Stephanie Cmar, Barbara Lynch's sous chef at No. 9 Park, will have a second shot at the Top Chef title, having been eliminated in the first episode of last year's series. That season was of course won by Lynch protege Kristen Kish, then of Stir, now chef de cuisine at Menton. The new season begins airing on Wednesday, and Eater will have a weekly interview with the cheftestapant after each episode airs. Cmar spoke with Eater about coming to terms with last year's early departure, her impressions of New Orleans, and future plans to open a donut shop, Stacked Donuts.
How did you first come to be employed by Barbara Lynch, ultimately landing at No. 9 Park?
I had worked at a restaurant that is now closed called Ivy, and I decided that I wanted to leave. I actually got a job at B&G Oysters because the chef there was best friends with my cousin, and he recognized my odd last name. I started there as a line cook, and then two months later, they promoted me to sous chef, which was awesome. I was sous chef there for a year, and then I moved to Stir, which I loved. After the show last year, with Kristen going so far and people regularly dropping by to ask questions, I decided that it was a little too public, so I moved to No. 9.
Were you and Kristen Kish friends before joining the Gruppo?
Yeah, we actually met at my first "big girl job" at Top of the Hub.
You were knocked out of season ten because Emeril didn't feel your cauliflower dish had enough cauliflower flavor. How long did you stew on that?
Until the day I landed in New Orleans. [Laughs.] It was horrible. Emeril Lagasse is the nicest person I think you could ever meet. But, after leaving Las Vegas, it took me literally almost a year to really get over it. I've been traumatized by cauliflower ever since. It was one of my favorite vegetables, and now I am just getting back to eating it again.
Were you able to bring yourself to watch Kristen as the season aired?
Of course, of course! She did such an amazing job, such an incredible job. I was there for her when she was at the finale, and it was really incredible.
How did you end up being recast in this season?
I think they saw something more than just the cauliflower dish. It was just one of those magical nights where I was out with Barbara, Kristen, my boyfriend, and a bunch of good friends. We were at Oleana, and I got a phone call, and I let it go to voicemail because it was a Los Angeles number. I was on the Red Line on the way home, and called the producer back, and she asked, "Are you interested in doing this again?" I immediately said "No no no no," because I was so traumatized. But, I started to think about it, and the only way I could think about gaining confidence back in my cooking was to go back on the show.
Had you been to New Orleans before?
No, I hadn't. It was by far the hottest place I have ever been in. It was like standing on the sun. But the people are so kind, and the food is amazing. You can't stay there that long because you just want to eat it all. The po' boys, the turtle soup, everything that they have is decadent to say the least.
About a year ago you spoke to Boston Magazine about wanting to start a donut shop called Stacked Donuts. Clearly, with Top Chef coming back into your life, you've been quite busy. Is that something that is still on the horizon?
Absolutely! That is my ultimate goal, and I was really getting closer and closer to opening a donut shop, and I was really excited. The night of the premiere of Top Chef 10, I got an email that said the investors couldn't go through. Ever since then, I've been pushing myself a little bit further at No. 9. Hopefully I can start to see that through in the next year.
Are you are still looking on the Boston side of the river?
Absolutely! I love Cambridge and I kind of joke about it, but I've never really been to Somerville, which is so, so, bad, especially since I grew up here [Marblehead, Swampscott, and Nahant]. I haven't really had the opportunity to go over there and eat at Spoke or Union Square Donuts, or any of those places. I love Boston. I left a couple times, and I don't anticipate leaving again to move to another city, and if I was to open up a business, I can't picture myself anywhere but Boston.
Eater Boston intern Gabe Bellegard Bastos transcribed this interview.
[Photo: Stephanie Cmar/Bravo]
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