Stacy Cogswell on Top Chef’s ‘Curse of the Bambino’
We’re only into the third week of Top Chef Boston, and we’ve already seen challenges inspired by Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Boston Tea Party, and Fenway Park’s 102-year history. I can’t wait to see how Bravo will incorporate The Great Molasses Disaster and the Blizzard of ’78.
Episode Three started with another Sudden Death Quickfire, this time incorporating unmarked canisters of tea. Cogswell made a chai-rubbed sirloin and performed well enough to avoid this season’s persistent threat of elimination. Afterward, the contestants were ushered into Fenway Park where they were tasked with crafting fine-dining dishes using ballpark staples like hot dogs, pretzels, and popcorn.
Joining Tom, Gail, and Padma at the Judge’s Table were guest judges Richard Blaise, Ming Tsai, Hugh Acheson, famous Red Sox closer Dennis Eckersley, and the Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy—who was often shown speaking in hushed, reverential tones about Fenway while professed Yankees fans glazed-over in boredom.
To help us break down this season, we’ve asked The Regal Beagle’s Stacy Cogswell to give us her insider perspective on each episode. Here, Cogswell recaps all the action from this week’s show, including the flood of emotions behind cooking at Fenway, her favorite Boston memory, and the continuing drama between Aaron, and well, pretty much everyone else.
After the first Sudden Death Quickfire in episode one, did you anticipate that kind of high-stakes challenge recurring so frequently and becoming a regular part of the show?
It’s funny, I feel like a broken record when I say this because I’ve said it so much, but me and some of the other contestants prepared ourselves for anything. When you go and it’s day three and they say there’s going to be a Sudden Death Quickfire, it was like, yep, I figured. It wasn’t a surprise really, it was more like, ‘Oh, goddammit!’
Quickfires used to be about winning prizes. Now you and the other chefs are fighting for your lives every challenge. Do you ever reflect on earlier seasons and think, ‘Man, they had it easy’?
Exactly! Every minute.
Were you a fan of the show before you came onto Top Chef?
I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I watched Season One because I had time to watch TV. I was a line cook at the time. After that, I didn’t watch any other seasons because I dedicated myself to my restaurant. So, I went into this really blind.
The concession about not getting a lot of airtime during a particular challenge, at least for your fans, is that we know you’re not going to be in the bottom three. That being said, we never got to see what you made. Can you describe your tea-infused dish for the Quickfire?
The tea that I got was a chai masala. With that I made a chai masala rubbed sirloin and charred it with a spicy Thai masala and coconut sauce. I also made a roasted red pepper and cauliflower salad. It was really good.
Do you ever use tea in your cooking?
I do not. I don’t drink tea or like tea. I’m a coffee girl. So, when they announced the tea challenge, I was like, ‘Shit!’ But chai is one of the few teas that I drink—not a lot, just here and there—mostly in the cold weather. So I felt lucky.
I don’t think it was a giant surprise to see Aaron at the bottom again. But, like the other contestants, were you surprised by who he chose to go up against in the Sudden Death?
I was very surprised by who he picked. None of us expected that. It was definitely a twist. I thought he was going to choose Keriann or myself. I can’t speak for Keriann, but seeing her reaction on the episode last night, I think we were the most shocked out of everyone.
Do you think it was cowardly on his end to not challenge Keriann after telling her he could “cook her under the table”?
I don’t think so. I think that he was trying to put an end to the business that happened in the episode before and basically stop all the drama. I don’t think it was cowardly, I think he just picked the person next to him. It’s hard to understand unless you’re in that situation and asked to make a snap decision like that.
Well, why would you think he might choose you? It didn’t seem like you two had the same toxic relationship as him and Keriann.
No, we definitely didn’t have any issues. It was just the fact that we were a team. So, I just thought it could have been me or her.
I know it ended being the winning dish, but did Aaron’s pureed shrimp-roll-wrapped spring roll look as disgusting to you as it did to me?
I first saw it last night. From my vantage point in the kitchen I couldn’t see anything. Part of that is just because I’m really short. But seeing it last night, he definitely took a risk. It’s not something I would ever make because I’m not into that sort of molecular gastronomy. But hey, he served Ming Tsai a spring roll and he loved it. That’s kind of huge!
In the episode you said, “Fenway is everything to a Bostonian. I’m feeling like it’s Christmas fucking Eve.” I think I also saw some tears when you talked about cooking there. Can you describe your emotions behind cooking at Fenway Park?
Oh my god! And all those emotions came back last night when I was watching it on TV. Obviously, being from Boston and having grown up in Massachusetts, my whole family is diehard Red Sox fans. It’s just something that’s very close to my heart. Stepping foot in there and being one of the first to ever do something like that was huge for me. I have an uncle that passed away several years ago who was a huge Red Sox fan—he went to every game, lived behind Fenway. It brought back a lot that. I was really cooking for him, and I think he would have been so proud. I’m getting emotional just talking about it right now.
Regarding the challenge itself, were you comfortable with creating fine-dining concession food?
Because of the venue, it actually turned out to be something really, really special for me. It wasn’t even a competition anymore. It was just cooking. It was like going to a cooking event that benefitted a great cause. It was special all around, so it just came naturally. I seriously just grabbed whatever. I just didn’t want that damn cotton candy. God, I don’t even know what you would do with that.
You created a dish with seared sea scallops, pickled peanuts, and a peanut/sunchoke purée. What was the inspiration behind that?
I was just trying to be inspired by baseball. So, I wanted something earthy and something that would visually reminds you of baseball. You had the sunchoke immersion that was super earthy, a little sweet, and naturally rich. I picked scallops because they do have a little bit of that sea flavor, they’re sweet…and they kind of look like a baseball. I took it literally.
One last question, besides cooking there on Top Chef, what’s your favorite Fenway memory?
I’ve been to a lot of games and have loved every single one of them. But honestly, I went and saw Dropkick Murphys at Fenway one year. That was really my favorite Fenway memory. What’s more Boston than seeing Dropkick Murphys in Fenway Park.