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Houston’s Remaining ‘Top Chef’ Contestant Continues to Shine

Chef Dawn Burrell found herself at the top of this week’s challenge on ‘Top Chef: Portland’

Chef Dawn Burrell, a woman in a white chef’s coat and black apron, massages ingredients on a metal sheet pan.
Dawn Burrell is showing that she’s a strong frontrunner
David Moir/Bravo

Last week, one of Houston’s two competitors on Bravo reality cooking competition show Top Chef: Portland went home. This week, remaining contender Dawn Burrell showed the judges that she’s already a frontrunner for the big win.

Burrell’s dishes have been among the top in multiple Quickfire and main challenges already this season, and last night’s plates were equally impressive. This week’s Quickfire was all about layered desserts, an ad-heavy dessert challenge inspired by the new layered offering from pricey grocery store gelato purveyor Talenti. The stakes were high, considering that the chef with the best layered dessert stood to win $10,000.

Unfortunately, that prize didn’t go to Burrell, whose parfait of toasted rice mousse with blackberry caramel and black sesame crumble still looked pretty darn stellar. But there was no topping the super-creative take on a peanut butter and chocolate buckeye from Columbus chef and Ohio native Avishar Barua.

The main challenge tasked the chefs with preparing pan-African dishes, which Burrell said almost moved her to tears. She and half of her fellow chefs headed to Akadi West African Food in Downtown Portland, where they feasted on beef suya, cassava couscous, and whole fish with onion and tomato relish. The meal was intended to provide inspiration for the dish that the chefs would prepare at Akadi the following day.

While cooking, Burrell had some reservations that her curried goat and crispy roti with fondant potatoes and green pepper sauce, might be too simple or rustic for this level of competition, but the judges clearly didn’t see it that way. “She nailed the inspiration when it comes to these flavors,” said chef Richard Blais. “It’s the first dish I want the recipe for.”

Ultimately, all that praise culminated in a win for Burrell. “Everything about it was just what it needed to be,” judge Tom Colicchio said. When her name was announced as the winner, Burrell held back tears as she thanked the judges.

Speaking with Eater last week, showcasing the cuisines of the African diaspora was something that Burrell was really looking forward to when she signed up to be on this season of Top Chef.

“I wanted people to know that my roots are very soulful. And that doesn’t just mean that it’s soulful in terms of the cuisine that I grew up with, but really soulful food from different cultures,” she says. “The show gave me confidence, and let me know that the food that I present is valid on all stages and all platforms, and I should be proud of it. And that’s what I needed to push myself a little bit more forward.”

Now that Burrell has firmly staked her place at the front of the pack, it’s also possible that recently eliminated Houston chef Sasha Grumman could be making a comeback. She’s still in the mix in the Last Chance Kitchen, the winner of which will return to the competition.

This weekend, Houstonians can score savory buns, focaccia, and more baked goods from Grumman and Burrell at a pop-up at Tenfold Coffee. Expect options like braised bacon, collard, and cheddar kolache and black sesame waffles from Burrell, and focaccia toast with burrata and jam from Grumman. Note: don’t be surprised if these treats are sold out quickly.

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