What's In the Box?

Top Chef Week 11: How Is Dawn Doing?

Our favorite makes a taste of home, but she also slips up.

By Timothy Malcolm June 11, 2021

Chef Dawn Burrell, right, spent time with season 14 Top Chef champion Brooke Williamson this week.

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 11 on Thursday night. How did chef Burrell do?

By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.

How Dawn Did

In the Quickfire Challenge, the final five chefs had to do the black box challenge, a staple of Top Chef France. Here, chefs in pairs had to go into a completely dark room (the black box) and correctly identify the components of a dish made by James Beard Award-winner Gabriel Rucker, that week's guest judge.

The pairs then had to recreate the dish together. With five chefs left, one chef (the one with the most challenge wins to this point) was paired with Top Chef season 14 winner Brooke Williamson. That chef was Burrell.

Rucker's dish was grilled pigeon with roasted carrots, grilled pear marinade, carrot mustard puree, pistachios, and gribiche. Williamson identified a few of the components and started preparing the dish, then Burrell went inside to give it a try. She nailed the carrot mustard puree and pistachios, things none of the other chefs could find. Because the teammates couldn't communicate, Burrell didn't at first notice that carrots had already been boiling for her, but she picked them up seconds later.

Nevertheless, Burrell was doing well. "I'm impressed," said Rucker, watching from another room. Ultimately, she and Williamson won the Quickfire.

After the Quickfire, the chefs got a night off. Waiting for them were care packages from home, and each chef read a letter from their family and friends. Burrell's note from brother Leroy touched on her mother's recovery from a stroke. Then, the chefs opened the packages, which included ingredients they should use for the Elimination Challenge. The goal: Make a dish inspired by home. 

Burrell's box included beets, beer, black-eyed peas, brisket, carrots, coffee, collard greens, pork belly, Texas pecans, and yams. Heck yeah. She turned that into pork belly with pecan caramel, collards, sweet potato, and red-eye gravy. While her dish impressed the judges (chef Kwame Onwuachi said, "Dawn for president"—remember, this was fall 2020), she didn't put gravy on a couple of her plates. 

That said, Burrell found herself in the top three once again. Gabe Erales won the challenge, while Maria Mazon was eliminated.

Her Chances?

It's clear that Burrell runs into trouble. Sometimes she struggles when there's a lack of communication. Sometimes all the elements aren't on the plate. Sometimes some random thing happens and it causes her to stumble just a little. None of it ever really hurts her, but now we're in the home stretch and mistakes will kill you this late. Plus, the cameras are showing us all these little mistakes ... maybe for a reason.

I think Burrell gets to the final three. It's probably her, Erales, and Shota Nakajima, who have clearly showed to be the top chefs throughout the season. But something tells me she's going to make a big mistake in one of those final two episodes. I hope I'm wrong.

Burrell is still a favorite, still maybe the leader. But if these mistakes continue ... oh, boy.

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