Chicago’s latest “It” chef, Evanston-born Stephanie Izard, is an unlikely reality TV star.
Yes, she’s an incredibly creative chef who creates unusual and addictive flavor combinations that “make your whole mouth happy,” 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 restaurant, Girl & the Goat, and tested the recipes for her first cookbook, “Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats, and Drinks,” in her modest apartment kitchen.
Make It Better sat down with Izard to talk about her favorite recipes, her favorite Chicago restaurant and more.
*GIVEAWAY: We’re giving away a signed copy of “Girl in the Kitchen”—to enter, comment on this story or become a fan of our Facebook page by midnight on Tuesday, December 6.*
If you could only recommend one recipe from the book, what would it be?
Well, my green bean casserole recipe is in there, because it’s my favorite thing at the holidays—it’s why I celebrate the holidays. Also, for this time of year in Chicago, the never-ending winter stew. It’s a beef stew, but it’s got pineapple and apples—fruits you might not expect. You can have it for dinner one night and over a baked potato the next night. There are also some simple ragus and a lot of side dishes for the holidays.
What recipe would you recommend for an ambitious cook?
Some of the entrees are more ambitious. There’s a seared halibut with a pork ragu and cilantro vinaigrette. There are a lot of different flavors going on; it’s great for people who have been cooking and want to try new flavors. And if you’re not an experienced cook, there are tips and tricks.
Do you really have a tiny kitchen, as the book suggests?
Yes, I did—4 burners, a little sink and a dishwasher that worked sometimes. This is my third apartment in 4 years. We did all the testing in my apartments. All the ingredients are from the grocery store or Whole Foods, and we used my home equipment, which is not fancy, believe me! Most of what we cook at the restaurant you can do at home. It’s simple, Slow Food-driven and homey. It’s about the flavor combinations and starting with fresh ingredients.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Avec. It is down the street from our restaurant and inspired our restaurant. They have great food—it’s shared plates—and I love the communal seating. I always end up sharing my truffled flatbread with the person next to me. You make new friends. And I love Koren [Grieveson], the chef.
You’re the only woman to have won Bravo’s “Top Chef,” your restaurant was nominated for a James Beard Award and named America’s Best New Restaurant by Saveur, you were named to Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs … and the list goes on. How do you stay so grounded?
Having a book signing is something I never thought would happen to me. I’m just sitting here in my hoodie, and I look like I haven’t slept in awhile, because I haven’t. 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—rather than letting any of it go to my head. Sometimes I just think, “Wow, life is strange.”