Welcome to the first of hopefully 18 installments of a weekly series in which Eater catches up with Top Chef cheftestapant Stephanie Cmar after each episode airs. As mentioned last week, Cmar is Barbara Lynch's sous chef at No. 9 Park. DVR users, major spoilers will be kept out of introductory paragraphs, though anything after that point is free game. You've been warned. Cmar spoke with Eater yesterday about what it felt like to watch Wednesday's premiere, what happened when she called a fellow cheftestapant "cocky," and whether or not she is creepy.
Did you get a chance to watch the first episode as it aired? Do you have a routine in mind?
I did watch it last night. It's sort of at the whim of work. As exciting as it is to be on the show, that is my priority.
How did it feel to watch yourself?
It was wild! [Laughs.] The moment before the show aired I realized, "Oh my God, this is really happening. I'm going to relive this experience again." But I was really happy. It's funny, because I was nervous even though I knew what happened.
The episode started with everyone arriving at the house you shared in New Orleans. Then you were all almost immediately whisked away to an elimination challenge in a swamp. Were you expecting some more time to get adjusted?
Going into it and walking up those stairs, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't think it was going to be "Oh, we'll just hang out and get to know each other." You felt that something was going to happen. When Tom and Padma walked up the stairs, I definitely had one of those moments where I thought, "Oh shit."
What was it like cooking in a swamp?
I'm so glad you can't see how sweaty we all were on TV. I've never been to a swamp! It's definitely a different cooking place. The ground wasn't even; there were rocks, gators, bugs and stuff. I forgot about it once I turned on the gas — well, once I figured out how to turn on the gas, actually. Just like anything that you're thrown into, it was part of the fun. I liked it.
In the episode's challenge, you were all assigned one of three local proteins. You got frog legs. Would you have been able to cook a turtle or alligator?
I definitely lucked out with frog legs. I had never cooked with them before, but it made more sense looking at them than I think the bag of turtle meat would have. I had no idea what I was doing.
You ended up butter poaching them and serving them with spinach and watercress. Were you happy with the dish?
Yeah, I really was. I put so much pressure on myself in making it past the first episode. I mean, had I not made it past the first episode, I probably would have had to rethink my life a little bit. But I made it onto the next one! It was the biggest sigh of relief I could ever take.
In one of the brief interview segments you referred to fellow chef Jason Cichonski as "cocky." How'd that go over after it aired?
I love Jason and he and I have laughed about this the last couple of days because it was in one of those sneak peak things. But Jason is cocky, and he is the first to admit it. He's very pretty. And he knows he's very pretty. That's part of his schtick. I like him a lot now. When I saw myself say that, I didn't even remember saying it! I got a lot of texts after that little part. I liked everyone, to be honest with you.
Have you read any of the press yet for the show? In Entertainment Weekly they said you have a "hunger for redemption that is equal parts compelling and creepy. I like her." Is that a fair assessment?
(laughs) That is incredible! I'm glad they like me. God, it would be terrible if they were like "this girl's real strange." I'm glad it's compelling. I guess. Maybe it's creepy? For all I know, I could be the creepy one. I can see it — when someone wants something so bad, it's hard for people to wrap their brains around why. That's so funny. I love that Entertainment Weekly mentioned my name!
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