Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of the wildly popular show, saw the return of Stephanie Cmar, 28, who also competed last season. Cmar began working in the food industry at the Muffin Shop in Marblehead when she was 15 years old. A 2007 graduate of Johnson & Wales, she returned to Boston and began working at the Top of the Hub. She then served as sous-chef at the now-defunct Ivy Restaurant before joining Barbara Lynch Gruppo in 2009 as a line chef at B&G Oysters. From there, she moved to Stir and then to No. 9 Park, where she currently serves as sous-chef. She lives in Boston
Jonathan Soroff: What would you order as your last meal on death row?
Stephanie Cmar: First of all, I’d have to make it. An egg sandwich on a Portuguese muffin, with cheddar cheese and bacon, mayonnaise and ketchup.
A good knife.
Hmm. I’m trying to think of the last dinner party I had. I always have a good spread of cheeses, so that while I’m cooking people aren’t starving. Then I always have something seafood that’s easy. Something really simple, like bay scallops with bacon, chili, white wine and tomato.
That’s a big question. I’m sitting here, staring at a whole bunch of them right now. That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. I should say the Stir cookbook, but I guess lately I’ve been into the Araxi cookbook, from the Whistler ski resort in British Columbia. It’s really creative, but it has those rustic qualities I love in food.
Vegetable stock. It cures a lot of ills. If something’s breaking, it usually brings it back together.
Do you wear Crocs in the kitchen?
I don’t. I wear Super Birkis.
I couldn’t make that up.
Do you have any tattoos? And any that would surprise me?
I have plenty. So many. They’re all kind of awesome, but I have cherries tattooed on my stomach, and that sort of surprises people.
Current food trend you find really annoying?
Cupcakes. I don’t like them that much, and I’m just confused why there are so many cupcake stores. I wish there were nacho stores, or something.
Hardest thing to cook?
I’ve been working on pastry for a little while, and I have to say it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
If I showed up at your house unannounced, what would you serve me?
Right now, looking in my refrigerator, it would have to be eggs and orange juice, since that’s about the only thing in there.
Mayonnaise. Eggs. And butter. I always have tuna fish on hand, too. I love tuna fish.
One thing most people do wrong in the kitchen?
Lose their temper.
Do you believe you can taste the mood the chef was in when he or she cooked something?
One hundred percent. You can taste when someone’s nervous cooking. You can taste when they’re sad or mad. You overcompensate. When you’re relaxed and calm, you just cook like you would if you were by yourself.
Sweet or savory?
They go hand in hand. But I could probably start a meal with dessert and end with an entrée.
Grossest thing you ever ate?
In culinary school: tea-smoked duck. It went horribly, horribly wrong. I just remember it tasting bitter and like Earl Grey tea and just yuck.
One thing on which you judge a restaurant?
Typos on the menu. It’s one of my favorite games to play: Find a Typo.
No. I have an iron stomach.
How real is reality TV?
Pretty darn real. That was my life on screen. You definitely watched me go through all the emotions. It’s how it’s edited that makes it seem overly dramatic, because certain story lines are focused on. But it’s as real as being filmed 24/7 and then edited down can be.
How did Top Chef make you better at what you do?
It made me more confident and made me trust my instincts more.
Most overrated culinary experience?
Long tasting menus. I think nine courses is definitely appropriate, but when you start to move up into 20 or 21, your taste buds are gone after bite 15. And it just takes so long. The experience should be great, and I just can’t sit that long. I also hate being overly full. I can’t handle it.
Favorite celebrity chef?
Guy Fieri. [Laughs] Just kidding. I guess David Chang. I like his cookbooks, and I like Lucky Peach.
Thing on the menu at No. 9 that you crave?
Well, we recently took it off coming into January, but the Kampachi dish was so, so amazing. And right now, we have a quail on the menu that is just incredible.
Nachos. I really love them.
The Border Cafe. That’s my favorite guilty-pleasure restaurant.
Ew. Neither? [Laughs] They both give me a stomachache. My iron stomach can handle a lot, but that just makes me feel gross.
It’s hard for me to cook at home, because I find myself cooking for 10 when there are only two people. I also don’t have all my stuff. If I want to whip up an ice cream, I have to start that four days in advance at home, but I can do it in 15 minutes at work. Or if I want to use a piece of equipment. I don’t have a very well-equipped kitchen. To be honest with you, in my house, I have two spoons, two forks, a Keurig, a KitchenAid, a cast-iron pan and some pots. That’s about it.
Best food-related movie of all time?
Ratatouille. That one’s precious. They say that Dominique Crenn was the inspiration for the female character.
Celebrity you’d most like to cook for?
I’m gonna say Jennifer Lawrence. I like her. She seems fun.