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Stephanie Cmar on Top Chef Episode 13, Immune Failure Edition

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

Welcome to the thirteenth 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, our talk centers around a controversial immunity, but given how close we are to the finale, it also touches on Cmar's future plans. Minor spoiler: she'd take your calls, TV execs.

Unfortunately, it seems this will be our last interview as you were sent home this week. The episode started with a quickfire with Jacques Pepin, and you struggled to filet a sole to make Dover sole.
Oh yes, the whole thing was just a disaster. I didn't have enough time to cook it. I couldn't even cut the artichoke right.

By the time I watched the episode, I knew the results, so I had a different eye toward what I saw. When I saw that Shirley and Nick were neck and neck in the quickfire, I couldn't help but think how he would have ended up going home had he not won immunity. Is that something you were thinking about as you watched it?
Drew, to be honest with you, I barely watched last night. I just couldn't do it. It was too soon.

Most reviewers and commenters expressed surprise that immunity was still a part of the game this far into the season. Is that something your fellow cheftestapants talked about?
We were very surprised immunity was still going on. When you get down to such low numbers, it can figure in as such a huge factor. It really mattered with the end result.

Your team worked with Dominique Crenn in this episode. Coincidentally, at a dinner she did with Tim Maslow at jm Curley, I tried a version of the corn silk "birdsnest" that Nick couldn't properly replicate. What was it like using her techniques? You definitely seemed frustrated in the interview.
Ohhhhh...the interview. So I have to ask you, you know how they do the post-challenge interview with the whole group, did I look kind of — maybe — like a bitch?

I wouldn't say that. Knowing it had to be filmed after it was all said and done, you definitely seemed flustered. But I don't think you were portrayed as a bitch. I could tell you weren't happy with having to use those techniques.
No, that's not the way I cook. That's not my style. I think Dominque Crenn was such an amazing woman and has such a talent that I would never ever deny. She's really just a star. But I cook much more rustically, so a lot of the techniques she was talking about, I just didn't know.

Well, even with the fact that these were techniques that were unfamiliar to you, the judges still really liked your dish. It's not what sent you home, but it was Nick's nest that put your team in the bottom. You had actually asked him to not put it on the plate because it would be your butt on the line. He did it anyway.
Such a loaded situation. Nick...he was going to use it no matter what. I just didn't like it because it was really tough [to eat]. I don't think we understood the gravity of what we were doing. I would have ripped them all off the plate if I knew it was going to be the thing to send me home. It was such a bizarre and loaded situation.

Right after the elimination, you couldn't look at him. Since then, we've talked about how you're friends now. How much time passed before you were able to feel that?
To be honest with you, as we've talked, I still always knew the outcome. I don't think Nick and I will ever be able to be the same friends we were before this challenge. I really did trust and respect him. I still do, to a certain extent. It's just one of those terrible situations that sometimes happens to people. But yeah, it just sucked. I really feel had it been different — had there been no immunity — I could have gotten a lot farther. You can never say "Oh, I'd have been the winner," but I know I could have made it another challenge. And I was really getting my feet underneath me. Having that ripped away sucked.

My guess is you haven't read the Internet reaction yet, but it's all been shock. You have a lot of friends out there. Hugh Acheson wrote a letter to you on his blog. "You will go far in this world. Your wit and your craft will take you to great places."

I know we've discussed the A.V. Club's reviews, too. They missed posting last week, so I contacted the writer, and this week she talked about our interviews. "Stephanie and he have discussed the fact that she is The A.V. Club's fan-favorite. I'm a little embarrassed. Anyway, Stephanie, you're great. And I got super drunk at No. 9 Park one time, and it was lovely, so there's also that."
That's pretty funny. Well, I'm so glad. Again, I wish that I had watched the whole episode. I woke up to a lot of Twitter messages, a lot of Facebook messages, a lot of texts. It was so hard to go through it. I was like, "What the fuck? I've gone so far being so nervous, and then I end up getting kicked off for someone else's food?" I love that people are being so supportive. That means more to me than anything.

I watched the Last Chance Kitchen episode. You made beignets for Emeril. It seems the judges liked the flavors in yours better, but Louis got a better rise out of his dough than you did and won the challenge.
I feel like after getting kicked off, I kind of threw in the towel a little bit. Throughout all the quickfires and challenges, I had felt really smart. Then when it came down to Last Chance Kitchen, I didn't think smart. I didn't give up. I really did try. But I didn't think analytically — the way you have to when you're given a time challenge.

Do you get to go to Hawaii or is that just for the finalists?
Oh, I don't know what I can say. Maybe, "Watch, and maybe we'll get to talk again?"

That's fair. Going forward with your career now, I know No. 9 is a great place to be, but we had talked before the season started about your want to open a donut shop. Now that your appearance on the show is over, what are you thinking right now?
That's a loaded question. I don't know what I'm going to do next to be honest with you. I'm looking into and it and trying to figure it out. But I don't know. It's probably going to be stepping away from fine dining. It's probably going to be something that nobody expects, but we'll see.

There seems to be consensus on the Internet that if you want a job on TV, there's a career for you there.
(laughs) Well, you tell them to pitch something. I love TV. To be honest with you, I loved everything about it. I really enjoyed the whole process. I like people, and I like to be on TV. I can't even shy away from that. If something comes up, I definitely would take it.

Thank you, Stephanie, it's been a fun ride. Be sure to keep us in the loop.
Thank you!
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