On tonight’s Teen Tournament finale, the four winners from the preliminary rounds battled one more time in the Chopped kitchen. This final fight for the finish would determine the winner of the $25,000 prize and the coveted title, which is pretty good for a teen still in high school. The young chefs once again faced challenging baskets along with the building pressure of a ticking timer and the judges’ critiques. Creativity, presentation and flavor would determine the results as the best young chef rose to the top with three courses worth the win.
Appetizer: mussels, cipollini onions, confetti popcorn, merguez sausage
Entree: prime rib, funnel cakes, dried crabs, okra
Dessert: a gelatin fishbowl, mangoes, graham crackers, cream cheese
First round: Gabriel
Second round: Lyanna
Final round: Kamryn
Judges: Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Geoffrey Zakarian
Like in her preliminary round, Eliana decided to show off a little by making Filipino egg roll wrappers from scratch. Although it worked out terrifically, she failed to seal the rolls well enough to prevent the filling from falling out during frying. Working with prime rib in the entree round was nothing new for Eliana; she took the opportunity to feature a spice rub made from the dried crabs, which the judges really enjoyed, but there were some inconsistencies with the cooking of the meat. The dessert round proved to be a premonition come true, as Eliana dreamed she’d find mangoes in the basket, so she dipped into her roots and turned out a Filipino dessert, which Amanda called “textbook.” In the end Eliana did more than enough to secure herself the win and the $25,000 grand prize. She leaves as a Chopped Teen Champion.
What are you feeling right now? What’s going through your mind?
Eliana: I don’t know. It’s just so many different, like, emotions are running through, like, overwhelmed, excited and happy. It’s just amazing.
What would you say your mentality was like preparing for today’s finale?
Eliana: I think my mentality today was just to stay focused and keep a calm sense and just do what I know and do it well, and I think I really did that and I just showed who I am.
You looked really focused in every round, like, you were really concentrating.
Eliana: Yeah, I stayed pretty focused, concentrated, I guess you’d just say serious.
How would you compare competing this time to the last round?
Eliana: This time I think the stakes were a lot higher since I was actually in the Chopped kitchen … for [the] real $25,000. Before, the stakes were just to actually get to the grand finale. And the competitors were definitely very intense, because, I mean, they had all won their own episodes and their own rounds, so I know that they definitely had some skill.
Out of the other three young chefs, did you see anybody in particular as your biggest competition?
Eliana: You know, out of all of them, I feel like they were all really big competitors, especially since Gabriel and Lyanna both have Latino or Hispanic backgrounds. We’re all kind of in that same boat, so I was kind of just hoping we weren’t all going to cook the same thing. We were just kind of talking and thinking, “Oh, my gosh, that’d be so funny — we’re all just going to go and make mofongo.”
You made a Filipino dish in your appetizer and dessert rounds, which Amanda pointed out as well. Was that natural for you to bring out your heritage?
Eliana: I think it’s just kind of natural for me to use my heritage with my style of cooking. … I just focus on my nationalities and bring that out in my food, and I really did that with each round. In the first round for appetizer I did the lumpia. I mean, that’s something that I’ve grown up with my whole life, and everyone really enjoys it and loves it. I think making that was definitely a huge risk since I’ve actually never made lumpia wrappers before. So, it was definitely a giant risk I took, especially being here in the Chopped kitchen, but it definitely turned out really well. I was very happy with them.
For entrees I did fried okra, which is something that’s very classic in New Orleans — have that all the time. And it’s really the only way I like to have okra, so I’m glad I did it. … I was actually kind of anxious to see what they thought of Kamryn’s okra as well, because I know that we both fried our okra, so I was thinking “Oh, my gosh, it’s going to go down to the okra and mine doesn’t have enough batter on it.” And I was just kind of freaking out a little bit. And then dessert I brought it back to Filipino, and it’s like I said before, it’s kind of weird, but I dreamt that I had mango in my dessert basket and I was going to make mango float and then I did. So, that was pretty crazy. It was like a premonition, but it was awesome, and I’m so glad that I made that, and it’s just one of those desserts that I love and that I’ve mostly grown up with.
What are you going to do with the prize money, and do you think you’ll take any of Geoffrey’s advice to travel more?
Eliana: I definitely think I’ll take some of Chef Geoffrey’s advice: travel, go to some amazing restaurants. I’ll probably treat myself and my family to a really nice meal. I think that’d be awesome. And start my spice company. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for seven years, ever since I was 8 years old, so I think that it’s time, and it’s going be awesome.
Do you think this win will help you achieve your goals for the future?
Eliana: I definitely think this win will help me achieve my dreams and goals that I’ve had my whole life. This money’s definitely going to help with that, achieve what I want, and it’s going to be amazing to see how everything plays out.
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