April 6, 2018
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The Girl & the Really Cool Career
SI

Eleven years since her star turn on Top Chef, Stephanie Izard just wants to celebrate, and inspire, women. 

When Girl & the Goat opened in 2010, I was a college junior living in a suburb of Chicago. My primary food group was Puffins cereal, and I had little interest in restaurants.

I had certainly never watched Top Chef, nor could I name any chefs. But as soon as I heard (probably from my cooler older sister) about Stephanie Izard and her restaurant—brash, female-lead, operating in the same up-and-coming neighborhood as Alinea—I felt strongly that I needed to go there and meet her. It was the “Girl” part of “Girl & the Goat” that appealed to me most. I hadn’t seen gender so blatantly represented in a restaurant before. Plus, Izard and I had the same curly brown hair, so I probably saw a little of myself in her, an unfamiliar feeling with a chef.

I made a reservation for months ahead. I took the 76-minute shuttle bus from Northwestern to the West Loop. With my cooler older sister, I ate goat empanadas and a deconstructed Fudgsicle and one bite of the roasted pig face she ordered—a terrifying concept for me at the time made palatable by maple syrup and a fried egg. This is a real-deal restaurant, I thought. I asked my server if I could meet Stephanie, and she walked me into the kitchen. I shyly said hello, feeling embarrassed that I had interrupted Izard, her hair pulled back as she commanded cooks on the line.

Eight years later, over tea on a snowy morning at Little Goat, her popular spin-off diner serving apple pancakes and bibimbap breakfast bowls, I recall this all to Izard. “We still get people who come up when I’m expediting and say, “Oh, my God, I loved you on Top Chef, and I’m like, ‘That was 11 years ago!’” she says, smiling wryly. She’s made time to meet, in between a doctor’s appointment and trip to New York to cook with Daniel Boulud, and she’s tired but focused. “When we first opened Girl & the Goat, I always tried not to give Top Chef credit for it. I didn’t want to think that was why the restaurant was the way it was.”

Izard’s tagline, the one that follows her everywhere, is that she was the first woman to ever win the Bravo program. “When she won, it was such a triumph for everyone on the show,” recalls judge Gail Simmons of the show’s fourth season, which debuted in March 2008. “Her season was so full of hotheads and big personalities, and she was quiet and stealth. She just killed it. It was a big deal then, and it continues to be a big deal.”

Izard adds that her favorite line from a customer who approaches her is “I loved your first restaurant, Scylla!” That’s the acclaimed Bucktown restaurant that Izard opened at age 27 before her star trun on Bravo. She worked so hard on it that she ended up hospitalized for exhaustion, so she closed it, took a break, and landed on television. Now she has three restaurants, an official Iron Chef crown, and two cookbooks—her second, Gather & Graze, out now. The Iron Chef designation is a dramatic life event, but Izard’s nonchalant about it, calling it simply “another job.” “She’s been able to win these shows, open multiple restaurants, and have a family—she’s done it better than anyone,” says Simmons. “She lays golden eggs, that girl.”

Izard at home in Chicago.

And yet Izard isn’t known for any specific cuisine. Her food crosses cultures and countries that she hasn’t even visited. In the book, she writes that when she’s looking for inspiration, she has her cooks call out a random country. “It would probably be more useful if I spin around a globe at this point,” she jokes. Duck Duck Goat, which she opened in 2016, carries the tagline “Reasonably authentic Chinese,” like she’s trying to get one step ahead of the cultural-appropriation debate through realism and humor.

“Obviously I can’t say, ‘This is what this is supposed to taste like,’” Izard says. “I try to just celebrate different flavors and make sure that we’re clear that we’re not trying to mimic something that exists already.” At Little Goat, she uses parathas to make breakfast burritos. Japanese okonomiyaki is printed on the menu next to “PRONOUNCED YUM!”

Izard’s first book, Girl in the Kitchen, focused on restaurant recipes; this one’s more casual. It reflects the kind of home cooking and entertaining she does with her husband and one-year-old son, Ernie. “On a Sunday morning, I’ll say, ‘I think I’m not going to work today. Let’s just invite people over and relax,’” she says. “We’ll text 30 people—well, I don’t know 30 people, let’s not pretend. We’ll text 15 people and they’ll come over and we’ll cook and hang out.”

Izard with her son, Ernie.

Izard’s happy to talk about being a mother to Ernie (and her dog, Burt), but she tenses up when I ask her if being a woman in the industry feels different right now, in the era of #MeToo. “I want to inspire women, and I want them to have the best opportunities and see that this is totally possible, but at the same time, I just want to be seen as a good chef, not necessarily a girl,” she says. “Like when I hear, ‘Are you the girl from Girl & The Goat?’ I’m not really sure. It depends on the day.”

She says she never really considered the impact of the name. “It was originally called the Drunken Goat, and then my friend painted a picture of a girl and a goat, and that’s just what it came to be,” she explains. “I didn’t necessarily pick the name because I’m a girl.” But the fact that it does advertise gender (leading to my initial attraction to the restaurant), and that that has served as a successful marketing tool, carries meaning, especially right now.

“When we first opened Girl & the Goat, I always tried not to give Top Chef credit for it.”

Izard’s next project, she teases, is opening a second location of Girl & the Goat outside of Chicago, but she won’t say where. (It’s definitely not New York.) With a television platform and nationwide fame, this kind of expansion makes sense. “I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of chef that has 50 restaurants around the country,” she says, shaking her head, like she’s exhausted and hardworking enough as it is. “But I do understand the desire to belong to another city.” I ask why she’s picked her most ambitious concept, the one that veers closest to fine dining and is probably the hardest to replicate.

“I think it’s the brand that’s recognizable in other cities,” she says. “It’s the name.”

Lead photo by Anthony Tahlier. Color photos by Lucy Hewett.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 head of cauliflower, quartered, any leaves and the core removed, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons Crunch Butter, at room temperature ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup Pickled Hungarian Hots and Bananas
  • 2 tablespoons cleaned and julienned preserved lemon peel
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon torn fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
  • Crunch Butter
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Pickled Hungarian Hots and Bananas
  • 2 cups champagne vinegar
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 3 banana peppers, seeded and sliced into thin rings
  • 3 Hungarian peppers, seeded and sliced into thin rings

When I was little, my mom would make roasted whole cauliflower with cheese sauce. It was the only way I’d eat cauliflower, even though it didn’t have much flavor. When I was trying to come up with a new take on a cauliflower dish, I started with something zesty and cheesy (a shout-out to mom): Parmesan. Then I needed something spicy, so in went some pickled peppers. After that, preserved lemon and a little mint for freshness. I wanted it to have some crunch, so I added butter with roasted garlic and panko. Cutting the cauliflower into slices instead of florets helps it cook evenly so that it’s perfectly tender all the way through.

    Crunch Butter

  1. In a small bowl, mash the butter with a fork until softened. Add the garlic, bread crumbs, and Parmesan and mix until fully incorporated. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Pickled Hungarian Hots and Bananas

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil. Put the peppers in a heatproof container with a fitted lid. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the peppers and let cool to room temperature, making sure the peppers are fully submerged in the liquid. When completely cool, cover the peppers and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Cauliflower

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the cauliflower and cook, or until caramelized, about 6 minutes. Season with the salt and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 more minutes. Stir in the crunch butter, letting it melt, then toss in ½ cup of the cheese, the pickled peppers, preserved lemon, ¼ cup of the mint, and ¼ cup of the pine nuts. Cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl and garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon each Parmesan, mint, and pine nuts.

Ingredients

  • Skewers
  • 1 ¼ pound 80% lean ground goat or pork
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • ½ tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, preferably Korean, or to taste
  • ¾ teaspoons ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • Canola oil (optional)
  • Minty Yogurt
  • Szechuan Chile Sauce
  • Fresh mint, to garnish szechuan sausage
  • Minty Yogurt
  • 2 cups plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Szechuan Chile Sauce
  • ⅓ cup broad bean paste, found in Asian markets or online
  • ⅓ cup fish sauce
  • ¾ malt vinegar
  • ¼ toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ cup chile oil
  • 3 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground Szechuan peppercorns

Before opening Duck Duck Goat, Gary and I headed to China with some fellow goats for two weeks in search of inspiration. The highlight for us was the Szechuan province, known for its crazy bold flavors, where we ate just about every noodle and dumpling that crossed our path. I particularly love Szechuan peppercorns, which are like fun little spice bombs—but instead of packing a ton of heat, they make your mouth go all tingly and numb. That’s what inspired this spicy sausage blend, which we usually make with goat meat, but it’s just as good with pork. Yes, you can buy a spicy Italian sausage from the store, but I strongly urge you to consider making your own instead. It’s super-easy to do (not scary) and you can use the leftovers to make a round of “This Little Piggy Went to China” breakfast sandwiches.

    Minty Yogurt

  1. Whisk together all the ingredients and store covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Szechuan Chile Sauce

  1. Whisk together all the ingredients. The sauce will keep, covered in the fridge, for up to 1 week.

Skewers

  1. In a food processor, combine the meat, shallot, garlic, ginger, salt, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns. Pulse until well combined. Turn the machine on and drizzle in 1 tablespoon of ice water and the rice wine until well mixed and the meat is emulsified. Transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days before cooking.
  2. Soak 24 bamboo skewers in cold water for 1 hour to help prevent scorching.
  3. Scoop the cold sausage into 24 portions. Form each into a 2-inchlong cylinder around the tip of a drained bamboo skewer. Return to the fridge for at least 1 hour before cooking. The sausage will hold its shape and grill up better if chilled.
  4. Heat a grill to medium-high heat.
  5. Arrange the sausage skewers around the outside of the grill, so the sticks are over the edge and do not burn. (If the grill grates are hot enough, the cooked meat will release cleanly without the need for oil; otherwise, lightly brush the grates with canola oil before placing the skewers on them.) Allow the meat to cook thoroughly before you attempt to move it; otherwise it will stick.
  6. Sear the first side for at least 6 minutes, then turn and cook again for 6 to 7 more minutes, until both sides have a dark crust.
  7. To serve, schmear a thick strip of mint yogurt sauce down one side of a platter. Put the meat end of each skewer in the yogurt. Drizzle with the chile sauce, and garnish with the mint. Serve hot.
Wookie Pies

Wookie Pies

12 sandwich cookies

Ingredients

  • Cookies
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Filling
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 ½ tablespoons malted milk powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoon buttermilk powder or milk powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ½ tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

These are my take on chocolate cookie whoopie pies. I first made them a long time ago (in a galaxy in the West Loop) for a May 4th Star Wars–themed party at Little Goat. (May the fourth be with you!) They don’t do a ton of tasty eating in the movies that I could use as inspiration, but my cooks and I managed to come up with fun dishes like Masa the Hut, Obi Naan, and Ewok Empanadas. Oh, and we served a green Yoda cocktail (which, you’ll notice, is a recipe that did not make it into this book). Anyway, whether or not you’re a total Star Wars nerd like me, these are still a chocolate lover’s dream: fluffy chocolate cake filled with creamy chocolate icing.

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Make the cookies:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium high speed until well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs, mixing well between additions.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, then ½ cup of the buttermilk. Scrape the bowl again and add half of the remaining flour mixture and the rest of the buttermilk before mixing in the last of the flour.
  5. Mix just until combined (it will be very thick).
  6. Detach the bowl from the mixer and scrape the bottom to make sure the batter is uniform.
  7. Portion the batter in 3-tablespoon scoops and put 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet tray. Bake until completely set but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Let cool completely on the sheet tray before transferring to a wire rack.

Make the filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter on medium-high speed until soft and smooth, 2 minutes. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, malted milk powder, buttermilk powder, and salt, and mix on low speed until combined. Drizzle in the milk and vanilla, and mix until completely combined.
  2. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl before whipping the ingredients on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Transfer the filling to a piping bag with a ½-inch tip.
  3. Lay half the cookies flat side up on a smooth surface. Pipe the filling onto the center of each cookie, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with a naked cookie, flat side down, and press down to squish the filling to the edge. Serve at room temperature. (Store wookies on a plate or baking sheet, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days.)

Sierra Tishgart

Sierra Tishgart‘s an entrepreneur and James Beard Award-winning journalist based in New York City. She previously worked as a senior editor at New York Magazine, where she was told repeatedly to stop pitching stories about ice cream.

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