A sitdown with Stephanie Izard: Mimosas and laughs with Chicago’s favorite celebrity chef
The talent behind Girl and the Goat and Little Goat provides a glimpse of what it’s like to be the most approachable celebrity chef in town
By Darcy Horath
Taking a break is not something the former winner of TV’s Top Chef does often. She works, on average, 14 hours a day and still manages to swim laps every single morning, work on her second book (a collection of Girl & the Goat recipes and insight into the restaurant-opening process) and come out with a new line of rubs and marinades aptly named, The Flavor.
The night before, she had hosted a dinner party for a group of Russian businessmen. “They actually drank white Russians, who knew?” she jokes. The second floor of Little Goat is available for private parties, and twice a week this summer, the rooftop patio will be open to provide one of the best skyline views in the city. Izard will also be offering cooking classes, with one significant rule. “I don’t want to teach people how to sweat onions,” she says. “I want people to be able to learn while they drink, chat and have a good time.”
Izard laughed when I called her the “Queen of Randolph Street,” but since the opening of Girl & the Goat in 2010, she has become a West Loop staple. When she was looking for restaurant sites, she began in Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square — the “cool areas.” Then her partner suggested looking at the space on Randolph, and she immediately fell in love with it.
“I’m lucky to have gotten into the area as it was on the verge of blossoming, and since I live around here, I get really excited as more cool places open,” she says.
I ask if she is friendly with the other restaurants and chefs in the neighborhood.
“Yes, we all have good relationships with each other,” she admits. “The other day I sent a runner to borrow something from Next, and when he came back with a delicious little salmon snack, I thought, ‘Oh! I have to make them something!’ We have a lot of fun.”
Izard’s close relationships extend to her team as well. Recently, an employee was stressed about turning 27 because it meant he was closer to 30 than 20. When Stephanie told him, “Well, I’m closer to 40 than 30,” he replied, “Yeah, but you have a logo.” So she had a customized logo made for him to help ease him into the third decade.
Little Goat Bread, the coffee shop component of the diner, was recently named Best New Coffee Shop by popular vote in the TimeOut Chicago 2013 Eat Out Awards. Izard’s interest in coffee was epitomized by her recent trip to Colombia to visit a number of coffee farms that her partner, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, buys from. Although she got a little sore from the bumpy ride in an army regulation jeep they drove around in, she still fell in love with the country.
“All of the farms were so well-organized, and the workers all seemed to lead such happy lives,” she says. “It was amazing to see the environment the coffee beans are grown in.”
This fall, Izard will be getting married to craft-beer expert Gary Valentine at the Bridgeport Art Center. Valentine has already been working hard on the beer list. But don’t expect her to be donning an apron on the big day. She is leaving the catering in the capable hands of the “Boka Boys,” her Boka Group partners, chefs Paul Virant, Giuseppe Tentori and Chris Pandel.
“We basically just want to have a big, really fun party,” Izard says. “Our guests should walk in and have a drink and a snack in their hands.”
Favorite DQ Blizzard: Heath bar/cookie dough — “It’s a texture thing.”
Future goal: Rent out Six Flags Great America for the Goat team.
Favorite movie: Hard to pick one, but maybe Finding Nemo.
Favorite place to scuba dive: Anthony Key, Honduras
Favorite joke: “Knock, knock.” … “Who’s there?” … “Smell mop.” … You know the rest.
Superhero she would like to be: “Inspector Gadget, so I could reach stuff on the top shelves — and punch someone from across the room.”
Girl and the Goat is located at 809 W. Randolph in the West Loop.
Little Goat is located at 820 W. Randolph.