Chicago’s still reigning “It” chef, the Evanston-born, Connecticut-bred Stephanie Izard, is an unlikely reality TV star— though she earned her fame when she became the first and only woman to win Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
Yes, she’s an incredibly creative chef who creates unusual and addictive flavor combinations that “make your whole mouth happy” (her unofficial slogan) but she also radiates “Midwestern nice”—not usually what TV producers are looking for. So it’s no surprise this down-to-earth girl-next-door seems most comfortable back in Chicago, where she runs her much-lauded, perpetually booked restaurant, Girl & the Goat, and is currently planning her new casual diner, “Little Goat,” which will open later this summer.
In addition to her “Top Chef” win, Stephanie was named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine, and the James Beard Foundation just announced Stephanie is up for Best Chef: Great Lakes, following up on last year’s Best New Restaurant nomination for Girl & the Goat. Yet, it seems she hasn’t let any of it go to her head.
“I’m all about having my restaurant do well, having fun with my cooks, and always remembering why I’m doing all this—because I like cooking and I love eating,” she says.
She even claims that the cuisine at Girl & the Goat isn’t beyond the scope of the home cook, and for her 2011 cookbook, “Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats and Drinks,” she tested the recipes in her modest apartment kitchen. “Most of what we cook at the restaurant you can do at home. It’s simple, slow food-driven and homey,” she says. “It’s about the flavor combinations and starting with fresh ingredients.”
On the rare occasions when she’s not working at her own restaurant, or planning the menu at Little Goat, you might find her at Avec, her favorite restaurant in Chicago. “I love the communal seating. I always end up sharing my truffled flatbread with the person next to me. You make new friends,” she says. “And I love Koren Grieveson, the chef.”
Just as she’s a fan of Grieveson, many people are fans of Stephanie—a thought that simply overwhelms her. “Having a book signing is something I never thought would happen to me,” she says. “Sometimes I just think, ‘Wow, life is strange.’ ”