Chef Dawn Burrell gets cheesy in the latest episode of Top Chef.

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 12 on Thursday night. How did chef Burrell do?

By the way ... SPOILERS BELOW.

How Dawn Did

For the last Quickfire Challenge, the chefs had to channel the past and create a modern dish using only ingredients available to Oregon Trail settlers. Burrell channeled those Southern comfort vibes and made "trail ride" porridge with fire-roasted curry squash and hazelnut bacon relish. The judges, including Portland legend chef Vitaly Paley, pointed out Burrell's dish as one of the two that didn't hit as hard. (That's a first.) Jamie Tran won the challenge.

Time for the Elimination Challenge: The chefs were asked to make a dish using cheddar five ways. Beforehand, they toured the Tillamook Creamery on the Oregon coast and shopped for essentially all of its products.

Then Burrell got to work planning ... oh, boy ... a Philly cheesesteak. Like this writer here, she's a Philadelphia native, and we both know that it's impossible to get away from that sandwich. And that sandwich proved to be a risky choice since she was working with a number of elements that could remove the spotlight from the cheese. Plus, how do you make a cheesesteak while using cheese five ways? 

We got a little time with the chefs the night before their cook; then, Burrell spoke a bit about the challenges she has felt as a Black woman in the kitchen. It was a reminder that Burrell is a ridiculously impressive person—to go from being an Olympic competitor to one of the top rising chefs in America, all while facing challenges most chefs don't—she's one of a kind.

Onto cooking day: Burrell seemed to be doing just well, but late in the game, the problems started. She was creating more than a dozen components, and it became obvious that she was going to struggle getting them all plated. As time ran out, she asked Tran to help her plate. It got finished in time ... but one of the judges didn't get one of the five cheese components.

Her dish was a cheese oil-basted steak, cheese salte, cheddar gougère, extra-sharp reserve cheese foam, and soubise and cheddar sauce. Response was mixed: Some chefs thought the dish was fantastic, while others felt it wasn't at her usual high level. Hanging above that all ... she made another massive mistake.

Shota Nakajima had the best dish of the four, so Burrell, Erales, and Tran found themselves up against elimination at the judges' table. The judges slammed Burrell for once again missing a component, and Tom Colicchio said he wished the cheese components themselves were more varied. It wasn't looking good for Burrell.

But then, Tran was eliminated. (She paired cheese with fish, which is somewhat impossible to nail.) Burrell moves on to the final three with Erales and Nakajima.

Her Chances?

Burrell is in the final three. She has a chance.

That said, it's another week and another nail-biter because of time management. One more slip and you have to think that she's toast (and next week apparently someone missed a component on a plate). 

But, hey, if she isn't eliminated next week, then she's in the finale. That's it. Let's just call it a toss-up now.

Whatever happens, Burrell has kicked a lot of butt and made herself a rising star nationally. Late August is going to be dope. We'll follow her wherever she goes. Good luck, chef.

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