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Stephanie Cmar on Top Chef Ep. 7, Potluck Edition

Photo: Stephanie Cmar (right) on Top Chef/David Moir for Bravo

Welcome to the seventh 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 she talks about learning a reality TV production trick from Forrest Gump, an embarrassing family food memory, and the possibilities of a side career in comedy.

The quickfire was pretty weird, with cheftestapants playing a version of musical chairs, moving station to station. You were basically judged on something you didn't even spend a quarter of the challenge on.
I got to that last station and had no idea what was going on. The challenge was weird. I watched it last night with some of my friends and you could see me slowing down near the stations I wanted to be at and speeding up at the stations I didn't. It didn't work in my favor, but whatever.

You've told me before your family didn't really cook, and you said in this episode that potlucks didn't happen often as a kid. So what would you bring somewhere when you absolutely needed to?
I'm going to get in so much trouble with this, but if I have one distinct food memory that I thought was the weirdest thing, my mother — who I love — used to make this weird carrot and grape salad with — I want to say — caraway seeds or something nasty in it. I just remember that being real gross. But she does make a fantastic seven layer dip.

In response to an in-episode interview with you, Entertainment Weekly's reviewer said, "It took me a second to understand Stephanie's joke about Nicholas and performance-enhancing drugs because that was some dry delivery." Top Chef's Twitter account made a point of your dry delivery. And then the AV Club's recapper said "I would be fine with Stephanie getting her own talk show after this, where she just tells self-deprecating stories about how she gets tongue-tied in front of famous people." Has Top Chef created a future stand-up comedian in you?
Oh my God. I have to tell you a story. So yesterday, I was leaving my apartment. I live next door to the Improv Asylum. I've always joked that I wanted to do stand-up but I have stage fright. And this guy comes up to me, "excuse me, excuse me, excuse me." And I was like, "oh my God, stranger!" But he was so cute and said, "are you on Top Chef?" and we did that whole back and forth thing. Then he told me about this charity thing they do and said, "we'd love to do a stand-up based on an interview that you do," and I think that's my in.

That's fantastic. So are you going to do that?
Yeah, if I can! People are so nice and stuff. I was just talking to my Mom. I've never been described as deadpan. I don't even know where all this came from. I've been saying things the same way for 28 years. But, whatever.

So, we get to the end of the episode and it's your first win. Now I understand why you laughed at me last week when I asked if you were intimidated by Nina, because this week you broke her streak face-to-face. So how did it feel?
Insane. It was one of those moments where [guest judge] Sue [Zemenick] said my name and I was just, "what? ... WHAT?!" Really, I was just overwhelmed. I went from feeling like such a loser after last year and what not to feeling, "you know what? I got this. I feel good." Whatever happens from this point on, I will have won, and that's really awesome.

Gail Simmons actually had to tell you to make a noise or celebrate in some way so she knew you were okay.
I know! I just didn't know what to say or do. Like, do you cry? I could have probably cried, but I told you I wasn't going to cry unless I ever got kicked off. Do you scream? Do you run up and hug them all? That would have been my natural reaction - to run and hug some people. Tom [Colicchio]doesn't look like the hugging type.

They took what turned out to be the losing team into the judges first, which is something they rarely do. Was this the producers just seeing how they could mess with Stephanie knowing how you react?
It did mess with me! It did really, really mess with me. They brought the grey team in — I love them all — they brought them in and said they were on the bottom, and then they brought us in. It's hard to win when you know somebody is already losing. So I didn't really care for that. It's a bleeding heart syndrome thing, I just felt bad. But then I felt so good with the win.

During the broadcast, they conducted a live poll asking whether the right chef won. The answer was 93% yes.
No way! That's really sweet. I saw the question, but then I got all embarrassed, so I turned my head and didn't see the actual answer to the poll. That's really awesome.

Your winning dish was based on artichokes. You said, "I love artichokes. Frying artichokes. Cleaning artichokes. Cooking artichokes." So I get that you like artichokes. Are they a go-to ingredient for you?
(laughs) No! But you sit and you're doing the interview and you're having fun, but you're also answering the same question 46,000 times. So I'll go on tangents and stuff because I don't want to talk about it anymore. I tried to say everything emphatically so I didn't have to repeat myself again. It was another situation where I didn't want to do it, and just said a bunch of stuff with no filter. You know in Forrest Gump, where they're like "shrimp tacos, shrimp blah blah blah?" I felt that way.
· All coverage of Stephanie Cmar on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All coverage of Top Chef on Eater [~EBOS~]

No. 9 Park

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