It used to be that if you wanted to catch up with Eliza Gavin, you either had to go out to dine at her Telluride restaurant, 221 South Oak, or else you had to go to a Widespread Panic concert. But during Season 10 of Top Chef, all you had to do was turn on your TV. Eliza earned a spot in Season 10’s Top Chef competition on Bravo, and the local restaurateur and award-winning chef says she loved the challenge. “Owning my own restaurant, I haven’t been tested in a while,” she admits. “My typical challenges are bears in the trash or problems with the water heater.”
That Summer, she left on a secret journey to film the show and to test her culinary talents against a select group of chefs from across the country. She says she enjoyed networking with and learning from the other chefs, but when she walked into Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in L.A. to shoot the first episode, she was star-struck to meet the iconic celebrity. “I never thought he would be there. Getting to meet Wolfgang Puck was a monumental experience. My knees turned to jelly! I thought, How the hell am I going to be able to do this?” Her first hurdle was creating an omelet and surviving the first elimination round. Every program has a “quickfire challenge” in which to prepare food in a short amount of time and an elimination challenge—whoever makes the food the judges like the least has to leave the show. Luckily, Gavin serves brunch during the summer at 221, and she hadn’t lost her touch. “It’s high pressure,” she says. “It’s about the dish, really. Its creativity, originality, presentation, and taste.”
At some point, every chef that competes except one—the top chef—has to turn in their toque and pack up their knives. Gavin did say that she did gain at least one thing from the experience, and that was a renewed passion for the art of cooking. “I am definitely taking away a more intense focus on my food. As a restaurant owner, I was constantly wearing all these hats—I was even doing my own accounting. It reignited my passion for food and for being creative.”
The other gift? She was able to step away from the rigors of running a business, taking care of a family, and authoring several cookbooks and just concentrate on her other love: cooking. She has boundless appreciation for being able to make that culinary journey. “I’m one lucky girl, I have also taken away a newfound love for my staff—they were just fantastic, and I am incredibly lucky to have them.” Eliza Gavin challenges herself each Season within her kitchen at 221 and continues to evolve her creative menu.