Welcome to the tenth 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, cheftestapants were asked to cook dishes that reminded them of their families. In our talk with Cmar, we learned her Dunkies order, where she and boyfriend David Cavilla — Sportello's chef de cuisine — go foraging for mussels, and her opinion on whether there is too much swearing on Top Chef.
This week's quickfire involved Dunkin' Donuts coffee. What was it like being the Boston girl when you saw Dunkies was involved?
I felt like I was at home. First, when I saw all the coffee, I was like, "Oh gosh, what do we do with this, and what's going to happen?" But my second thought was, "How can I get free coffee out of this?" It was a really fun quickfire.
Are you one of those iced-coffee-in-the-winter people Boston is famous for?
Noooooo! No, I'm a medium hot French vanilla cream and sugar. That's my go-to. I would be crazy to drink an iced coffee right now. My fingers are literally frozen to the phone.
You seemed surprised that your dish — a coffee crepe with bacon jam, sweet potatoes, and goat cheese — ended up on the top.
Drew, that was one of the weirdest things I have ever made in my entire life. They didn't show that everyone went around tasting each other's dishes, and they all said, "That's pretty weird." It spiraled out of control, and I just couldn't stop myself from adding things. But yeah, I was surprised. They also didn't show how hard I laughed when they said my name.
The guest judge in the elimination was actor Anthony Mackie, who you recognized and called a "studmuffin." Did you actually recognize him or was there coaching from the producers?
Okay, I really recognized him. Dr. John I didn't recognize. There were a few people they had to explain to me who they were. But I know who Anthony Mackie was because 8 Mile came out when I was a senior in high school, and I remember going to the movies and seeing it. I was inspired to become a rap superstar, which went as far as nowhere.
The elimination was based on foods that reminded you of your families. We've discussed — and you mentioned it in the episode — that your family isn't really a cooking family. What we haven't talked about is how you got into cooking.
I've never had a job other than cooking. When I was 16, I got a summer job at The Muffin Shop in Marblehead. My boss said one day, "Why don't you go back and I'll show you how to cook?" After that, I never questioned it and just kind of ran with it. Had I not had that job, I'd probably be doing something completely different.
Your dish — mussels with bread, tomatoes, and pickled peppers — got unanimously positive reviews. That must have felt good.
Yeah, it did. Especially because I eat mussels all the time. If mussels are on the menu, nine times out of ten, I'll order them. Leah Chase giving me her seal of approval was incredible. That dish has a lot of history in my life. It's influenced my cooking and opened my eyes. When I worked at Ivy and Kristen [Kish]had moved on, a chef came in who did a similar dish with pepperoncini. He grated the tomatoes and had this weird cream and egg ratio thing. It was the first time I saw that kind of cooking. Of course, I've changed the dish since then, and it's become part of my repertoire for friends and family. He was really the person that inspired a lot of my cooking, surprisingly, because I did not care for him when I worked for him. But in hindsight, I learned the most from him out of anybody.
Where do you and your boyfriend get mussels that maybe you shouldn't be eating?
We just moved from Quincy. David is one of those guys who goes and picks garlic scapes. He goes and finds things growing near the ocean and cooks them. The first time he ever did it, he came home with a grocery bag full of mussels with barnacles still attached and said, "Now we eat this." I thought he was crazy. But they were delicious. So we'd go down to this beach at low tide and pick mussels. He's a creative one. He's the chef de cuisine at Sportello.
When the judges called you in and you saw who else was with you, were you pretty sure you were in the winning group?
Yeah. This is kind of the episode where everything changed. They're still making me seem like the nervous nellie, but my confidence was actually beginning to build right there. I tasted the dish and loved it. That's hard for a cook to say, because most of the time you're super-critical of everything. But I made the focaccia in an hour and that came out great. The mussels developed all the flavor I wanted. When I said I smelled every mussel, I did. I was petrified to give them a bad mussel after Tom came up to me during prep time and said, "There's always a stinker in the bunch." I was thrilled to be in the top three for that dish.
This week, the AV Club said, "Stephanie is the best. I hope she gets a lucrative career after this just telling jokes at the camera." Any updates on plans with Improv Asylum?
Thank you, AV Club, that's sweet! Improv Asylum sent me an email, but December turns out to be the craziest month at No. 9, so I won't be able to do it. But they are the best there, and I love them. I'm always so amazed how people are able to get up and just wing it. All the things I say are just what I'm thinking. There's no real prompting. Like the "studmuffin" thing. He was a very attractive young man. It just happened to be the one thing that came to mind.
Jonah Goldberg, a conservative columnist, put out a piece complaining about the swearing on Top Chef. I don't know if you've read it, but do you have a reaction to the idea that there is too much of it? He seemed angry.
Angry? He's obviously never been in a kitchen. You know, this is reality TV, but you're also watching us do something for ourselves in our real lives. We didn't go on the show — I can speak for everyone I believe — to be reality TV stars. We were there to cook and prove something to someone. Since there is no filter — that's the beauty of the show — I didn't try and not say something, even though my mother desperately asked me not to swear. It just wasn't part of the thought process. It's not about being vulgar, but they're the words that we use. Do I think the show would be any different without the swearing? I don't know. I don't think that's what people necessarily identify it with. I respect his opinion, and swearing can be kind of rude in the wrong context, but I still wouldn't change anything that I've done.
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