(Photo by: Stephanie Diani/Bravo)

Dawn Burrell Brings Other Chefs To Tears With Her Top Chef Cuisine

The name Dawn Burrell may seem familiar to you because of her career as a track and field athlete in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Born in Philadelphia in 1973, Burrell began competing as a long jumper in 1991. For the next ten years, she took part in almost a dozen championships, including the Pan American Games, NCAA Track and Field Championships, USA Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the Goodwill Games, IAAF Grand Prix Final, and the Olympics. Dawn Burrell's younger brother Leroy set the 100 meter dash world record twice.

From Olympian to Top Chef

But it's her truly phenomenal performance on Season 18 of Top Chef that has given Dawn Burrell a completely different international profile. After a severe injury ended her athletic career, the chef embarked on a culinary one, including working for chefs Tom Aiken and Monica Pope, and at two separate Uchi locations, first in Austin, then in Houston. At the latter, she rose through the ranks to become sous chef. (Uchi was also a formative part of Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui's career.) Burrell was a semifinalist for the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Texas in 2020, in recognition of her work at Kulture, an African Diaspora-centric restaurant in Houston.

TOP CHEF — "The Cheesier The Better" Episode 1812 — Pictured: Dawn Burrell

(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Throughout her time on Top Chef, judges and guests repeatedly praised the chef's innovation, artistry, and skill. Once, she even moved Top Chef Season 9 quarter-finalist Ed Lee to tears, and Top Chef Season 8 quarter-finalist and James Beard Award-nominee Tiffany Derry shouted "Hallelujah!" while eating Chef Burrell's finale dessert. Burrell's tenure on the show was not without some very personal challenges. The season was filmed entirely in lockdown, i.e., all cast and crew lived together for the duration of the series. Prior to being cast on Top Chef, Burrell had been living with and taking care of her mother, who was recovering from stroke. More than once, the chef expressed how emotional it was to try and achieve something, knowing she'd left her ailing mother in order to do so.

Judges, however, noted the chef almost always lost track of time, which caused many elements of dishes to never make it on some plates. Despite her inspiring performance, not all of Chef Burrell's plate components made it onto the judges' plates during the finale, likely rendering her ineligible for the win. It is an extraordinary testament to Chef Burrell's cooking that despite this repeated error, she plowed past contestants who had perfect plates but lacked her creativity and flavors.

TOP CHEF — "Primal Instincts" Episode 1901 — Pictured: (l-r) Dawn Burrell, Padma Lakshmi—

(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Since winning 2nd place (along with Chef Shota Nakajima), Chef Burrell has been working on Late August, an as of yet unopened restaurant, in Houston as part of the Lucille's Hospitality Group. The company is also home to 1913, a nonprofit initiative which, according to Chef Burrell, "focuses on feeding the community members in impoverished neighborhoods and also growing the food for these people with the 50 acres of farmland that we currently have acquired." Chef Burrell is also committed to inspiring more black women to become professional chefs, saying, "We all contribute to this industry, and it's high time that got reflected on a stage like that. I'm happy to reveal on national TV that Black women can cook at a high level. Let's normalize it." Amen.

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