Practice makes perfect — but not on Top Chef. Dakota Weiss' trial run to cook venison went off without a hitch, but when it came time to cook for the elimination challenge, all four racks wound up undercooked, leading to her and teammate Nyesha Arrington's eliminations. "It was such a shock because our trial run went perfectly," Dakota tells TVGuide.com. "And of course the racks that counted did not come out perfectly. But that's what happens sometimes." So what went wrong? Find out below.
Top Chef's Nyesha: I don't know how our dish ended up undercooked
Did you think you guys were screwed once you saw the venison was raw?
Dakota: Yeah. I thought we were goners. I did think for a split second at Judges' Table that we did have a chance. I was so caught up in my own drama and the venison being undercooked — but at the same time the dish was really, really nice — that I wasn't really aware of all the other problems with the other dishes. I was like, "Huh. We may have a chance." But ultimately, it was about [cooking] the game and we didn't do that!
What went wrong? Was it the oven? Did you not time yourself?
Dakota: It's hard to say. Both Nyesha and I were super cautious. We did a trial run on our extra rack of venison that we had. We seared it through in the oven and timed it down to the very last second. We cut it open and it was gorgeous. When it came down to doing the one for the competition, we were confident it would be fine. But, you know, there are lots of reasons for why it went wrong. There was a lot of opening of the ovens, they were tied really tight, so maybe they were more dense inside and took a little bit longer to cook. Who knows?
Did the trial run take up too much time?
Dakota: Oh, no! That's what was funny because when we were sitting in the stew room, all the other chefs were saying, "Gosh, you guys looked so relaxed and calm." We had a plan. We had everything timed down to plating and time definitely wasn't an issue. It just took longer for it to cook for whatever reason.
Top Chef's Whitney: My thought process was off
You didn't have a back-up plan in case that happened?
Dakota: There was no back-up plan. We just felt really good about it after the trial run. I know once I cut into that first rack, I grabbed Nyesha immediately because I thought she should know that they weren't looking good. Your immediate reaction is to put it on the stove, but when you're working in an extremely small kitchen with six burners, it was definitely hard to get on that stove because everybody else is trying to get their stuff going. Space was an issue. I had literally one burner and four racks to cook.
Were you able to cook any of them through?
Dakota: We were able to cook two of them. It was very rough all around as far as the equipment we had to work with. I had one burner and one sautee pan to put two racks in and was just basting, basting, basting. It came down to the point where we had to plate, so I had to pull them. I had to make that choice: Do we serve them rare venison or nothing at all?
How awkward was it at Judges Table when Heather went off on Beverly?
Dakota: Yeah. I would rather eat nails for breakfast than ever have to deal with that again. [Laughs] It was painfully uncomfortable. Every person who's there is very talented; there's no doubt about that. But you can't put that many personalities in one kitchen and expect everyone to get along. It's impossible. Heather and Beverly are both very successful chefs, but their personalities clash and they deal with emotions differently. They deal with their staff differently. I mean, it was going to happen eventually with somebody and it just happened to be Beverly and Heather.
Did you think it was weird she brought up last week's challenge? Everyone knows the judges don't care about what happened even earlier that day.
Dakota: Yeah, absolutely. We were all baffled ourselves. A few people were like, "Get over it! This is a new day, new challenge." The fact that they got paired together — we all knew that this isn't going to go well. [Laughs] It was very strange, very awkward. I'm definitely glad it's over. I think everybody felt they were either going to hit it out of the ballpark because they'd be trying to do their best or they're just going to completely let their personalities get in the way of their cooking.
Top Chef's Chuy: I knew I was screwed
You obviously felt guilty about taking Nyesha down with you. Did you guys go into it understanding that something like that could happen?
Dakota: We definitely did. Of course I felt super guilty. The whole situation was just awful. But at the same time, it was a team challenge. Being that the focus was the venison, perhaps both of us should've worked on it. I was a little slighted and a little hurt to hear her comments — that that was all I had to do and I messed up. It was like, "Yeah, but hey, we're a team." And I didn't just work on the venison. I did other things that the people loved, like the gratin. I don't know. I feel guilty, but I have to remind myself that I can't sit here and dwell on it, and it was a team effort. We just didn't work well as a team in the end. It was a bad team effort.
What are you up to now?
Dakota: I'm in Christmas party hell! [Laughs] ... Everybody's having their Christmas parties and they want to do it here [at W Los Angeles], which is fabulous and I'm super excited about that. So just working and more Christmas parties.