Top Chef Portland E13 Recap: And Then There Were…Three?!

TOP CHEF -- "Shellfishly Delicious" Episode 1813 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dawn Burrell, Shota Nakajima, Gabe Erales -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Shellfishly Delicious" Episode 1813 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dawn Burrell, Shota Nakajima, Gabe Erales -- (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

While I’d never claim to be prescient, I saw this one coming from miles away. This week’s penultimate episode of Top Chef Portland was going to winnow the field of cheftestants from three to two. Or so we thought. Yet as the food television show unfolded, I felt almost from the start that the ritualistic packing of one’s knives wouldn’t be occurring this week. The absence of tension in the way things unfolded left me believing that we were enjoying one last kumbaya moment in a season full of them before the finale next week.

My astute clairvoyance aside, this week’s episode of Top Chef Portland was like a big bowl of your favorite ice cream. You thoroughly enjoyed every spoonful but realized towards the end that you missed the hot fudge, whipped cream, and cherry. The show satisfied from beginning to end, but it’ll take the finale to sate us fully.

After being woken at 5 am by Padma, Shota, Dawn, and Gabe learned that their final Quickfire Challenge would encompass joining Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson for some early morning clam digging, with the sandy fruits of their actual labor being the foundation of a dish.

When Shota cut himself badly yet kept cooking with one hand while the other was being treated and bandaged behind his back, I momentarily felt like I was watching an episode of Alton Brown’s Cutthroat Kitchen. At the same time, Dawn professed to not having worked with clams very often. That inexperience rang true in her underwhelming bisque, while Gabe emerged to win his first Quickfire of the season, a win that earned him extra money to use during the Elimination Challenge.

This week’s installment of Top Chef Portland shined a spotlight on James Beard by making his treasured trips to the Oregon coast for crabs the impetus for the Elimination Challenge. The late, legendary chef was born in Portland, and many a Top Chef contestant through 18 seasons have been James Beard Award winners or nominees, so it seemed only fitting for the show to honor him through the Elimination Challenge.

Asked to do two preparations of crab, one hot and one cold, Gabe, Dawn, and Shota each encountered struggles en route to presenting their dishes. Fortunately for the three talented chefs, their missteps didn’t adversely affect how their dishes tasted, leaving Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, and Tom Colicchio, as well as guest judges Nina Compton and Kwame Onwuachi, to effusively praise their creations. And since they supposedly couldn’t pick someone to send home, the three cheftestants learned that they’d each be moving on to next week’s finale.


…Having already referenced a Food Network show once in this recap, I’ll do it again in mentioning that Dawn Burrell competed on an episode of Beat Bobby Flay this week. And guess what? Yup, she struggled to get everything on the plate, as time management skills and attention to detail clearly elude her as a general rule of thumb.

…This week’s Elimination Challenge saw Shota opt to not plate one of his two promised sushi preparations, Gabe falling a crab fat tortilla short because of a mishap with a burner and the cloth he was using to keep them warm, and Dawn failing to get one component of her dish to the diners, so in a way, it’s a relief that the judges didn’t penalize one of the three. It would be hard to wrap my head around sending Shota or Gabe home for their issue when Dawn has repeatedly been given reprieves for repeated offenses this season.

…While it remains entirely possible that any of the three remaining chefs may be named Top Chef next week, I strongly believe that if Dawn Burrell earns that honor, she should thank her lucky stars. Regardless of how good her food has been or how amazing her four-course progressive meal is in the finale, I remain convinced that she wouldn’t have seen the light of the final two or three in previous seasons due solely to her inability to manage the clock. To quote Jethro Tull, Chef Burrell keeps skating away on the thin ice of a new day.

…As you can hear on the next episode of our Excuse Me, May I Have Some More?!: The FoodCast with an Insatiable Appetite that drops next week, Top Chef Portland cheftestant Byron Gomez and Top Chef all-star panelist Dale Talde take us behind the scenes of Season 18 and share some inside intel from the filming.

It was lucky episode 13 for Gabe Erales, Dawn Burrell, and Shota Nakajima this week. When all is said and done in next week’s finale, who will follow Melissa King and become the next Top Chef? I don’t know, but as long as I finally get my hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry, I’ll be happy.

light. Related Story. Behind the Scenes of Top Chef with Tom Colicchio

We’re down to three cheftestants on Top Chef Portland. Who do you predict will emerge victoriously, Shota, Dawn, or Gabe?