Stacy Cogswell of The Regal Beagle in Brookline is currently competing on Top Chef, which was filmed here in Boston. The first episode of the season aired this Wednesday; here's Stacy on what she's feeling at this point.
Let's start at the beginning. How did it feel to get the call that you were going to be on Top Chef?
It's funny — when I got the call, I was in the middle of doing my summer menu tasting with my staff, so it was me and twelve servers. I'm just talking away, and I see that my phone is ringing and that it's a California number, so I told everyone that I'd be right back. The worst part was that when I found out, I couldn't tell anyone. So I had to come back to the tasting and be completely normal. I was totally shaking. Everyone kept asking me if everything was okay. I actually ended up leaving that night; I told my sous chef that I wasn't feeling well and that I needed to go home.
I went home and just sat and stared at my bookshelf full of cookbooks, and I was like, "Oh, fuck." It was very surreal. It was never anything that I had thought about doing; they approached me. I'm just so wrapped up in everything that I have going on at work that I never wanted to do anything like that. But they called, and to be honest, I thought it was a joke. When I realized it wasn't a joke, I thought "Sure, this should be fun."
Did you do anything special to prepare for the show?
You can't really prepare for it. I mean, you can watch past episodes and study recipes, but you don't know what they're going to throw at you. I didn't even watch Top Chef. Well, I saw the first season; that's when I was a line cook, and I had time. But then I moved up and never had time to watch another season. Before I left to film, we were so crazy at the restaurant, but I tried to make a point to leave early and watch past episodes...but I never did. I'd put it on, watch about two minutes, and then fall asleep. I was just so tired. You can't really prepare for it anyway. You can get all the knowledge that you can get, but once you're there, it's just straight cooking.
How did it feel to watch yourself on Top Chef for the first episode?
I was on the edge of my seat last night watching it. I had a nice glass of wine and was very stressed out. I had my curtains drawn and my phone shut off. It was weird seeing it last night; it was like I was reliving it in my head, and some of those feelings did come back, especially that feeling that I got when I walked in the Top Chef kitchen for the first time. There were just so many things going on. It was amazing and then crazy and scary. Even more so seeing that Boston logo on the wall. It was stressful.
Did you watch by yourself or with a big group of friends and family?
I watched it by myself because I wasn't sure how I'd feel about watching it with other people. I also thought it was hard because I'd be watching it with all people that are close to me, and I know they'd want to ask questions. It's hard because I couldn't answer them. I didn't want to tell anyone anything because it would also make it less fun for them to watch.
Did you feel extra pressure being the only Boston contestant and the show taking place here?
So much pressure. A lot of it I put on myself. I for sure thought I'd know some of the contestants, and then I get there and there wasn't anyone else from Boston.
How did it feel going into that first challenge with all of Boston's best chefs surrounding you?
Stressful! It was also fun but different for me because I knew who all of those chefs were and some of the other contestants didn't. I was able to tell them who everyone was.
"I wasn't there to judge any of the other contestants. Ultimately, we're all chefs and we work about a million hours and we're all tired."
Did you size up your competition when you first met them? Where you able to single out anyone that you thought would be tough to beat?
No, I wasn't there to judge any of the other contestants. Ultimately, we're all chefs and we work about a million hours and we're all tired. We're always stressed out and I know from experience of working in the industry that people will surprise you. I think also I was just so caught up in the moment. I just kept saying to myself, "Holy shit! I'm in the Top Chef kitchen!" So no, I didn't really pay attention to that.
What was the atmosphere like during that first challenge?
I felt like I got along with everyone, so I really didn't see much cutthroat. I think we all sort of united from the start. I mean, I can't speak for everyone, but everyone sort of had that attitude and understanding that we are all chefs and everyone has different ways of getting to the end result. There seemed to be an initial level of respect.
Were you most nervous to have a particular judge critiquing your dishes?
Tom and Gail. I was most worried about them. I mean, with all of the judges you want to be worried, and there's a mutual respect, but for some reason for me, it was Tom and Gail. When they came up to me, I was like, "Oh shit!" It was particularly hard for me to tell them about my dishes. "Oh sure, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, here's my food."
In watching the show did you think they did a good job representing how things actually happened during those first two challenges?
Yeah, they did a really good job with it. Whatever it is that they do in TV land, that's pretty much how it was.
Obviously we're only one episode in but have things changed for you since the show?
We've had quite a few people coming in here. But it's been good. When the guests come in here and are excited about it, you get to be excited with them. So I do table visits every night; I've always done that. It's always just been like a big dinner party for me every night. But now, every table seems to mention it. It's been interesting, and I'm still just so embarrassed about it because it's just so surreal. I mean, look at me, I'm blushing!