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Stephanie Cmar on Top Chef Episode 12, Étouffée, Brute? Edition

Photo: Stephanie Cmar is not afraid of floating knives/David Moir for Bravo

Welcome to the twelfth 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, Cmar talks about how she tried to redeem herself in front of John Besh, discusses the two lives she feels like she's living, and introduces us to the phrase "wasty-tasty."

This week's episode started off with you talking to your boyfriend David on the phone. We've talked a bit about him before, but I hadn't realized he used to be one of your line cooks. That's almost scandalous.
(laughs) Well, we weren't dating when he was a line cook. We met at B&G three years ago, four years ago, five years ago? A long time ago.

Usually when a chef's home life is featured early in the episode, it seems they end up going home at the end. Did you get any frantic texts while watching the episode?
I didn't realize that's the way it was. But now it makes sense. With Travis and everyone else I guess they did play those family phone calls before they went off.

Were there always cameras around when you called home?
Yeah. I didn't call home that often. I talked to David maybe twice. And my Mom once. I talked to Kristen a bunch, though.

Your crustacean allergy came up again because you had to use crawfish in the quickfire for John Besh. Have you ever had a scare in the kitchen because of the allergy?
Yeah, it was a couple years at some event the Gruppo was doing. I can live, it just makes me so sick. I don't know what would happen now, though. In the B&G basement, there'd be a lot of lobster steam and shrimp steam. I'd have a physical reaction where my face would get red, bumpy, itchy and gross. So I'm very careful.

Because you couldn't taste your food, Nicholas helped you out by tasting everything. Right after we saw that, we saw that Nicholas and Carlos were still spatting over equipment. What was that like for the rest of you? With fewer cheftestapants left, do those fights seem bigger?
It's so interesting. Nick is very particular about things. We obviously got along famously. I really do consider him such a great friend in my life. But he and Carlos just did not get along. It's uncomfortable but those little fights and tiffs were short and didn't spill over to when we got home.

John Besh said your dish tasted good but wasn't really an étouffée, which was said about a lot of the dishes.
Honestly, during the quickfire, I was so flustered not being able to taste anything that I wasn't able to do it the way I wanted to. We all knew what an étouffée was — Shirley's was a perfect example of one — but we all took the challenge in whatever direction we could. Basically, it's supposed to be gumbo on rice. There're few differences.

So John Besh's hair ...
I talk about his hair so much.

You're not the only one. It comes up in nearly every article about the man.
It's eye-catching. So eye-catching. He's the consummate New Orleans guy. He just has this presence about him, and he's looked the same for 20 years. Not much has changed.

They showed a great vignette of you and Nina critiquing Padma's ponytail. Did you get to have a lot of fun moments like that?
(laughs) Yeah. I would say every moment where I didn't look panicked I was doing something like that. I don't remember how I spawned that little conversation. Oh God though, Padma is so gorgeous. And that day, her ponytail was fantastic.

You were in the top three this week. During judging you said this was the hardest dish for you to come up with so far. What about it was difficult?
I was having so much trouble. We had to cook a small plate tasting-sized dish for 200 people in a couple of hours. I had a hard time figuring out what I could do efficiently, effectively and consistently while trying to use two different fish.

Well, you won.
I did!

And those playing the "will Stephanie talk about puking?" drinking game at home, this was another win for them as well. How'd it feel?
I was so excited. I was so crushed after the last John Besh challenge at La Provence. During that tomato quickfire, John looked at me and said "Stephanie, this is a challenge. This is do or die." He was sort of saying that I threw in the towel during that particular quickfire. So it was really awesome to be able to redeem myself. And fried oysters is a dish that is very me. It's always something on my menus. I was really happy with how it came out — it took forever, but it was cool.

Reading Hugh Acheson's blog, every person he talked to loved it. He definitely agreed with the judges.
Oh, Hugh.

That brings me to my next question. Over the past weeks, you've been highlighted in a Zagat video. You're having casual Twitter conversation with Hugh Acheson. Does this really feel like your life now or does it seem like you're living someone else's?
It's so weird. I feel like I'm living two different lives. At work, nobody cares. We're just there. We don't talk about it, we don't think about it — I don't even think about it very often. And then I get home, I hear my voice on TV, and it's surreal. And Hugh was really busting my balls last night [while tweeting the episode]. I enjoyed that. And John Besh tweeted me, too. Or twitted; whatever you're supposed to say. I died a little bit.

Were you surprised to see Carrie go home? This was actually her first time in the bottom.
Was it really? No shit. I wasn't very surprised because she expressed how nervous she was about it after she did it. I still always feel bad. She handled it very gracefully, though.

Back to that Zagat video. It was from the after-party celebration for their 30-under-30 event, where you were honored. Have people asked you about? It was hysterical.
I hope nobody's seen it! My God. I don't even know what to say about that. I come off as such a wasty-tasty, which I kind of was at that point. I always get so animated when there's a flipping camera around. (sighs) It was really funny. Let's just say my parents didn't bring it up for a while. Then finally my dad said, (dryly) "yup, you come off awesome." The best thing about all these videos and TV and what not is one day I'll be able to look back at it all and just laugh.
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