Girl & the Goat Chef Stephanie Izard isn’t afraid to take risks. Going with her gut is what made her a 20-something restaurateur, TV personality, and now executive chef of a growing Goat concept. Her moxie and approachability have made her a natural fit for television, but her hearty, eclectic cuisine is best savored off-camera.
Izard's unassuming kickoff to culinary rising-stardom began with a sociology degree from the University of Michigan, but her heart bid her to cook, and she attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. She followed up school with time on the line at Christopher’s Fermier Brasserie in Phoenix, but choice Chicago kitchens, including 2008 Chicago Rising Star Shawn McClain’s Spring, drew her back to Chi-town.
At 27, Izard opened her first restaurant, Scylla, and in 2007, she earned a spot on Bravo's fourth season of “Top Chef,” sold her restaurant, and flew out to film the show—all in about the time it takes to win a Quickfire Challenge. As Top Chef Champion, Izard spent two years traveling and promoting her next project, Girl & the Goat, through a series of underground "Wandering Goat" dinners. Girl & the Goat opened in July 2010 and has since raked in accolades from top publications, among them Saveur, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. This year, she’s up for a James Beard award for Best New Restaurant, and she just won Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2011.
"In décor, cuisine, and overall spirit, Girl & the Goat is rustic with a bit of badass," says Izard, whose Goat concept will soon expand to include Little Goat. When she’s not on TV, in her kitchen, or garnering praise, Izard also supports the culinary charity Common Threads.
Interview with Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat - Chicago IL
Caroline Hatchett: What ingredient do you feel is underappreciated?
Stephanie Izard: Goat! We go through seven whole goats a week; we have goat belly specials, goat loin, goat T-bones medium rare. Any place that uses goat pretty much braises the whole animal. We braise, we smoke it, and we [do] goat sausage.
CH: What steps are you taking to become a sustainable restaurant?
SI: We work with local farms and local farming communities to use as many sustainable products as possible, including meat, seafood, and produce. During peak harvest season, 85 percent of our menu includes sustainably raised items from local farming communities. In the winter, we use all local game and poultry. The restaurant reduces its global impact by recycling and not using any bottled water. We have a Natura Water Filter that provides room-temperature water, cold water, and carbonated water served in reusable glass bottles. Currently, we are seeking out ways to reduce waste and continue to spread information about the importance of small family farms, especially those here in Illinois.
CH: What’s your role in the local culinary community? I know you’re on the board as an Executive Chef with Common Threads.
SI: I have worked with Common Threads for a while now in many different ways, including sitting on the board, participating in their events, teaching classes, and creating my own events that benefit Common Threads. This past Thanksgiving, my staff and I got together to make and serve a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal to the families of Common Threads. It was really great to see my staff support something that means so much to me.
CH: What other organizations are you involved with?
SI: Besides Common Threads, I am involved with many other charities including Meals on Wheels, Share Our Strength, United Cerebral Palsy, Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis, Chicago Food Depository Fundraisers, Pakistani Relief Efforts, as well as many others. I also work with charities that our local farmers have set up to benefit their farming communities and teach others the importance of local farming. One of my goals is to build my own foundation, which supports local farming and provides nutritious food to those in the city who cannot either afford healthy food or get to places that sell fresh items.
I guess I’m just using any sort of—I don’t want to use the word fame—but any sort of publicity to help out a lot of the local charities, such as SOS , Meals on Wheels, Common Threads, etc., raise money.
CH: Tell us a bit about Common Threads. What are those experiences like, working with kids?
SI: We taught a class on Southeast Asia. We passed around fish sauce. It was really funny; once [the kids] tasted it in food they understood. We use kitchens that have donated space; they don little chefs hats and aprons and use little knives.
CH: The kids have knives?
SI: They’re 8 to 13 year olds. We don't give them 10-inch chef knives or anything.
CH: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs? Do you hire with and without a culinary education?
SI: I think culinary school is great for people that are going to take it really seriously. I think some people go just because they think they're going to graduate and suddenly be a famous chef. For me, it was really helpful.
CH: Is there a new technique or something that’s on the menu that you’re particularly excited about?
SI: Our goat T-bone. Our sous vide beef tongue. It’s local beef tongue from Dietzler Farm; we sous vide it overnight, for 12 hours. We’re certified. We had to pay thousands of dollars. People are just figuring out how to go about it.
CH: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
SI: I always say work 18 hours a day, drink for four hours, and sleep for two.
CH: What goes into creating a dish?
SI: Travel all over the world; taste bold flavors.
CH: What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do in your job?
SI: I think the worst thing for me is having to let someone go; I think it's an awful feeling because I love my staff, but not everybody’s meant to be here. When it’s not a perfect fit, it just doesn't work out. That's the worst things about being a boss.
CH: If you had one thing you could do again or do over, what would it be?
SI: Every mistake I made or what seemed like a mistake is what got me where I am. Everything happens for a reason.
CH: What trends do you see emerging?
SI: Going local. So many chefs are doing that now. They’re getting the whole city to join in. There are more farms in the area and a lot of farms are starting to deliver in the area. We used to have to go to the Green City Market, but it didn't all fit in my Mini Cooper.