Stephenie Park is heading into the final episodes of the Sunday night NBC reality series America's Next Great Restaurant, where she's espousing her fast-and-healthy concept, Compleat.
Turns out that the Chicago corporate attorney got her first taste of the kitchen life here in Philly.
Park, who has her law degree from Harvard, had just graduated from Penn in 2003 with a bachelor's in economics when she decided to join the Peace Corps. Since she would not leave till the fall, she decided to remain in Philly and get a temp job in the restaurant industry. "Initially, I asked to become a server," she told me. "But I didn't have serving experience. I told restaurants that. Apparently, you're supposed to lie about that."
Hence, no callbacks.
Until she reached Ellen Yin, owner of Old City's Fork.
Yin interviewed her, and quickly decided that Park would not become a server. She steered Park to Thien Ngo, at the time Fork's exec chef.
He said, `You have a good face,' " Park recalls, being flattered. "He also told me, `You don’t have any bad habits to break.' "
Park says she started shelling fava beans, and on her third or fourth day, she worked on the line, learning knife skills and how to sautee. "I made Korean pancakes ... 100 of them. He wouldn’t allow me to touch them with my fingers" -- only tongs and spatulas, she says.
Her restaurant concept was inspired by Chicago's cold. "There's something about having solid food on a cold day that feels satisfying, but it has to be healthful, too," she says.
Update: She was eliminated on the April 24 telecast.