An Exit Interview with Carrie Mashaney
The Top Chef contender and Aragona chef talks about what it was like to compete on the show, and the meal she missed most while she was away from home.
For the last few months, one of our Thursday posts here at Nosh Pit has been dedicated to recapping the previous night’s Top Chef, in which our local girl Carrie Mashaney has been generally kicking ass in New Orleans. Last week, however, all that ended, as Mashaney was told to pack her knives and go. Cue sad trombone.
Let’s not feel too bad for Mashaney—she's got an impressive set of chops in the kitchen, her stunning new restaurant Aragona opened in December, she’s got a husband that not only makes her bed but helps her cook, and she’s one of the only women on Earth to successfully rock a pixie-pompadour haircut. I think she’s doing OK.
I spoke to her on the phone earlier today, under the watchful ear of Bravo’s PR team, about the show:
Have you been watching the season? Did you watch last night?
No, I did not. I haven’t watched it in like nine episodes, I’m not gonna lie! It’s weird, I know. I don’t have any TV, so I have to go out to watch it, and they kind of frown upon you going out in public to watch it, so I just, I watched a few episodes and then I was like, eh, that’s alright. I don’t need to watch it. I know what happens!
Do you think they do an accurate job editing, like you were appropriately represented?
Yeah, I knew they were going to play up the Iowa angle a bit by the questions they kept asking me, but yeah, I think they did great.
I think you benefitted from being a genuinely upbeat, optimistic person, and that definitely came across on the show. But were you ever just pissed and frustrated?
Oh sure, of course. When things don’t go your way, you don’t get a burner, you don’t get a pot, something breaks—it happens, of course.
Well you did a very good job of covering that. Other people were not so diplomatic.
Yeah, that’s true. You know, in all honesty, you get angry and you’re like, “Oh my god, they took my burner.” But in the grand scheme of the whole world, really? Does it really matter? I don’t know, it’s a TV show, right? It’s not the end all, be all.
Which challenge did you have the hardest time with?
Personally, I think the boucherie challenge was really difficult for me. It was the first challenge we had a very long time to prepare. It was five hours, and we were used to some shorter times, so I was like, “We have five hours!” And I just completely and totally overshot. I thought I’d totally have time to braise trotters, pick them, press them, fry them, no problem. But I should have pulled back just a little bit. I thought, “Five hours, that’s so long! I can get so much done in five hours.” But it didn’t work out that way.
It’s good to shoot big, right?
Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t a complete failure, because I ended up in the middle. But personally, for me, I was really disappointed. Like, why would I try to do that? For a process that takes days to do in a restaurant, and I thought I could do it in five hours. So it was kind of pure stupidity on my part. Luckily, I got away with it.
The middle is not a bad place to be. A lot of people have won Top Chef by skating through in the middle.
Exactly, hang out in the middle for a little bit.
I’m sure you were disappointed, but was part of you just glad it was over and you could get home?
There was this initial stinging, a really hard sting. And then you’re like, “Oh my god, I don’t have to do another challenge! I don’t have to go through all that worry, I don’t have to do all that again.” And then that doesn’t last very long, and then you’re really pissed again. And then you’re disappointed and like, “Why did I do that? Or why did that happen?” Just a whole range of emotions. But there is a moment when you realize you don’t have to worry, and stress out anymore, and there’s this moment of “Whew! It’s over!”
It sounds terrifying.
It’s absolutely terrifying. So that feeling that you don’t have to do that again, that’s reassuring.
And how are things going at Aragona?
Crazy, they’re good. We just closed a week, so we just opened back up yesterday. But yeah, it’s been really good. It’s been very crazy. A lot of ups and downs, you know? It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including Top Chef. This is way harder for me personally. This is my career—this is huge. Being on Top Chef is really great, but it’s a reality TV show, too, so it was more fun, more of an adventure for me. If I fail, it’s not the end all, it’s not like they’re paying me. It’s a fun experience and I’m really grateful for the opportunity, and it was fantastic, I’d do it again. But this is way different, this is my career. People are coming that know me. There’s a lot on the line for me.
What dishes on that menu are you proudest of?
You know, one of the dishes that surprised me that it was so popular is the tongue dish. It’s tongue en escabeche. The escabeche is usually fried and pickled, but we braise the tongue and then pickle it. Surprisingly it’s one of our most popular dishes. It’s served with currants and raisins, and it has this red wine marinade to it. It turned out to be quite popular. Also, one of the surprising dishes is the mar i muntanya, the chicken and squid dish. It means “sea and mountain,” so combining those [elements]. It’s been really popular, so that’s exciting.
I’ve heard you eat Paleo when you’re off duty, is that right?
Yeah, sometimes. We do a good bit, like 70 percent of the time probably. I love food, so when I go out I don’t limit myself at all. But my husband, he owns a Crossfit gym…and he has a lot of allergies, so it works out that way. I like it, it’s good, it’s healthy. There’s no way I’m 100 percent Paleo by any means, and there’s no way I’m ever going to say that. But I do like to put good things in my body.
Do you have a go-to dinner that you make at home, or does your husband do a lot of cooking at home?
We do about 50/50, I guess. We cook together a lot. It’s just us two, so it’s really easy. I would say one of our go-tos is just roast chicken, we just always have a roast chicken lying around. We try to keep it really simple at home. We cook breakfast a lot. We eat a lot of eggs. Roast chicken is probably our go-to, because you can have it with anything and everything, salads, whatever.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Seattle? I hate the term “favorite,” but do you have some place you go back to all the time?
You know, I eat sushi at Mashiko in West Seattle a lot. I’d say that’s one of the restaurants I go to a lot. I live in West Seattle, so it’s really easy, and it’s amazing, and it’s sustainable. I find myself there a lot. That’s the one thing, when I was on Top Chef, they always ask you, “What are you going to eat when you go home?” And I thought, it’s totally going to be sushi. I could always go for sushi.
What do you guys eat when you’re in that house? It looks like there’s no time for actual food and there’s just a lot of Philadelphia cream cheese.
Well, we all cook for ourselves. There’s time to cook, we just cook whatever, it’s pretty simple. We made tacos, everyone kind of pitches in and helps out if we make a big meal. We do a staff meal, there’s a lot of that actually. But usually we’re just grabbing breakfast and then we’re on the run.
Had you thought about what you’d make if you’d made it to the finale and got the chance to cook the meal of your lifetime?
I don’t know… a couple of times, but not really. I just kind of go with the flow, whatever I’m feeling. I tried not to overthink too much, just take it one day at a time, you know? I’m still developing my style as a cook, too, so I go with whatever feels right.