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Chicagoist Re-Grills: Stephanie Izard

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Nov 14, 2008 10:21PM

2008_11_izard.jpgThe last time we checked in with Stephanie Izard, her life was on the cusp of some serious life change thanks to her winning Top Chef: Chicago. The combination of Izard's cooking skills, willingness to face any challenge and ebullient personality made her a viewer favorite and the first woman to win the competition.

Since then, Izard's been on a roll, criss-crossing the country doing "Top Chef" style cookoffs and demonstrations with other chefs, entertaining private cheffing offers and traveling, while slowly working on realizing the long-awaited follow-up to her former Bucktown space, Scylla. Izard's been making media rounds recently and we took it as a golden opportunity to catch up with her and see how she's faring in the midst of her fifteen minutes of fame.

Chicagoist: The last time we spoke was in that whirlwind wind-up to the Top Chef: Chicago finale; we now know how that turned out. What have you been working on since?

Stephanie Izard: I’ve mainly been busy traveling, making appearances and fulfilling some obligations to Food & Wine magazine.

C: Any updates on the new restaurant you’re planning to open, like a location?

SI: I’ve found a place slightly west of downtown that I’m not ready to announce formally yet because we haven’t closed on a lease. I’m not really a downtown kind of gal.

C: Have you managed to strike a balance between moving forward as a chef and meeting the demands of people who are mainly interested in you through Top Chef?

SI: I think I have. It is a challenge to get past Top Chef and move forward working on new projects, like the restaurant. I’ve also been working with my agent on developing other projects.

C: Sounds like you’re keeping busy. What are some of the other projects you’re working on?

SI: I’m working on a cookbook and pitching a cooking show to different networks. Since I have this opportunity it’s nice to try and create a little brand.

C: What’ll be the focus of the cookbook?

SI: I’m trying to gear it for the home cook. Ideally, I’d like to give home cooks the necessary tools for recreating the recipes at home without feeling like it’s a challenge. I’d like for the home cook to be able to understand why chefs add certain ingredients to their dishes and what those flavors bring to the dish.

C: So this would be the sort of the antithesis of the Alinea cookbook, then?

SI: I don’t think you could compare the two, although I think the Alinea book is absolutely beautiful to look at.

C: Has the current downturn in the economy affected the concept for your upcoming restaurant.

SI: Not at all. My plan for the new restaurant was for it to be fun, casual and affordable. This isn’t going to be a place where you’ll spend 4400 for dinner

C: Once you finalize the lease, when do you expect it to open?

SI: Well, the rest of this year is already shot. So a rough estimate would be next summer, I hope.

C: Besides a casual atmosphere and affordability,what else should we expect to see?

SI: I’d like the menu to focus on Mediterranean influences. The plan for the décor is for it to be funky, and I’d love to see a diverse beer and wine selection.

C: Sounds like you could be describing a gastropub.

SI: I would never call it that; we aren’t going to be serving burgers and fries

C: What kind of cooking show are you pitching?

SI: Since I love to travel, I’d like it to be a balance of travel and cooking demonstrations. Maybe show the viewer some local farms so they can see where the food is coming from. There’s certainly an audience for it.

C: Given your success and the way you came across on Top Chef, would Bravo hold the inside track to getting your show, if it was green lighted?

SI: Not at all. My agent and I have been talking with a few networks and we’re keeping our options open.

C: What else is in the works?

SI: I’m working with Three Floyds on a beer dinner.

C: Really?

SI: Yeah.

C: Can you tell us when and the location yet?

SI: I can’t yet, because we haven’t locked down the location. But it’s going to be amazing.