Stacy Cogswell Breaks Down All the Dysfunction on Top Chef Episode Two

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Photo courtesy of David Moir/Bravo

On episode two of Top Chef Boston, a stone-faced Todd English showed up to judge a surf and turf Quickfire that loosely incorporated Paul Revere’s famous “one if by land, two if by sea” proclamation. Local contestant Stacy Cogswell ended up at the very bottom with her overcooked, underseasoned pork chop adorned with sea beans, horned melons, fried skate wing, and black radishes. Fortunately, The Regal Beagle chef bounced back in Dante de Magistris‘ kitchen at Il Casale Cucina Belmont, where she became a dismayed, eye-rolling spectator on a team with bickering bottom-dwellers Aaron Grissom and Keriann Von Raesfeld.

To help us break down this season, we’ve asked Cogswell to give us her insider perspective on each episode. Here, Cogswell recaps all the action from this week’s episode, including her thoughts on molecular gastronomy, her self-effacing analysis on cooking chicken, and her real feelings regarding who should have gone home.

I have to ask: Is it getting easier to watch yourself on television?

Nope! Not at all. I thought it would, but no.

Did you anticipate being such a major focus of episode two? I know it’s probably hard when you’re in the moment to know how the edited episode will turn out.

I did. Once the episode was all said and done, I kind of knew it. I thought it was mostly going to be a focus on my team, but I realized watching it last night my facial expressions were pretty priceless.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the episode. What were your thoughts on the Quickfire Challenge?

For the first real cooking Quickfire, I was really, really upset. I was disappointed in the dish. Number one, I ran out of time and actually didn’t want to serve a whole pork chop, I wanted to slice them. The judge’s cut into the edge of the chop and it was overcooked. It’s like any large piece of meat that you cook, the edges are always going to be a little bit more cooked than the middle. So, I really shot myself in the foot on that one.

You seemed fairly confident in the dish. Were you just trying to sell it to the judges?

Yes, of course! You always want to be confident about the product that you’re putting out. You never want to throw yourself under the bus immediately.

Most of the episode dealt with the concept of teamwork. Did that idea translate to you, Aaron, and Keriann?

Ha! It didn’t. From the very beginning at our team meeting before going into the challenge, I knew right then and there it was a lost cause. And I knew that I just needed to keep my head down and make sure whatever I was making was the best it could possibly be. I was just hoping for the best.

You seemed to back off and just focus on your part of the dish. What that the smart thing to do? Should you have gotten more involved?

I am happy with how I handled it. Working in a kitchen, we’ve all seen it a million times. If there are two strong personalities like that, there’s no bringing them together. I like to think of myself as being pretty professional, so I kept my mouth shut. You saw it last night, there was no getting a word in edgewise anyway, even if I wanted to.

Every season of Top Chef, they tend to paint somebody as a “bad guy.” We now know this season it’s going to Aaron Grissom. Do you feel like that’s a fair portrayal?

I’ve gotten the chance to know Aaron personally, and he’s actually a really nice guy. He just has a very strong personality. As far as fair goes, let me think about how I want to say this…this is hard. That whole exercise was basically what you do as a sous chef, so you have to bring it back there. Everyone wants to be a team leader, but sometimes that just doesn’t work.

Did you see the other teams staring at you guys? Do you think they felt bad for you?

Yes, they definitely felt bad for me. Come on! I felt bad for me watching it last night.

The other elephant in the room last night was molecular gastronomy. For most of the contestants on the show, it seems to be a very polarizing style of cooking. What are your thoughts on it?

I personally don’t dabble in molecular gastronomy. In the food world, there’s some very strong opinions either for it or against it. I’m a traditionalist, so it’s not something I’ve had a lot of exposure to. Honestly, I’m not really that comfortable with it.

At Judge’s Table, both Gail and Tom Colicchio lauded your portion of the meal. In fact, Colicchio turned to you and said, “I’d be pissed if I were you.” Did that at least feel good?

First of all, it was just chicken. At this point in my career, I better be able to cook chicken. The judges were so disappointed in the dish, they were just excited that at least one thing was right on it.

Do you think the main reason your chicken stood out was that Aaron’s bourbon onion jam and Keriann’s corn salad were so bad?

I do. Yes. It was cooked perfectly, but chicken is chicken.

Were you ever happy with your teammates’ ideas for what was going to be on the plate?

Absolutely not! It never sounded good to me. It was a raw salad with cooked chicken and cold jam. I wasn’t happy with that decision. But again, when you’re working with a team like that, you have to fend for yourself. I know that’s an awful way to think and it’s not teamwork at all, but there was no changing any minds. I just my head down and said, “Fuck it, I’m just going to do this and I’m going to nail it.”

We now know that the Yellow team was ultimately deemed the loser and Joy Crump was sent home. Do you feel like you dodged a bullet?

To be extremely honest with you, I wish I hadn’t nailed that chicken because I think that someone on my team should have gone home instead of Joy. They said that Joy undercooked the veal, but I think there were more dire mistakes made in the garnishes on our team.

One last question: Is it a weird situation for you to be in to be judged by other Boston chefs like Todd English and Dante de Magistris?

I don’t know either one of them so it was like meeting them for the first time, but in a really fucked up situation.

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