SOBEWFF 2016: Stephanie Izard on Making It Big as a Young Woman

Stephanie Izard is not one to turn down a challenge. She opened her own restaurant when she was 27 years old and became the first woman to win Top Chef in 2008. She even earned a Best New Restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation for her fearless fare at Chicago's Girl & the Goat and a Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes. Food & Wine also deemed her one of the best new chefs in 2010. The 39-year-old is now preparing for the debut of her latest Chi-town concept, Chinese eatery Duck Duck Goat, which will open its doors to the public the first week of March. During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, she and Michelle Bernstein will host a dinner with whiskey pairings and some showcasing of Izard's Asian-inspired cuisine.

Miami New Times: What was the first dish you ever made?

Stephanie Izard: The first time I think I ever hopped in the kitchen and made something myself was after a trip down to Florida. We were in Orlando at Epcot in the [World Showcase]... When I was 8 in "France," I had these ham and mushroom crepes, and I just went home after the trip and kind of hopped in the kitchen and re-created them, and my parents were like, "What?"

In the years 2010 to 2013, you opened Girl & the Goat, were named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs, and garnered both a James Beard nomination and an award. What's it like to have all of that success in such a short time?

It was amazing. I think Chicago has definitely been a great home for me... We are in a great neighborhood where people just want to come here and eat, so I think that and the people who work with me help make the restaurant so amazing. It's been a fun ride, and we're opening another restaurant in five weeks, and we're just going to keep pushing and see what we can do.

Tell us about your new restaurant and where that Chinese influence came from.

At Little Goat, once a month, we'll pick a country and just kind of focus on that country. For the first one, two years ago in December, we did Chinese food, and we made more Americanized favorites, but it was tasty, and I got home from the dinner and brought my husband some leftovers. I was like, "Wow, this dish is so much better than the Chinese takeout that we always get that's greasy and, you know, like we don't know where that chicken came from." So I went to my partners a couple of weeks later and I was like, "Hey, I know I said I wasn't going to open any more restaurants, but do you guys want to open a Chinese restaurant?" We're going to be making I think ten or 12 kinds of dumplings, and they all have different fresh-made wrappers, and seven different kinds of noodles, so we're definitely pushing ourselves to make it as challenging as possible.

Do you think there are still challenges associated with being a woman in the industry?

I haven't broken this out yet, but I'm actually pregnant at the moment, and I know that people have been writing about that maybe the reason there aren't a lot of female chefs is because it's hard to have a baby and work in a kitchen at the same time, so I'm just going to test that little theory and see what happens. But we have a lot of women in our kitchen, and I think, being a woman chef, I hope to inspire them and make them comfortable and confident in the kitchen.

What inspires you?

Traveling is awesome, and I wish I got to do it more, but definitely some of our bigger adventures, like going to China and Taiwan, obviously is pivotal inspiration for the new restaurant. My days are never boring — there's always plenty of stuff going on — but I constantly am thinking of new things I want to try to do, and I want to push myself to do as much as possible and then retire early.

Can you give any inside details about your SOBEWFF dinner?

This year, I'm cooking with Michelle Bernstein, who's become one of my close friends in the culinary world and somebody I look up to. She's someone I admire for many reasons, and I just see her as someone very like-minded.

It's actually a whiskey-paired dinner, which is cool. We're both doing some hors d'oeuvres, and then I'm going to do a couple of courses, and Michelle is going to do an entrée and a dessert. But we're bringing a little bit of Chinese flair to our dishes. We're serving scallops with XO sauce. It's a Chinese condiment that's got a bunch of dried fish in it. We infuse it into a rich goat, and it's just this really deep flavor that'll go with the scallops and I think will taste really good with whiskey. Well, everything will taste good with whiskey.

Do you have an ultimate career goal?

I don't know. I look at other chefs, and I see all the things that they do, and my husband says, "Well, Stephanie, they're like 15 years older than you." And I forget that sometimes, so I just kind of want to keep going and pushing and keep everything I've done so far great and not let it slip when I start doing more things. There are so many opportunities that I don't know where the world is going to take me, but I want to try to do as much as I can.

Dinner hosted by Michelle Bernstein and Stephanie Izard. 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 25, at Cena by Michy, 6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $250. Visit sobefest.com.

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