Welcome to the ninth 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 was the show's "Restaurant Wars" episode, and — as usual — it was a disaster for at least one team. Cmar talks about the difference between filming and watching the episode, cooking for David Chang and Danny Meyer, and what Gail Simmons thought of her pasta dish.
How was your Thanksgiving?
I went with my brothers, Mom, and Dad to friends who we've been celebrating Thanksgiving with my whole life. I got the day off. I did nothing this year but drink white wine. It was awesome.
This week's episode was the infamous Restaurant Wars, which tends to be one of the more difficult challenges. How was it?
There was so much that happened that people didn't get to see on TV. For me, it was honestly probably the smoothest challenge thus far. It was so ... I don't want to say, "easy," but it was really well orchestrated.
Watching your team from the beginning, it seemed like there was no chance you could lose. Did you know early on that the other team was falling apart from the get-go?
During filming, I didn't understand the extent of the animosity in that group. Watching it on TV was like watching a train wreck. It just seemed the way they set themselves up from the beginning just wasn't going to work. They didn't even know what dishes they were doing. When you open up a restaurant, you would think that would be one of the first things you'd talk about.
There are two main roles you could have volunteered for — either executive chef or front of the house manager. Did you give any thought to doing either?
Not front of the house at all. I've never worked front of the house so I'd have no idea how to go about that. When it came to being the executive chef, I was pretty confident I could do it. The only issue I have is the expoing component. I'm pretty green in that area — I've done some, but it's not my strength. I didn't want to be the one to bring it down because I couldn't keep it organized.
Your team chose to do a seafood restaurant. If you were going to open your own place from scratch, is that something you'd concentrate on?
I don't think it would be 100% seafood focused. I'm certainly comfortable with it, coming from B&G where the only meat component we had was bacon. But I enjoy the balance of a restaurant with a full-on menu.
Most of the episode focused on, as you called it, the "train wreck" of the other team. Have you ever had nights like they did at No. 9?
Any night, you can lose track or something can go wrong — it's inevitable that it happens. But, No. 9 is one of the most well-oiled machines. The level of expectation everyone has set for themselves makes it so no night ever goes terribly. If a restaurant has been along for so long, and everyone has so much experience, the nights don't get as bad as back in the day when Kristen and I ran Stir and didn't know what we were doing.
When discussing your dish — linguine with oysters and caviar — Gail Simmons said it "was one of my favorite dishes of the night, by far ... made with a deft hand. You can tell she felt confident making this dish, that she either had made it before or had spent time thinking about thoroughly, because it felt very finished, very refined." Had you pulled this one out of your repertoire?
So you pulled one over on Gail?
Yeah! I love her. At No. 9, my chef Scott makes an oyster veloute. I changed it a bit. I make a lot of pasta. And I love making pasta; I always have. I did love my dish — I put a lot of thought into it, and it was a lot of fun to make.
You were cooking for both David Chang and Danny Meyer, two of the biggest names in restaurants. Do you find yourself cooking differently when you know people like them are in the dining room?
You know, I would love to say that I don't, that the way I cook is just always the same. But, when you have those people and you know their expectations, you don't want to embarrass yourself. So I definitely put more pressure on myself to make something I thought they would like. Danny Meyer and David Chang — I mean come on! Those are some critical, critical people.
After that service, you must have felt pretty good. When you watched the judge's critique from the stew room, did you realize your team had won?
When they said one team did a good job and one failed — we knew Travis was bomb in the front of the house — we thought we were doing all right. But even then, it's weird because you really don't know what they're going to say. You just don't know.
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