SCA, Specialty Desserts & Breads Graduate Competes on Top Chef 10-2
Aragona’s Carrie Mashaney vies for ‘Top’ honors
By Rebekah Denn
Special to The Seattle Times
Top Chef fans are hoping for a little more Seattle this year, even though the show is set in New Orleans.
Last year’s “Top Chef: Seattle” had no local stars to cheer for — and, in some cases, little local flavor. On the new “Top Chef: New Orleans” season, premiering Wednesday, Carrie Mashaney will be representing the city. A rising star, Mashaney will be the opening chef of Jason Stratton’s upcoming downtown Spanish restaurant, Aragona. She was most recently chef de cuisine at Spinasse.
Mashaney’s long résumé includes attending Seattle Central Community College’s Baking and Pastry program, apprenticing at a patisserie in France, taking a front-of-the-house job at The Hunt Club and working in the kitchen at Beato, DeLaurenti and Dinette.
She met Stratton when both worked at the prestigious Cafe Juanita, where she started out as a pastry chef and then switched back to the savory side. She came to Spinasse to work with national “Best New Chef” winner Stratton in 2009.
She describes her cooking style as simple, with a focus on technique. “I love roast chicken. That’s a staple in my house,” she said. In Bravo TV’s official bio, she said she most enjoys cooking Mexican, Vietnamese and Caribbean cuisines at home, and that in her free time, she participates in CrossFit with “a personal record of 49 double under jump ropes.”
We spoke by phone earlier this week, when she was still not sure whether she was going to brave watching herself on the big screen. Here’s an edited, condensed version of our conversation:
Q: What made you want to try out for “Top Chef”?
A: Jason had encouraged me to try out. Honestly, that’s the big reason why I did … I was so fearful about it. Jason had been egging me on for a couple of years now, he tried out a couple times as well, and I think I … had decided I was ready in my life for some reason to do this.
I was thinking, if I’m so scared of something, maybe I should just do it, and then it should be a great experience. I just have to dive in and try something new. It was a perfect opportunity time-wise for me, because we were opening Aragona, so I had hired someone already to take my position here [at Spinasse.]
Q: Were you able to tell your family and your co-workers what you were doing?
A: Jason signed a waiver, so he did know. I wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to be gone for this amount of time and I’m not going to tell you.’ And my husband knew, of course. I had to stay pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing … I told everyone I was going to Spain. It wasn’t so much of a stretch — I did go to Spain for two weeks with Jason in January.
Q: How did you prepare for the tryouts?
A: I just tried to be myself, I didn’t do anything too crazy … if you’re acting, I think people can see through that, if you’re not an actress. I just have to be true to who I am.
I try not to be too over the top, though I can be a little sassy at times for sure … I’m pretty relaxed, [but] pretty bossy at times, so maybe that came through. I think naturally everyone on the show is probably bossy.
I try to have fun and not take everything too seriously, because our work is serious and we are really focused on it, and sometimes it’s nice to have fun and to remember we’re cooking food, it’s fun, people are eating, people are happy, no one is dying, so we can calm down for a second. If someone doesn’t get their rib-eye it’s not the end of the world.
Q: Was the show like what you expected?
A: I had no idea what I was going into. I knew it was going to be really, really, hard, and it was as hard as I thought it was going to be. I didn’t expect to be as nervous as I was! I thought it would be fun, and you’re in it and … I was not prepared for the intensity of the nervousness.
Q: Did it change your way of cooking at all?
A: The situations that you’re put in aren’t that realistic for cooking in the kitchen. I don’t think I would ever be put in those situations again. (Editor’s note: Outtakes from the first episode have Mashaney cooking in a swamp with no stove or gear.)
I’ve been developing the menu here at Aragona, so I haven’t been in a real stressful capacity lately on the line cooking. So who knows — maybe once I get back in the groove of things, I’ll be better able to deal with stressful situations. That would be awesome.
Q: What made you switch from being a pastry chef back to savory cooking?
A: I realized, once I got in the kitchen, that all these wonderful cooks were doing so much around me. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do everything. I want to do it all.’
Q: What should people expect to find at Aragona when it opens, and are there any dishes that are especially close to your heart?
A: I hope they find good food! I hope that they’re surprised by our interpretation of Spanish cuisine.
There are a couple of dishes that are really close to my heart. We hired a pastry chef, (but) Jason wanted me to figure out how to make these little Spanish pastries called xuxos.
I did them for this pop-up picnic thing at Cal Anderson Park. It took me about four months to figure out the recipe. They’re very dear to my heart because I worked so hard on them — I’m not always like that. If something doesn’t work out I’m on to the next thing. This one I tried it over and over until I got it perfect, this pastry filled with vanilla cream and deep-fried. We were tossing ours in a truffle sugar.
Q: What got you into cooking in the first place?
A: My mom cooked growing up, and she had a restaurant for a short stint of my childhood … she had always loved it, and it was something we did together. It was something I just fell in love with her.
Q: Your mom passed away. What would she have thought of the “Top Chef” show?
A: When all my family found out on Facebook, they were like, “Oh, my God. Your mom would be flipping out right now.” I think she would be super proud of me.
Rebekah Denn writes about food at seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat