Despite a number of communication issues and a lack of teamwork, she still rose above her Penny mates on a losing Restaurant Wars squad. And because her food was exceptional once again, she's proving that she's likely one of two favorites (along with chef Shota Nakajima) to win Top Chef.