Top Chef: And then there were still three

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

Weeks of cooking and competition has been leading to this. The penultimate episode of Top Chef Portland and the big reveal of which two chefs would be competing for the title of Top Chef and the quarter of a million dollars in prize money.

As everyone knows, just getting to the finale on a season of Top Chef can be enough to change a chef’s career. It opens doors and creates opportunities that being on other cooking competitions just doesn’t.

In other words, making it to the finale and being one of the two last cheftestants standing is a prize unto itself. Unless, as we all saw, the judges take the easy way out and suddenly the last two chefs standing turns into the last three chefs standing.

The fact Gabe finally won a Quickfire Challenge and that Shota, the odds on favorite to win the whole thing, easily cruised into the finale were both overshadowed by the revelation that Dawn would be joining both of them in the finale. And, in this humble foodie’s opinion, undeservedly so.

Dawn has no business being in the Top Chef Portland finale

First, let’s backtrack a bit. For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were tasked with making two dishes where Dungeness crab was the star. This was in honor of culinary legend James Beard, who is from Portland and a lover of all things Dungeness crab.

The twist here was that one preparation had to be cold while the other had to be warm. Combine that with having to get all the crab meat out of the crabs themselves and time was going to be a huge issue for all the chefs no matted what they prepared.

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For his cold dish, Shota prepared crab nigiri two ways but it ended up being crab nigiri one way due to issues with the rice. The judges are willing to forgive this thanks to the one bite of sushi being so good. For his warm dish he makes braised purple daikon with Dungeness crab salad and knocks it out of the kitchen. The judges love it and express how impressed they were with how much restraint he showed in making it.

Gabe goes with Dungeness crab and lobster mushrooms with crab stock for his cold dish. Unfortunately, time got the better of him and the stock is still warm but the judges love it anyway. For the warm dish he makes a Mole Coloradito crab in seafood stock with tortillas made with crab fat. But due to an accident with a napkin, one of the tortillas doesn’t make it to the plate.

As for Dawn, for the cold preparation she makes a Dungeness crab salad with cashew soup that the judges enjoy but they don’t feel like the dish lets the crab shine. For the warm dish she makes a variation on a crab boil but, being Dawn, she forgets to add the potatoes to the dish and the plates look like a murder scene with broth flung everywhere.

It should come as no surprise that once Judges’ Table time came, Shota was given the first golden ticket to the finale. It’s looking more and more like barring a major disaster, Top Chef is his to lose. He is completely in the zone and making food that is both thoughtful and more importantly, delicious.

Which meant it was down to Dawn and Gabe for the other spot in the finale. And in a decision I still can’t quite understand, they didn’t eliminate either and sent both through.

Now, you can say that all three chefs had issues during the Elimination Challenge, but if you look over the course of the season, Dawn has been making the same mistakes over and over. Sure her food is excellent and makes you feel good but half the time some element is missing due to poor clock management. Does anyone think that will change when she is under the pressure of the finale?

But as I mentioned before, in the long run it likely won’t matter. While both Gabe and Dawn are outstanding chefs, Shota is just on another level. He should, and likely will, be crowned the winner of Top Chef Portland.

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What do you think Guilty Eats Nation? Do you think Dawn deserves to be in the Top Chef finale? Leave a comment below and let us know or join the conversation on our Twitter and Facebook pages.