Welcome to the sixth 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 about staff meals at No. 9, how cream cheese fits in with fine dining (minor spoiler: not very well at all), and the sad, sudden passing of Charlie Trotter.
How's it going, "Dead Pan Cmar," as Hugh Acheson has nicknamed you?
I saw that last night when he tweeted it at me. I like that one. It's cute.
Let's talk about the quickfire where you had to make tomato dishes for John Besh. It didn't go very well. You blanked at the beginning. What happened?
It was just one of those terribly off days. I was talking to my boyfriend when we watched it, and I told him the first thing I did was grab a bottle of water because it was so insanely hot. It was just one of those off moments for me.
Your dish was among the bottom dishes. Did that judgment stay in your head through the elimination challenge?
It definitely had an effect for sure. I tried to snap out of it, but I do think it carried on. Once you're told you did a bad job, it's hard to change that.
The elimination challenge was making a staff meal for all of John Besh's chefs — but using cream cheese. What are your favorite staff meals at No. 9, either to make or have?
Staff meal at No. 9 is pretty awesome. We rotate each day. I make a lot of pizzas. We do Mediterranean mezze. I did curry the other day. We utilize whatever we have around. We don't special order things, so it gets pretty creative.
Have you ever made anything that your team asked you not make again?
No, but I've definitely told people not to make things again. There was a pasta salad, that was one that went over like a lead brick. I was like, (whispers) "We don't do that."
Cream cheese was an odd ingredient to see featured. Is it something you ever work with?
It's definitely not a star ingredient that I work with every day. Yeah, they basically built a shrine to Philadelphia cream cheese. The parameters around the challenge were really strict. There wasn't butter. There wasn't a lot of stuff. We were so limited in what we were able to do. Everyone struggled. Watching it, it was very strange.
During stew room the judges figured out something went wrong with your dish — an attempt at a cream cheese mousse.
Oh, so much went wrong. I tried to make it three times. Each time I made it, it broke. It just separated and got all funky and weird. We had, what, 90 minutes? For an elimination challenge that's a pretty good amount of time. But everything I touched just did not work out well. Toward the end, I was just scrambling. I felt like I basically gave them cream cheese soup.
Did you feel any better knowing that the judges could deduce that something went wrong — that this wasn't intentional?
It was like getting the benefit of the doubt. I felt like they gave me that. I was so surprised that I wasn't in the bottom three.
Nina has become a powerhouse, winning four elimination challenges so far. Some of the other chefs have expressed feeling intimidated. Is that something you felt?
By Nina? Nope. I don't give it much thought, Drew, I just don't give it much thought at all. She does an amazing job. She's so talented. I'm just not very intimidated per se. She's just another chef. A great one, but she doesn't intimidate me more or less than anybody else.
Before one commercial, we saw clips of what farm animal every cheftestapant would be, but we didn't get to see your answer. What was it?
I said something that I thought at the time was really creative. I'd probably be a sheep. A bashful, timid sheep.
Charlie Trotter died suddenly this week and we've seen an outpouring of reactions from the food world. Do you have any Charlie Trotter stories?
I was stunned that he passed. He was so incredibly young. I mean, 54 is so young. I never made it out to Chicago. I guess my one true connection with his food was teaching a Stir class on his cookbooks, which was just an awesome time. I had no idea how old he was. You could have told me he was 90, and I would have believed you because of the legacy that he brought. I know Emeril was very very good friends with him and is very affected by his passing. It's too sad. Too young and so talented. He left such a mark on the food world.
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