If you follow the food scene, or the television scene, or have ever been to Chicago, the name Stephanie Izard probably sounds familiar. The chef and restaurateur oversees three restaurants (Girl & the Goat, Little Goat and Duck Duck Goat), plus even more accolades, including being the first female winner of Top Chef, James Beard Award holder, and freshly crowned champion of Iron Chef Gauntlet.
She’s also a beer drinker, recently releasing a collaboration beer with Hammond, Indiana’s 18th Street Brewery. We gathered on the roof of her West Loop diner to crack a couple cans of the Fox & the Goat and chat about how her life as a chef, TV personality, and new mother has changed over the past year.
What’s it like starting a family and starting a restaurant at the same time?
It wasn’t planned that way, but it worked out really well. I was so busy opening a restaurant that I didn’t think about how uncomfortable I was with the baby. Being pregnant, people are like, “Oh, it’s so beautiful.” It’s really not. It’s kinda like a science experiment. That’s the way I experienced having a baby. At the same time, I had to wear these funny pants to work and put on my compression socks so I can stand all day. I had to think about those things and make sure I wasn’t overworking myself. I was trying to be aware, but at the same time it kept my mind off it. I also knew I would have to leave after two months.
When we opened Little Goat, I worked the line. I flipped pancakes for the first three months. At Duck Duck Goat, I tried to start off on the line. I worked between two guys on the woks when I was giantly pregnant. I realized it was really stupid and uncomfortable, so I just expedited. I knew that I was leaving after two months.
At this point, I trust the chefs that run my restaurant, but I needed to get to that point a Duck Duck Goat a little faster. It was even more challenging than being, ‘I showed them how to make that sandwich, so it should be great.’ I taught myself how to make dumplings and noodles and then taught sous chefs who had to teach everybody. It was conquering the trust issues I have with delegating. But it got to good point. At two months, I got off the line and was like, ‘I’m going to have a baby tomorrow. I’ll see you in a couple weeks.’
I’m just a really, really sore loser.”
How has being a mother changed your life as a chef?
Every parent has a different way of parenting. We made our way of parenting fit into the role of being chefs and restaurateurs. Ernie comes to the restaurants. Everyone at all three Goats gets excited when he comes around. They kind of think he’s their baby too. So, we’re happy to bring him into the restaurants.
He’s come to tastings. He’s one year old and he’s eaten duck tongue, scallops, tuna. He loves the crab rangoon at Duck Duck Goat, which I do too. He’s eaten goat belly. He’s just going to have a very different childhood. I don’t know if I want him to be a chef or anything, but growing up around so many different people – we just bring him in and pass him around – I think he’s got that whole germ thing done.
He comes on trips with me too. I definitely approach my trips differently. For Aspen Food & Wine, my husband’s coming, my nanny’s coming, Ernie’s coming and we’ll all do it together. When I take the one-day trips by myself it’s either I’m so tired that I’ll get room service and stay in my room and be super lame, or, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, I don’t have a baby tonight maybe I’ll go have two drink and then I’ll be so tired from that.’
Television has played a huge role in your career. What have those experiences been like for you?
Iron Chef came up last fall. I was in New York and it just came up in conversation that they were going to re-launch Iron Chef Gauntlet and they had reached out to see if I was interested. At first, I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing more competition TV.’ When I had gone back and done Top Chef Duels, I beat Kristen [Kish], which is good, but I didn’t do well in the end. I was beating myself up about it and Richard Blais was like, ‘Stephanie, you won already, just get over it.’
I’m just a really, really sore loser. I didn’t think I would want to do it, but since it was the re-launch of the brand and I love Iron Chef as a brand, so I decided to do it and it went well. Now, we’ll see what happens. I think it will be the stepping off point for me doing more TV.
It’s fun to let [being on TV] force you to try new things and experiment a little bit and have fun with it.”
How has being a chef on television changed how you approach being a chef in restaurants?
People that watch you on TV and come in, they either are completely surprised that you actually exist in restaurants. They’re like, ‘You work here?’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean, do I work here? Of course, I work here, it’s my restaurant.’ Or, there are others that are like, ‘Ugh, you weren’t there.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know, because I can’t be everywhere at once.’
It’s very interesting to hear people’s different perceptions of what chefs – especially ones that have been on TV – actually do all day. So, it’s important for me – even though I don’t need to cook on the line every night or have to expo – that I do those things, so I still feel part of the restaurants.
I went down [to Little Goat] this morning and there’s a new cook on griddle and I had not met him before. That does not happen very often, but I was like, ‘Who’s that dude?’ And I was showing him how to put the chocolate chips in the chocolate chip pancakes properly. It’s a terrible feeling that it’s going to get to a point where I might not know all the cooks. I hate that.
How is cooking on television different that cooking in a restaurant?
For me, when I cook on television, I make stuff that I make in the restaurants. On Iron Chef Gauntlet, I was basically waiting for them to have challenges that let me do something that I make in the restaurants that I think is cool. Like, ‘Oh, I think this would be the perfect time to make my silver needle noodles. This would be the perfect challenge to make some sev.’ I was trying to find ways to slip in things that I do regularly as opposed to making things that are totally different.
Although, I made duck tartare and chawanmushi for the first time. It’s fun to let it force you to try new things and experiment a little bit and have fun with it. Which, I guess, is what we do at the restaurants, but I just don’t have other chefs judging to my face. I’m sure they’re judging when they come eat here. But I don’t go up to people’s tables and am like, ‘How’s it going?’ And they’re like, ‘Actually, this is an 8 out of 10.’
The can’s my favorite. It’s so cute.”
At the end of the day when you’re done filming or cooking, what are you drinking?
We’ve been having people over to the house a lot and this is the beer that’s been my go-to for the summer. Last night, we went to Momotaro with some friends and we were drinking champagne. I drink a lot of bubbles. Bubbles or beer bubbles. I used to drink a lot of bourbon, but I’ve learned, now, with a child, less bourbon is probably better.
Tell me about this beer?
My husband Gary [Valentine] is really good friends with Drew Fox, who owns 18th Street Brewery. I think he and Drew both appreciate the beers that people are doing that are more chef-y, with fruits in them and things like that. We did a bunch of stuff like that with Haymarket. At the same time, Gary’s like, ‘You know, we just want something that goes well with the food at all the restaurants and is super, summertime crushable.’ You can drink a bunch of these and not get sick of it.
It’s not too overly hoppy. It’s well balanced and has Citra hops purposely, because I really like Citra hops. I’m not a huge hops person, but I like the citrus notes of Citra hops. Gary went to 18th Street and worked with Drew on the recipe. The first one that came out was good, but they’ve morphed the recipe a bit to make sure it’s shelf stable and all that jazz. Now, I think it’s in a bunch of places and it’s one of our best sellers. The can’s my favorite. It’s so cute.
With you being on the food side of things and Gary specializing in beer, how do you work together to incorporate beer into the restaurants?
It’s funny; a couple nights ago we did our first official event together, where they brought me and Gary here together. Gary was out here. Apparently he was standing on the bar and teaching all these people from Charles Schwab about beer and they were loving it, because he’s wearing his funny hat and funny outfit. He taught them about a few different beers and I was inside doing a food demo, and then they all swapped. I said to them, joking, and it’s cheesy, ‘But we just show that beer and food are meant to be paired together.’ That’s my little tagline.
He does the beer programs at all the restaurants and he always says that he’s keeping in mind things that I like and he wants it to go with the food. It’s not the same as creating the beer menu at some beer nerd bar. He’s not going to put something on that’s super high octane or that’s going to overpower the food. He’s not trying to show off his beer nerd skills or whatever. Beer pays a huge part of our menus. Within BOKA Group, our restaurants definitely are on more the beer side than some of the others, but at the same time knowing it’s restaurants.
What are your other favorite beers?
Anything from Ommegang I like. John Laffler [Off Color] makes some awesome beers and I like how he brings back cool old styles that are something I might not find. Scurry is really good. I like Sofie and Madam Rose from Goose Island. I like Perennial beers in general. Avery’s tangerine quad. Miller High Life – it’s what the brewers actually drink when they’re not drinking.
Do you have anything to say about this beer?
Gary: It’s a nuts and bolts beer. Part of the role of the beer program here is to not take away from all of the stuff Steph makes while still being balanced. There’s a reason there’s only one IPA on each menu. Here’s your IPA. This is designed to wash down 90% of the food items Steph prepares without taking away from the food characters or adding anything unique to it. It’s a simple nuts and bolds pale ale with a light dry hop. It’s neat, especially at Duck Duck Goat, it’s super fun because we’ve had four-tops come in and they’ll be there for an hour and they’ll drink a case of it. It’s an ale, but it goes down like High Life. Call it a day.
What other collaboration beers have you done in the past?
We did a few with Haymarket. The first was strawberry and fennel. Then we did a rhubarb beer, which was cool but every time you put a rhubarb stalk through the juicer you had to clean the juicer, because of all the strings. I wanted to do a beer that wasn’t a cider, but was made with apple. So it was half was apple cider from Seedling and half tart juiced apples and then they put part of it in a barrel. When it came out of the barrel it tasted like the best caramel apple ever.
Gary wanted one that we could put in a can and have this become our signature.
After everything that’s happened in the past year, how do you feel?
Are we taking naps now?
Good. I think I’m a strange person in that even with all the great things that are happening I still need to come in and do better every day. So, we’ll see. There are still other things I want to do, but at the same time I’m plotting my exit strategy. I have a one-year-old. Definitely by the time Ernie goes to college, I’m like ‘Peace out.’