Spoiler alert. A Houston chef’s dream of being crowned Top Chef World All-Star has come to an abrupt end.
Chef Dawn Burrell, the Olympian-turned-chef who reached the finals of Top Chef: Portland, has packed her knives. While she’ll have the opportunity to fight her way through Last Chance Kitchen to return to the main competition, her time on the London-based season is done for now.
Viewers had a pretty good idea that Burrell’s number might be up. She got a classic “loser’s edit” throughout the episode’s elimination challenge, which tasked the contestants with creating a rice-based dish.
For example, viewers heard ominous sounding music as she spoke her about the black rice congee she planned to make for the episode’s elimination challenge. “Time is not on our side today,” Burrell says to the camera as the soundtrack plays. “I have to have pressure cookers.”
Throughout the challenge, things got worse. The rice isn’t finished by the end of the two hour prep time. Just before service, fellow contestant Amar Santana tastes her finished dish — Black Venus congee with black bean and five-spice braised oxtail — and tells the audience that “Dawn’s congee is one dimensional. I’m actually very surprised, because on her season, her flavor profiles were always there.”
After Amar’s comment, we see her taste her dish and shrug her shoulders as if to say “tastes alright to me.” Double uh oh. Sure enough, the judges aren’t impressed.
“If Dawn didn’t tell me this was congee, I wouldn’t have known,” Padma Lakshmi comments. “It feels like broth and crispy rice, not a creamy congee,” Gail Simmons adds.
At judges’ table, Tom Colicchio tells Burrell she missed the mark. “It ate more like black rice soup than congee,” he says. “It was eating crunchy,” Simmons adds.
The final verdict comes swiftly. “Dawn, please pack your knives and go. I’m sorry,” Lakshmi says.
Reached by phone, Burrell acknowledges that leaving on the second episode stings, particularly due to the elimination challenge being focused on rice.
“I love rice. I think that it’s a bridge in life and culture,” she tells CultureMap. “To have been eliminated on a challenge and an ingredient that I hold so dear was really a shocker for me. It did not feel good at all.”
In Burrell’s opinion, the dish’s initial problems stemmed from not using enough liquid to prepare the rice during prep time. She thinks she also suffered when another contestant made a congee dish that the judges preferred.
“I think if they only had one to go on, there would not have been that stark comparison between the two,” she says.
While it’s an unfortunate outcome for the chef, her professional life is looking up. Late August, the Afro-Asian restaurant she’s opening in Midtown’s The Ion mixed-use development, is finally on track for an early summer opening.
“You’ll be eating at Late August very soon,” she promises.