by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
February 26, 2009
We caught up with the refreshingly down-to-earth Stephanie Izard, Top Chef Season 4 winner, over a cup of tea at Dean & Deluca while she was in town. Explaining how her life has changed since the show, she still embodied the same endearing qualities that won her fan favorite. We got the scoop on some of her cravings in her home base, Chicago, her restaurant picks here in the City, and what’s next.
What are your three top cravings in Chicago?
Mmm (eyes widening), at Urban Belly they have this amazing fried rice that’s topped with pork belly — it’s SO GOOD! Chen’s is just my neighborhood Chinese dive but I love their crab Rangoon. Then there’s the quail egg-filled raviolis at Schwa — I’ve actually been caught licking the plate (she gestures holding a plate with both hands and licking it clean)!
What restaurants have you visited while in New York City?
We went to Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side and ate at Shopsin’s. What a crazy menu! Kenny, the chef owner, didn’t know who I was but when he found out, he started yelling at us about how much he hates Top Chef! And I was like “Wah!” We also went to that Japanese ramen place, Ippudo. Wow! The pork buns were great! I also tried Saigon Grill that has some good and inexpensive Vietnamese food.
You seem to have a penchant for Asian food. Where does that come from?
Right before joining Top Chef Season Four, I traveled to Southeast Asia, where I visited Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I just love the flavors; they’re so unique, especially fish sauce. I’d worked with Asian food before, but my experiences there gave me a new appreciation. I definitely want to work more with Asian ingredients.
What has life been like since you won Top Chef?
During the competition, you’re so immersed, you don’t really have time to think about things. It all happens so quickly. Since I won, it’s been non-stop. I knew that I was the winner about a month before it was announced, but I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my mom. Since the day after the last episode aired, my life has changed completely. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I woke up that morning and all of a sudden I have 25 interviews, an agent, manager, a podcast series and more. It’s all been very surreal.
How have you changed since being on Top Chef?
I’m very shy, so my mother was concerned when I first told her that I was going to be on the show. But I think the show has helped me grow. I’ve learned that I can be myself and that people like who I am. It helped me build self-confidence. I was really caught off guard at first when people on the streets recognized me. I felt like one of those fake famous people, being from a reality TV show. I didn’t really think about how people would constantly be judging me, but (smiling) I’m more comfortable with it now.
What are some new projects you’re working on?
I have a podcast series called “The Tasty Life” that’s launching on my website, endless interviews, and I’m working on hosting my own TV show. I think this is a good opportunity to bring in a fresh new personality. I don’t want to be just this super happy person standing behind the counter. I want to promote the local food movement and stay true to myself. Oh, and of course, there’s my new restaurant.
Tell us about your new restaurant in Chicago.
It’s called The Drunken Goat. It was a way of naming the restaurant after myself and not having to use “Stephanie.” My last name, Izard, is French for a type of Pyrenees mountain goat, and when I asked Antonia (from the show, who continues to be a close friend) for a word that best described me, she said “drunken.” (Eyes lighting up) My partners and I are still looking at spaces for the restaurant, but I think we are close. The plan is to open this fall.