One-on-One with the Chopped Teen Tournament, Battle 4 Winner
Chopped has returned with a third season of the popular five-part Teen Tournament. In tonight's fourth round, four teens entered the hallowed kitchen to try their luck at cooking with the mystery baskets. But even the most-practiced chef can get shaken when it comes to the added pressure and time constraints of the competition. Sometimes it all comes down to the final minutes, as we saw in tonight's episode. Once again the teens brought their talent to battle with the hopes of earning one of four spots in the finale. From that final showdown, only one will emerge victorious as the winner of $25,000.
Appetizer: porcini mushrooms, verjus, Linzer torte cookies, rabbit in a can
Entree: bison skirt steak, snap peas, guanciale, chocolate-covered potato chips
Dessert: seedless red grapes, building block candy, bee sting cake, sparkling cider
Judges: Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag
Coming into Chopped, Eliana may not have been as prepared as some of her rivals, but she strategized well enough that it was nearly unnoticeable. She impressed the judges right off the bat by making tortillas from scratch in the appetizer round. The only critique she received was that the food lacked flavor, but Eliana was hesitant in showing off her love of spices just yet. She came back with her spice arsenal for the entree round, but it was too heavy-handed of an approach. She blew the judges' palates with a steak that was overly spiced. But her unique side dish made up for that mistake. Going into the dessert round, Eliana decided to make a bread pudding, which often is a kiss of death for Chopped competitors if it doesn't work. Eliana's was so successful that it even converted judge Alex. Although Eliana's cooking may not have been the riskiest, her control of flavor is what impressed the judges the most, and in the end, she earned the fourth and final spot in the finale, where she'll face Kamryn, Lyanna and Gabriel for the $25,000 prize and champion title.
Eliana: It was really exciting to win. There was some really great dishes put out there today, so I’m really happy that I got to win this one.
Did you practice at all before coming on the show?
Eliana: I actually didn’t do too much practicing before I came on the show, so when I came here I was like, "Man, I really should have practiced."
What would you say was the hardest basket for you to work on?
Eliana: I think the hardest basket was probably the entree basket because it just really threw me off with the guanciale. I’ve never worked with that before. I didn’t even know what it was, and there were chocolate-covered potato chips, and I didn’t know what to do with that, and I didn’t actually think that it would work with the dish. I just threw it in there, because I needed to incorporate it somehow, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I hope this works and it turns out OK." But they really loved it, so I was really happy with that.
What made you decide to combine the snap peas, the guanciale and the chocolate-covered potato chips?
Eliana: When I saw the guanciale, it kind of just reminded me of bacon or pancetta, so I just kind of treated it like that, and I rendered it off and it had a lot of fat, so I had to drain it. Then I just put the snap peas in there, I mean, bacon and snap peas go well together, so I just did that. Then I was like, well, potato chips are crunchy and they’re sweet, so, like, sweet and salty, yeah, I hope that works. And then it melted and I was like, "Oh, maybe it won’t work." But it did.
With the bison steak, Alex sort of felt that it didn’t belong on the plate, like it didn’t match with the other ingredients, and then they talked about the spice rub being a little too spicy. Did you have any second thoughts when they were talking about that?
Eliana: Yeah, I thought I was going to get chopped because of the spice rub, [with them] saying it was too heavy-handed on the cayenne — it was chalky. So I did think I was going to get chopped, but then at the same time I was like, oh, I had a really good like snap peas, so it ... could have been either way.
The judges really, really loved the fact that you made tortillas from scratch in the appetizer round. What made you decide to take a risk like that? It could have gone either way.
Eliana: Well, I really love tacos. It’s my favorite food in the entire world, and I love making tortillas from scratch, so I just thought I could make a tostada, just do it from scratch instead of doing the corn tortillas because, I mean, I had enough time to do it and it’s pretty easy to make, so I just kind of whipped that up and hoped for the best.
In the dessert round you made a bread pudding that actually surprised Alex, who hates bread pudding. What made you decide to do that? Did you have any recipes in the back of your mind going into the dessert round?
Eliana: I had some recipes in the back of my head I could do — that I knew how to do and that I could do in that amount of time. I’m not too keen on desserts, so I had to do something that I knew I could execute well, and I was pretty happy that I did the bread pudding in 30 minutes, because it’s pretty tough to do in that amount of time.
You talked about how the bread pudding was sort of inspired by New Orleans and by you working in the kitchen of Commander’s Palace, and also you tried to do a blackening on the steak. Did you want to show off your background or the food of New Orleans while you were here?
Eliana: Yeah, I definitely wanted to show off where I came from with being from New Orleans and showing my heritage, like, how it’s just influenced my food style and cooking style, so I just tried to bring that to the plate by doing Creole seasoning and making bread pudding, which is something that’s pretty classic in New Orleans.
I think you really caught the judges off-guard when you said that you staged at Commander’s. What was it like working there for you?
Eliana: It was amazing working at Commander’ Palace. I gained so much experience and knowledge from them just working in the restaurant industry and just doing things like mass production, because that’s something I hadn’t done before, so I really got to learn how to manage all that and do everything. It was a lot of work, but it was really fun as well.
How would you describe your cooking style? What are some of the dishes that you love to make?
Eliana: I like to do a lot of fusion cuisine, especially since I have a lot of backgrounds, and I just like to fuse, like, Asian and Hispanic or just Cajun and Asian, or whatever it is. I just like to do that and just see how it plays out because I like to just do the complementary flavors.
Eliana: Ever since I was 4 years old I’ve just loved cooking and I’ve been in the kitchen. I’ve always said that I wanted to be a chef when I grew up, and I’ve really helped make that happen just having the cookbooks and radio show and going to NOCCA [New Orleans Center for Creative Arts]. It’s been amazing so far, just doing all the things that I’ve done.
Eliana: Yes, hopefully. Hopefully that’ll come out soon, especially if I win the finale, then I can definitely launch my spice blends.
Thinking of the finale ahead, do you have any strategy? Or is there something you want to focus on to secure yourself the win?
Eliana: Definitely just stick to what I know. I mean, I can definitely try and take risks like I did making the tortillas, but I think that I need to just do what I know so I can execute it well and do my techniques well and get my flavors down pat so I’m not just kind of fooling around trying to see if something works or not. Although sometimes it does happen.
Being here on Chopped, is it everything you imaged it would be just from seeing it on TV?
Eliana: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s quite as I imagined. I feel like it’s not as much pressure when you’re actually here. Leading up to it, it’s kind of nerve-racking, but once you get here it’s like, "Wow, this is real." And once you get into the rounds you just kind of get in the zone, and I just stay focused so I just kind of look at the clock, make sure I’m doing everything right, I’m doing it on time, and I’m executing things well.
What do you think your friends and family will say when they see you on TV competing?
Eliana: My friends and family are probably going to be very excited and happy to see me. They just will probably be cheering me on, probably sitting on the edge of their seats, especially in the entree round, when all of us are using just the last minutes to finish plating. That was, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.
Tune in to the final battle in the Chopped Teen Tournament on Tuesday at 10|9c to find out who wins it all.