Here's how Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio described the side of carrots prepared by contestant Eliza Gavin: "They were a mystery to me. I just don’t know how a person could possibly try to make them the way she did," he wrote on his blog. "They were dry, cooked through yet somehow still hard, as though she were trying to make carrot leather. They were just terrible." Carrot leather? The worst part for Eliza was that those carrots were an afterthought. "I just wanted to give the dish some color," she said in a phone interview this afternoon.
The Telluride chef's main dish was elk, which she cooks "on a daily basis" at her restaurant, 221 South Oak. But there were two problems: The best cut of elk is the tenderloin, which Eliza did not get. She normally brines the elk overnight but because of the time constraint, she only had four hours for brining. As such, the judges had issues. Colicchio called it "a little grainy." Fellow judge Gail Simmons said on her blog, "The elk was sliced too thinly that it sort of fell apart. It wasn't cooked well—it was a little too pink in the center for some people. You want it rare, but it was so rare that you got no flavor. You got no texture at all—it was just kind of mealy and mushy." And so it was Eliza who was told to pack her knives. (Looking back, she joked that she ought to have gone with foolproof halibut.)
A number of contestants have stressed the key to winning is proper seasoning. But Eliza found what the judges considered perfectly seasoned she considered to be too salty. And no, she was not intimidated at the judges' table. When the heat got turned up, Eliza would focus on Colicchio's eyebrows, which he constantly raises. "In my mind I'd hear a ka-ching! every time he raised those eyebrows"—she swears he must be getting paid for each of those raises.
Good news for C.J. Jacobson who won the latest round of Last Chance Kitchen. Who knew pickles could be roasted?