Dawn Burrell, left, and Byron Gomez during judging of the elimination.

SEASON 18 OF TOP CHEF IS HERE, and a 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). Also, read more about recently ousted Houston-based contestant Sasha Grumman (who has a great focaccia hustle).

The season continued with episode 10 on Thursday night. How did chef Burrell do?

By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.

How Dawn Did

Oh, boy. This was a thrill ride.

In the Quickfire Challenge, the remaining six chefs had to simply make something good for one of the show's judges. They'd each go up against another chef in a one-on-one competition, and the overall winner (of $10,000) would be choosen from one of the three battle winners. The twists: Chipotle provided real ingredients (real was emphasized by Padma Lakshmi), and judges provided real adjectives. Burrell faced off against Byron Gomez, and Tom Colicchio judged.

Colicchio wanted "tangy and crunchy," so Burrell made wood-fired pork loin with crispy onions and poblano avocado puree. It looked great, Colicchio said "woo hoo" under his breath, and Burrell beat Gomez, who accidentally charred his pork. That put Burrell in the top three ... and she was chosen the winner. It was her second-consecutive Quickfire Challenge win. In a talking head, she said she now realizes she can win Top Chef.

Well, uh, yeah.

Also during the Quickfire, we were reminded that not only is Burrell an Olympian, but her brother is also two-time Olympic gold-medal-winning long jumper Leroy Burrell. Yes, she's competitive.

Former Top Chef contestant Ed Lee joined the judges for the Elimination Challenge, which focused on tofu with a tournament created to determine the ultimate loser (and eliminated chef). Burrell drew Gabe Erales in the first round, with both needing to make a dish with firm tofu.   

After a pre-challenge tour of the manufacturer Ota Tofu, the chefs prepped all the dishes they may have to make in the tournament. We were given even more Burrell backstory, focusing on her experience cooking with tofu from her ascent at Uchi to a run at Austin's Uchiko.

Then came tournament day, set at the Portland Japanese Garden. Burrell employed some competitive trash-talk against Erales, but her Cryovac tofu wasn't to her expectations. Her West Indian-style brown stew tofu dish, with charred vegetables, was considered very good ... but her competition with Erales was determined a tie. After a judges' deliberation, Erales got the win.

So, Burrell had to cook with fried tofu against Byron Gomez and Maria Mazon, other battle losers. She set out to make Nashville hot tofu ... but then she sliced her finger with a mandoline. As a result, blood got onto two of her plates. She tried quickly to replate with Gomez and Mazon helping, but time ran out with one plate missing. 

Her Nashville hot tofu with pickles and soy buttermilk ranch (I mean, are you serious?!) was praised, but the missing plate meant she automatically had to cook in the final round. For the first time all season, Burrell was in a do-or-die situation.

She faced Gomez in a dessert competition using soft tofu, but oh, boy, she didn't exactly know what she was going to do going in. Improvising over a half-hour cook, Burrell made mango tofu mousse, macerated mango, diced soft tofu, and sesame okara crumble. It was similar to Gomez's dessert, and it seemed as if she was being eliminated (she even thanked all the chefs in tears while the judges debated). 

But she won the battle. Gomez was eliminated.

Her Chances?

They're good. The best, probably.

Back to theories: Reality television watchers attempt to figure out how the edits we're presented may reveal what will happen in the end. Going into this week, the edits were hiding Burrell a little bit, not diving into her Olympic backstory and giving us just a sprinkling of her with family. This week, however, she was front and center, from the biographic snippets to her near elimination.

We're close to the end of this. There are five chefs remaining (a convoluted final episode of Last Chance Kitchen ended with no chef returning), and one can argue that Burrell has been the best throughout the entire season. The other remaining chefs could all win, but this feels like Burrell's to lose ... especially if you love these editing theories. This was the week she slid into the show's starring role position. Hopefully that means being crowned "Top Chef."

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