Welcome to the third of hopefully 18 installments of a weekly series in which Eater catches up with Top Chef cheftestapant and No. 9 Park sous chef Stephanie Cmar. Check out Eater National's recap of the episode here. DVR users, major spoilers will be kept out of this paragraph, but anything after that point is free game. You've been warned. This week Cmar talked about her nerves, apologizes to her mother for swearing, and tells us what it was like being recognized by a fan on the street for the first time.
In the quickfire, you all had to feature an ingredient that Dana Cowin of Food & Wine thinks is overdone. You got bacon and made a pasta dish with sweet potatoes and candied bacon. In praising it, Cowin said she'd happily eat your dish in a restaurant. Any chance we'll see it or any other dish you made in New Orleans at No. 9?
Right now I don't have any of those dishes on the menu. Chef Scott writes the menu. I do have a biscuit [something Cmar makes for the first time later in the episode] on the chicken and sausage dish, ironically. But the bacon and sweet potato pasta? You never know, we do pasta tastings every Sunday, so maybe I'll try to get it on there.
I'll be honest, you looked really nervous during the quickfire. Is that because of the TV cameras?
Oh, Drew. I am — in life — a nervous wreck to begin with. I have to take a moment to apologize to my mother. I actually dropped the f-bomb twice, and one of her special requests was that I didn't swear, but within the first five minutes, not only did I look petrified, but I swore like a sailor. That's me completely; it was completely accurate. I bite my nails. I'm always a little anxious.
Some choice lines from you: "Per usual, I feel like I'm going to vomit," and "Ooh, I have that challenge stomach again." But, from what you just said, it doesn't sound like you're just being edited that way.
Nope (laughs). Surprisingly, it's not editing. I think I said on this episode I was going to throw up or vomit three times...It's not editing; they really captured who I was.
What was it like replicating the dishes of the famous Commander's Palace for the elimination challenge?
Just eating there was the coolest thing ever. Cooking there was an honor. Walking out and seeing Paul Prudhomme was this total oh-my-god moment. The pastry section was really small but we made it work well.
Were you able to enjoy the meal at all or did you spend the whole time just trying to memorize everything that could have been in each dish?
I definitely paid close attention to what was on the plate and the presentations. I really lucked out getting the dessert. Every other dish had crawfish or crab or something, and I'm deathly allergic to shellfish. The garnishes were delicious, but I couldn't eat the main component. I do cook with shellfish at work, but I can't taste it.
During plating, you were afraid it was the worst thing you ever made, but it turned out to be a judges' favorite. Hugh Acheson said your biscuit was better than the one Commander's serves and suggested they hire you. How did it feel hearing such high praise over something you had never made before?
I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned. It looked like a chainsaw massacre when I put that plate out — there was strawberry stuff everywhere! To hear that about the biscuits was kind of a wakeup call that I don't have to be that hard on myself.
In our weekly installment of me reading you your press and getting your reaction, Entertainment Weekly's reviewer said "Stephanie is a total spaz but there's something I like about her -- I think it's called passion."
(Laughs) Oh no! You know, they're doing a great job picking up on my personality for sure. "Spaz" is a new one. I like it. Of course, there's so much in me that just wants to do a good job. That definitely comes down to passion. Coming back for the second time, it's truly my focus. And that translates into awkward, nervous energy. But they're right, I am a little bit spastic, I suppose.
A Twitter friend of mine ran into you in the street and excitedly announced it to the world. This was your first encounter with a fan. What was that like for you?
I almost chased her down the street to ask for her picture so I could say, "look at this! Look at what just happened!" I was walking to the store and ran into our food runner Francisco, and we were talking. She walks past me. I don't pay attention. Then she walks back and says, "oh my God, good luck on the show!" And I was like, "is this really happening?" Francisco looked at me as if to ask, "is this really happening?" It was the coolest thing ever.
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