NYU Law student shares her ‘surreal experience’ on Bravo’s ‘Top Chef Amateurs’

Sharila Stewart, a third-year student at NYU Law School, talks about her experience competing in Bravo’s latest cooking competition, “Top Chef Amateurs.” 

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The latest installment in the Top Chef franchise sees amateur chefs competing for glory. NYU Law student Sharila Stewart was one of the show’s newest contestants. (Image courtesy of Sharila Stewart)

By Gabby Lozano, Dining Editor

What started as a hobby to escape the stress of graduate school led to the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Last October, third-year NYU Law student Sharila Stewart competed in Bravo’s latest reality cooking show, “Top Chef Amateurs,” a spinoff from “Top Chef”  featuring home cooks instead of professional chefs. The home cooks compete head-to-head in a series of challenges for a chance to win $5,000. Each contestant is paired with a previous “Top Chef” contestant to help them navigate the competition. 

Stewart’s ambitions fell short when she lost to her competitor Kolby Chandler in the eighth episode. Despite the loss, Stewart’s experience on the show motivated her to start a blog that documents her culinary journey and interests. Before she headed off to class, I had the opportunity to speak with Stewart  about her experience on the show and how she manages her passion for cooking with her classes. 

What inspired you to apply for a spot on the show?

I’ve been a “Top Chef” fan since I was little. Last summer … I was on Reddit and I saw that they were casting a spinoff for home cooks. It was 11 p.m. and I thought: “Why don’t I apply?” I wrote about myself and the next morning, I woke up and got an email from the producer. It was one of those things that I never expected.

Oh wow, that sounds incredible! Would you mind telling me about your experience on the show, especially the precautions given COVID-19? 

The show was filmed at the end of October 2020 into the beginning of November. I was flown out to Portland and driven directly to the hotel where the whole cast was quarantining and could not emerge for a week. Every day, someone would come to my door with a [COVID-19] test and we would have food dropped off to us. There wasn’t a lot of contact until the day of my shoot. 

Shooting the show was amazing. I had watched my mentor Eric Adjepong on the show and I admired what he did, bringing awareness of the African diaspora and storytelling through food. He taught me so much in the kitchen … it was an amazing experience and still feels surreal to be honest. 

What was the dish you made for the show?

I made a spiced chicken with rice and a ginger garlic sauce. I merged my southern spices that I use, like garlic powder, onion powder and paprika for the chicken. For the sauce, I was inspired by foods I’ve eaten through my husband’s culture. He’s part Ivorian and they have this sauce called dibi and it’s made with lamb, ginger, garlic, mustard and acid, so that’s what I did.

That sounds delicious. Speaking of cooking, where did your passion for food come from?

When I graduated [college], I was like: “Wait there’s no more dining halls!” So I had to cook for myself. I wanted to enjoy good food at home, so I started diving into cookbooks, blogs and YouTube videos. It became a hobby for me, something outside the stress of getting a master’s degree. It was an escape. 

How do you balance law school with your passion for cooking? I can imagine that it can get busy.

I try to fit it in when I can. I eat what I put on the blog. I do it a few times and then I post it up. When it comes to chef interviews, I just schedule it when I can and edit it as I go. I love it and I want to get both done. 

You can watch Stewart in action here

Contact Gabby Lozano at [email protected]