Stephanie Izard may be best known as the first woman to win Top Chef, but she’s also an author, entrepreneur, and unapologetic caseophile. “I used to put 16 different varieties on my cheese plate until my food costs got out of hand,” she told us back in 2011. Izard clearly thrives on multitasking. The James Beard Award winner and owner of Chicago eateries Girl & the Goat and Little Goat is set to open Duck Duck Goat—with a menu specializing in foods from various regions of China—in spring of 2016. She’s also working on her next book. Dropping in late 2017, the tome will feature recipes from her restaurants, reimagined for “a home cooking, family-and-friends setting,” and pairing tips from her husband, beer consultant Gary Valentine. Izard pressed pause on her busy schedule to chat about her evolution as a restaurateur (and to confess about her late-night cheese-snacking habit).
ON CHEFS AND SOCIAL MEDIA
I think guests enjoy seeing food porn on Instagram—it’s a great way to fire up their appetites. It also enables chefs to share their processes and lets guests become a part of [the chefs’] world in ways that are separate from dining at their restaurants.
ON CHEESE CRAVINGS
Right now my desert-island cheese is MontAmoré
from Sartori— it’s simply delicious and good on anything. My latest go-to snack is to sneak Parmigiano
from the restaurants and make myself a quesadilla before bed. I’m sure the smell drives my husband crazy, since he’s not a cheese guy.
ON HIDDEN TALENTS
I’m an extremely fast skipper. I can really catch some air when I get going.
ON EVOLVING AS A RESTAURATEUR
I wanted to keep my kitchens from being too corporate&MDASH;mainly due to the fact that some of the larger ones I’d previously worked in just felt so impersonal. I didn’t worry about writing super-precise recipes or filing them. But I’ve learned that you need to have a structured system and a training program. You can still listen to music and have fun in the kitchen, but organization makes things more consistent and easier for your staff. I’ve learned that a little sprinkle of “corporate” isn’t a bad thing
ON (NOT) OPENING A CHEESE STORE
Whenever I’m in a cool little cheese shop, I get the urge to open my own place. But it’s such a tricky business model. To specialize in selling something that’s still alive requires so much love and care—it’s daunting. The other problem? I’d eat all the cheese.
ON SERVING GOAT
I hadn’t actually eaten goat before I opened Girl & the Goat, so I found a local farmer that I liked, and we began showcasing his goat on the menu. We order whole animals, then utilize all the parts. I’ve basically tried to do everything with it that’s traditionally done with pork, but goat is more challenging because it’s leaner meat and people are often intimidated about ordering it. The source is so important&MDASH;ours tastes very clean; it’s not gamy at all. I’ve had goat from other farms, and it had a very strong flavor.
ON CHINESE FOOD
When I was exploring China doing research for Duck Duck Goat, it really showed me that everything I thought was Chinese food at home [in America] wasn’t. Historically, when Chinese immigrants opened restaurants in the United States, they created a lot of the dishes for the American palate. I still find some of these Americanized versions tasty, such as General Tso’s chicken, but the highly spiced dishes that we had in China were the ones we enjoyed the most. I also love that in China the norm is family-style dining using a lazy Susan, with an assortment of food on the table. It’s my favorite way to eat.
ON HER LAST MEAL
I’d have French fries and toro.
Feature Photo Credit: Jonathan Robert Willis