- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Bismarck native Stephanie Cornelius comes from a family of doctors but, when medical school wasn’t what she hoped, she traded her stethoscope for a spatula.

Now Cornelius, 26, is making an appearance on CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup” reality television show and landed a gig as head chef of the recently opened Italian Eatery in Minneapolis.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1Zdg8f8 ) reports that Cornelius was working as executive chef at the Copper Hen in Minneapolis when “Restaurant Startup” contacted the restaurant about taking part in the show and she found herself on a flight to Los Angeles.

Earlier, Cornelius was a pre-med student at University of North Dakota but decided that wasn’t what she wanted. She applied to culinary school and moved to Minneapolis the next day.

“I was absolutely terrified,” she said of not knowing whether her medically inclined family would accept her choice.

Cornelius’ mother, Brenda Miller, said she and her husband are proud of their daughter. They had been more analytical thinkers rather than creative, compared to their daughter who Miller said “has that flair.”

“They definitely had my back,” Cornelius said of her family, most recently making the drive to eat at the new restaurant. “They came on opening night and cheered me on.”

Cornelius said she was obsessed with cooking shows growing up. She would sneak in episodes of Anthony Bourdain, though her parents didn’t want her watching him.

“(Emeril) was the coolest to me,” said Cornelius, adding Giada De Laurentiis was her female chef role model.

Being on “Restaurant Startup,” Cornelius experienced the other side of the TV screen, feeling like a celebrity chef for a day.

Miller said her daughter was a Food Network junkie from the time she was 12 or 13. She would watch a show then want to cook something and Miller would take her to the grocery store.

The first meal Cornelius cooked was mustard-crusted standing pork roast. Miller said they wandered through the store looking for ingredients. They had to order the meat from Butcher Block, and Cornelius insisted on fresh herbs.

From her grandmothers, Cornelius learned to make chicken and dumplings.

“I still make them for myself,” she said.

Cornelius said her favorite part of being a chef is looking out into the restaurant and seeing people eating and enjoying her food, hearing from them that what she made is like nothing they’ve ever tasted.

Cornelius most likes making traditional foods made from scratch with local fresh ingredients.

Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts trained her in classical French cooking but she also has a love for fresh Italian pasta, which is what led her to Italian Eatery.

“I was wanting to follow the type of food I’m most interested in,” she said.

Once out of schoo, Cornelius started as a line cook at Piccolo Restaurant then Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar and started working her way up. At Copper Hen, she worked with Midwestern comfort food served in large portions.

Cornelius chose to stay in Minneapolis because she says there are a lot of good restaurants and chefs.

“Being here is where I can definitely get better,” she said, otherwise she would likely be in Bismarck with her family.

At Italian Eatery, Cornelius makes braised octopus, wild boar meatballs and pasta made in house.

“It’s not a mom-and-pop spaghetti and meatballs-type place; we try to be a little unique,” she said, using ingredients that are not typically found in Italian dishes.

Cornelius went into “Restaurant Startup” thinking it would just be another stereotypical show but she said it was fun.

The shows concept involves hopeful restaurant owners and chefs who pitch a food or restaurant idea and celebrity chefs pick their favorites in which to invest. Those who are chosen move to the final round where they build and operate a pop-up restaurant to put their concept to the test.

For Copper Hen, Cornelius came up with and prepared food for a new menu featuring higher-end versions of the food in which the restaurant.

But you’ll have to tune in Feb. 3 to find out whether her ideas were chosen. Miller said most of the family, aunts, uncles and cousins included, will be gathered to watch the episode together.

Cornelius said her next step is to stay at Italian Eatery and help make it a successful restaurant. Though she’s not the type of person who likes to go on TV shows, what she gained from “Restaurant Startup” was confidence.

“Not many chefs experience anything like that; I can say I was a part of it,” she said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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