Lunch with Stephanie Cmar – “What Inspires Me”

If you haven’t had the chance to experience a dish from Chef Stephanie Cmar, a contestant on Seasons 10, 11 and 12 of Top Chef, you’re missing out. Reminiscent of sitting in the kitchen with an old friend discussing cooking techniques, we spent the day with Stephanie in the Cooking School on Friday as she shared dishes that inspired her.

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A Boston native, Stephanie first began cooking at the age of 15 when she started working at The Muffin Shop in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She fell in love with the craft and the rest is history. She has worked for restaurants all over Boston, including Top of the Hub, B&G Oysters and No. 9 Park where she worked closely with Chef Barbara Lynch. “Barbara gave me the footing to be where I am today,” said Stephanie.

If you’re a New England local, you may have heard of Stephanie’s most recent venture “Stacked Donuts,” a pop-up donut business that ended this past November. She is now working in catering and as a personal chef.

Stephanie’s menu for the class started with a Truffle Mac and Cheese with Ramp Pesto, Shiitake Mushrooms and Cabot Cheddar. She went over making a basic roux and noted that the more expensive the cheese doesn’t always make for better macaroni and cheese. The finishing touches on the dish included a drizzle of White Truffle Oil, crispy shiitake mushrooms that had been roasted and a homemade ramp pesto drizzle. You can find ramps at a Farmers’ Market or Whole Foods – they are a mix between an onion and garlic. A delicious combination!

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Next on the menu were Seared Chicken Thighs with Puttanesca Sauce. Quick and flavorful, the puttanesca was a combination of “a handsome amount of garlic,” capers, tomatoes, olives and anchovy paste. Simmered with seared chicken thighs, Stephanie paired the hearty dish with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Romanesco Cauliflower.

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To finish off a wonderful meal, Stephanie made a Caramel Semifreddo with Balsamic Cashews and Shortbread. Cashews were cooked down with brown sugar, olive oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar and then spread on a pan to cool. To make the semifreddo, Sea Salt Caramel Sauce was used with the rest of the usual culprits (heavy cream, egg whites, sugar and half-and-half) to make a sinfully delicious treat. Classic Shortbread Cookies garnished the side of the plate.

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“You can make anything out of nothing,” said the young chef. A natural in the classroom, Stephanie commented on how she’s always learning from teaching. “It makes food much richer when you know the story behind it,” said Stephanie.

We asked Stephanie what her best advice for novice at home chefs would be, and she encourages taking risks. “There’s always a way to make something taste good. It’s just food,” she says. She graciously ended the class by giving anyone who was interested her personal email address if they had any questions. Until the next time!

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