Stephanie Izard on Girl & the Goat, “Top Chef,” and more

STEPHANIE IZARD, INC.: In the two years since the curly-haired Chicago chef won a TV reality show, she has managed to turn her 15 minutes of fame into the launching pad for a celebrity brand. Her $1.5-million, 130-seat restaurant in the West Loop is racing to open next month. Will the crowds come?

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Official website

The Twitter feed pops up at 5:54 in the morning: “pretty sure the few people i saw recognize me at the gym this morn at 5:30am were like WTF, is she coming from the bar?” Izard hasn’t been sleeping well, so she’s been getting up even earlier than usual. (Usual being 6:30 a.m. three days a week to work out with a masters swim team and a personal trainer.) There’s a lot on her mind. An upcoming dinner for 100. Flying to Las Vegas to film an instructional video for the Top Chef producers. Leading a cooking demonstration in Yosemite National Park. Traveling to New York to film an appearance on Wake Up with Al, as in Al Roker, and to discuss a TV pilot. Her schedule has turned so hectic that, in late January, her business partners were trying to “ground” her, suggesting strongly that she stay in Chicago to focus on her restaurant menu and her forthcoming cookbook—yet another project she has in the works.

Thanks to her Twitter feed, Izard’s fans know exactly what she’s up to. They know that she has been having a hard time finding a place to have her curly mass of hair cut. They hear that she might need Glade PlugIns, as the smell of meat cooking in her home test kitchen in Bucktown has been getting out of control. Of course, there’s plenty she doesn’t write about—for example, how it’s becoming a drag to be in her 30s and single. And she keeps the updates pretty PG—in person, Izard likes to cuss.

To read her Twitter feed is to get to know her: a fun-loving, beer-swilling chef with a knack for self-deprecation and a habit of relying on her impulses to make decisions. She decided to attend the University of Michigan on a whim after visiting the stadium and hearing the fight song. After college, she didn’t want to return to Stamford, Connecticut, where she grew up. Instead, she headed to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona. She worked for Christopher Gross at Christophe’s Fermier Brasserie (“He was a screamer,” she says) before suddenly moving to Chicago, persuaded by one rowdy weekend visit with friends.

Izard had only worked at a few Chicago restaurants—Vong, Spring, and La Tache—before she decided to go out on her own. She was engineering the nightly seafood special at La Tache when a line cook suggested it. Emboldened, she quit a week later, determined to sink a small trust that her grandfather had left her into the project. “I was totally crazy,” she says. “No way I could do that again. I was on a weird adrenaline rush.”

Her father built the host stand, and the mother of her boyfriend at the time sewed the curtains and banquette covers. Though it had only 60 seats, Scylla charmed local critics and soon attracted national acclaim. In 2007, Bon Appetit named the scrappy spot one of the ten best small restaurants in the country.

Izard, meanwhile, had exhausted herself to the point where she was experiencing strange fainting spells. “I was paying all the bills, writing all the checks, doing payroll, all that sort of stuff. I would get there in the morning and call back the reservations, and I worked a station, so I cooked every day. It was too much.” Two and a half years after Scylla opened, Izard gathered her staff of 20 and told them that the restaurant had six more weeks of operation.

They threw a big party, which Izard and her friends still refer to as the Best Party Ever. They danced until 6 a.m., then Izard walked away.

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4 years ago
Posted by tdl1501

We're hoping to see my family this year for Christmas in Indy, via Chicago. We may end up living there so want to check it out. And visiting top restaurants, arts venues et al is on our menu. A Top Chef fan, I rooted for Stephanie Izard from the beginning and she even checked out my niche cooking blog. Right now I need to order an issue of Chicago Magazine and get a reservation at Girl and the Goat!

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