Dawn Burrell on returning to Top Chef Season 20, lessons learned, striving for more, interview

TOP CHEF -- Season:20 -- Pictured: Dawn Burrell -- (Photo by: Stephanie Diani/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- Season:20 -- Pictured: Dawn Burrell -- (Photo by: Stephanie Diani/Bravo) /

When Top Chef Season 20 debuted, the cheftestants represented some of the best of the food television’s storied history. The blend of U.S. and international chefs has raised the expectations not only from the viewers but also from the judges. As Dawn Burrell steps back into the Bravo culinary competition, she spoke to FoodSided about her reasons for accepting this challenge, what it takes for her to succeed, and how she wants to influence others in the culinary community.

The premise of Top Chef Season 20 is bringing the best of the best together for the ultimate global culinary competition. Given the success of the Top Chef brand, this season looks to push the “gold standard” towards the platinum level. From the London locale to the challenges themselves, this season looks to be harder than previous ones.

After finishing in the top three during Top Chef Season 18, Dawn Burrell has stepped back into the competition. When asked why she wanted to return, Chef Dawn’s said, “I wanted to challenge myself again. Although I’m so proud of what I accomplished on Season 18, I made a lot of mistakes. I wanted another opportunity to do the best I possibly can.”

Looking back at Season 18, one of Chef Dawn’s struggles was fully plating a dish in the allotted time. She admitted, “Timing is a challenge for me. That is my truth. I learned the tough lesson of editing myself in the finale of season 18. I’ve diligently practiced what I learned, and I hope my performance reflects that.”

While that willingness to learn and adapt could be key for Top Chef Season 20, Chef Dawn has another unique characteristic that could give her some insight to the judges. During Season 19, she judged some challenges. But, that insight might not be a huge positive. Chef Dawn shared that it did her insight but “to no advantage however. That window in made me even more nervous!”

Dawn Burrell on Top Chef Season 19
TOP CHEF — “We’re On A Boat” Episode 1912 — Pictured: (l-r) Dawn Burrell, Tom Colicchio — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

Given that this season is a group of former cheftestants, we were curious if Chef Dawn knew anyone in the kitchen. She said, “Going into the competition, I was really only familiar with the American Cheftestants, but one of my favorite things that I learned was how to make crispy rice sweetened with watermelon from May.”

Although viewers will have to watch Top Chef Season 20 on Bravo to see which chef eventually earns the coveted title, Chef Dawn thinks that “the depth of talent is going to raise everyone’s game In addition, the judges might have an even more critical eye.”

Dawn Burrell said, “This season is stacked with champions and finalists. I liken it to the Olympic games of culinary competitions. Competition will be stiffer so judging will be stiffer.”

Given that Chef Dawn is a former U.S. Olympic Track and Field athlete, she knows about the Olympic games. While that might be the pinnacle of sports, she has reached highs in the culinary world when she was a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award.

Speaking to these two events, she said, “Becoming an Olympian and a James Beard-nominated chef were 2 goals I was able to bring to fruition. I did this by laying the groundwork for each profession through training, diligence and discipline. I put myself in places and under tutelage of experts in whatever field I am focused on. I don’t ever stop striving and learning. I’ve continued to use this same formula, and it’s still working for me.”

Dawn Burrell on Top Chef Season 20
TOP CHEF — “Rice, Rice Baby” Episode 2002 — Pictured: Dawn Burrell — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo) /

That willingness to push forward is a characteristic that many people can appreciate. Still, these successes cannot happen on their own. Whether it is leading by example or appreciating that others are standing beside you, having the determination to work hard is an admirable characteristic.

Given that women chefs can often help raise each other’s voices in the culinary world, Chef Dawn shared her insight regarding her culinary vision. She said, “I want women and everyone to know that cooking food that is rooted in your culture is ok. Lean into it. Study it. Stand up for it. When I found my vision and voice, I felt great. Once you begin to cook from the heart, it becomes so much easier and even more fulfilling.”

From embarking on another season of Top Chef to working on her next culinary project, Dawn Burrell understands that others look to her as an example of what is possible. Chef Dawn shared, “I hope I’m seen as a perfectly imperfect person that worked diligently toward her goals. I’m nowhere close to as good as I want to be. I am happy that I’ve been able to share my successes and failures publicly. Hopefully, there is always someone that will be inspired by what they see or the story that I’m sharing. I am here as an example of the possibilities that exist for women of all races and a reminder for budding Black and Brown chefs to reach toward your goals fearlessly and whole-heartedly. They are truly yours to be had, so go get it.”

Be sure to watch Chef Dawn Burrell on Top Chef Season 20 Thursday nights on Bravo. New episodes air at 9 p.m. EST and can be streamed the next day on Peacock.