Welcome to the fourth 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 we talk macaroons, Vietnamese food, and how good Eater makes her feel on Thursday mornings.
This week, there was no quickfire and you were stuck on teams to compete in a Vietnamese elimination challenge. There was a clear amount of tension between Sara and Travis from the get-go. That didn't seem very comfortable for you.
They both take so much pride in their knowledge of Asian cuisine but they definitely tend to hold opposing views. Though Sara looks more opinionated on tv, both are super opinionated. So my goal was just to execute my food well. It wasn't the most desirable situation where you had two people who both wanted to be the leader. They didn't really compromise. I'm usually good at teamwork, so that made it hard. The whole episode was interesting to me because I didn't have any say in that final course that led to elimination. I don't know — at least I made it through. (laughs)
When they announced at the beginning that shrimp was a requirement in the meal, they did a cut to your face and there was a clear look of "oh shit." Are the other chefs considerate of the fact that you're allergic to shellfish?
It's a little polarizing because they don't care that I can't eat it. That's not their concern, it's mine. But I've always been able to work around it. I was 21 when these allergies developed, so at least I have an idea of how to make it work. I just can't taste it.
You were listed as having helped make a stuffed rice paper wrapper dish with Sara, but I didn't see your involvement in the dish.
Nope, that wasn't mine. I did help her put it together but I don't think I even seasoned it, it was all Sara. I acted as sous chef in a way by helping to get it all together before time ran out. The Vietnamese coffee macaroon was mine.
Other than Gail — who grew up with them at Passover seders — it seems most of the judges didn't know the difference between a macaroon and a macaron. Did that surprise you?
It did! It's ironic timing. I've been working with the pastry team at No. 9. I've been on a total macaron (one-o) tear trying to make the perfect one. I loved that [guest judge] Eddie Huang called it "janky." I had to Google that. He's right. Nothing has to be super-refined in comfortable Vietnamese cuisine. It was a super compliment, and hilarious.
Speaking of compliments: Hugh Acheson called last week's bacon pasta "badass" and said you're "wonderfully deadpan. Me likey." AV Club said you were on a "shortlist" of cheftestapants who are "consistently impressive in a way that none of the other contestants ever manage to be." Are you starting to get in-person reactions to the show so far?
(laughs) I didn't know any of this. God, you make me feel so good about Thursday mornings. The thing that I've heard the most that has been the biggest compliment is "Steph, it's so you. Everything you say, everything you do, is so you." And I'm confused because I don't know who anyone thought I was going to be when I did this. I'm glad that lots of people are digging me. It would suck so bad if they didn't. I'm not suppose to swear, my Mom's going to yell at me now. It'd be the WORST if people didn't like me, because you can't change who you are. So that's good!
In the elimination it was clear you were the only member of your team who was safe, but anyone else could go home. How did that feel?
Weird. Really really weird. Because the little macaroon that I made was just something to contribute. I mean, they were good - Vietnamese coffee was something we saw in every Vietnamese restaurant we went to during the tasting earlier in the episode. Knowing that I probably wasn't going to be booted off was both relieving and nerve-wracking. I'm anti-competitive; watching someone get kicked off is still pretty terrible.
Most viewers, including myself, expected Travis to get the boot for coming up with the problem dishes. Especially after last season, when Kristen was kicked off after Josie executed a good idea of Kristen's poorly. Was it a shock to see Janine go instead?
It was weird being in there because the judges had such hard critiques and Travis was especially vocal. When Janine was kicked off, I was confused, because she wasn't trying to lead the group, she was just trying to execute something properly. Yeah, she made a mistake but she's also the sweetest little thing. I did think it was going to be Travis but when it wasn't, I moved onto the next day.
· All coverage of Stephanie Cmar on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of Top Chef on Eater [~EBOS~]