Top Chef Winner/Artisanal Chef
I love my pop culture as much as I love my high culture. I also love great food, so when pop culture and great food collide, it’s a magical thing.
I’m a big fan of that wonderful melding of food and pop culture — Bravo’s Top Chef (despite the fact that when I got the Top Chef cookbook I needed to google a bunch of the ingredients that were obscure to me…salad burnet? char siu barbecue sauce?)
Anyway, I’m thrilled that Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season 4 and a highly accomplished chef/restauranteur, gives Mom Culture insight about her experiences on the show and as a chef who makes food a high art.
We get a sneak peak at her gorgeous new restaurant, which is set to open this spring in Chicago’s West Loop — you’ll see renderings of the interior below. I had a chance to take a peak at it under construction when I was in Chicago a few weeks ago. The restaurant is going to have a lot of character and feature an open kitchen to watch Stephanie and her crew in action. To me, the open kitchen is a sign of a true professional…I don’t think I’d want anyone to even watch me boil water.
Stephanie and I also sat down over a wheatgrass shot to talk about what she’s up to while awaiting the restaurant’s opening (she’s working on a cookbook due out Fall 2011, but you can hear more about that from her in the video below.) And she divulged that there may be an issue with the name of the restaurant — currently called Girl & the Goat, that name may have to change, but for now it’s what she’s calling it.
I’m already planning my trip to Chicago to get a taste of her art! In the meantime, throw your own dinner party using Stephanie’s recipes below (she says the caramel is ridiculously tasty.)
(check mom culture’s blog for this week’s item-in-the-art-closet)
You graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. Where were you working/what kind of food did you specialize in before Top Chef? And how long had you been a professional chef prior to winning Top Chef?
I have always cooked all sorts of foods, but lean towards spanish, italian and asian flavors most often. I was cooking professionally for about 10 years before top chef including being chef/owner of Scylla restaurant in Chicago for 3 years. (Stephanie opened Scylla at age 27 and sold it a few years ago)
How did you decide to audition for Top Chef? And what do you think it was that set you apart from the thousands of other who auditioned?
I was approached by the producers to come out and interview for a spot. They are always searching for strong female chefs and the fact that I was a young female chef who owned her own restaurant that had been praised locally and nationally was exactly what they were looking for.
I like to stick with relatively rustic plating, but by adding a bit of green or a drizzle of a pretty sauce you can make the colors pop. Just never garnish with something inedible, and never something that is there for the sole reason of looking pretty. It should have a taste that fits the dish.
What’s the most surprising thing about Top Chef that we viewers at home don’t see?
I guess how much fun all of the chefs have just living together and going through the experience together. Not sure you can tell from watching just how close we all become.
What happened after you won Top Chef? What new doors and possibilities did it open?
Life changed dramatically. I now have been able to travel all over the country doing appearances and food festivals, and have been able to meet so many great people. I also was able to sell my first cook book to Chronicle books, and am working towards a tv show of my own. Of course the most important thing to me is that my new restaurant is opening and I was able to find great partners.
In Spring, you’re opening your second restaurant in Chicago, Girl & the Goat. What kind of food and atmosphere will you create there?
I am very excited about the new place which is going to be fun and casual with great food, domestic craft beer list, global boutique wine list, and a beautiful, yet rustic, atmosphere. (check Stephanie’s blog for updates)
What kinds of things have changed cooking the most in the recent past?
I think chefs are very focused on supporting local farmers and products. We now are able to work closely with farmers to have them grow the veggies we are looking for, and are getting in meats from animals raised locally. It is great because we know exactly where all of the food is coming from.
What are the must-have’s in any kitchen?
Great olive oil, vinegars, salt and pepper. Then you start with fresh ingredients and you can make amazing food.
Which chefs do you most admire?
I have always been a fan of Mario Batali. Great food, very successful, and very respected.
As parents, we don’t always have time to create lavish meals for dinner parties. Can you give us a relatively easy, but impressive, recipe for a dinner party?
* (See recipes below, after the proust questionnaire and video…keep in mind that a winning Chef’s idea of “easy” may not be yours, but these do seem like do-able, exciting and definitely delicious recipes)
As a kid, were you interested in cooking? Did your parents let you help in the kitchen?
I started in the kitchen when I was 8. My mom always let me help plan dinner and cook with her. Each week we sat down and went through recipes and planned the week’s menu, then we’d go shop for ingredients together. We were lucky to eat food from all over the world throughout my childhood.
Proust Questionnaire for Stephanie Izard:
My favorite snack is: anything with ranch
Don’t ask me to: fold my laundry
I would put into a time capsule my: yoda stuffed animal
My favorite place is: anywhere with fun people, tasty drinks and great food
When I have a creative block I: wander through the market
My favorite mantra is: work hard, play hard
Pan Roasted NY Strip Steaks with Sautéed Cucumber and Salted Goat Caramel
Makes: 4 servings
Salted Goat Caramel
1 quart goat milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in about
1/2 teaspoon warm water
1 tablespoon fish sauce*
1 teaspoon sambal**
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a thick-bottomed sauce pot, combine milk and sugar. Bring slowly to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Whisk in baking soda mixture. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer, stirring often with whisk until mixture reduces and begins to thicken and turn a light caramel color, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
3. As caramel begins to darken, reduce heat and continue to stir constantly withwhisk , making sure caramel does not burn and stick to the bottom of the pot. Continue to cook and whisk constantly, about another 20 minutes, until caramel darkens and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Mixture will have reduced to about ½ cup when finished.
4. Strain caramel through mesh sieve into a small pot. Add in fish sauce, sambal,soy sauce, mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Caramel can be made ahead, up to three days, and reheated when ready to serve.
*Three Crabs Brand® fish sauce is the preferred brand.
**Sambal is a chilli based sauce generally used as a condiment. It is typically made from a variety of peppers and can be extremely spicy. They are popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and Sri Lanka. They are available at exotic food markets or gourmet departments in supermarkets.
1 12-inch English cucumber, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil
1. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat. Add in oil then cucumber and cook until cucumber just begins to soften, about 3 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, add in basil. (Cucumber can be cooked just before beef and kept at room temperature.)
Pan Roasted New York Strip Steaks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon sambal
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 New York Strip steaks, about 6 to 8 ounces each
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Whisk together oil, honey, sambal, soy sauce, mustard and garlic. Place beef in non-reactive bowl or pan and pour marinade on beef. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour, turning beef over after half an hour to be sure all sides get even marinating.
2. Heat large sauté pan over high heat. Add in canola oil. Rub off any excess marinade and season steaks lightly with salt and pepper. Add beef into pan and let brown on first side, about 3 to 5 minutes or more depending on the thickness of the steak. Flip beef and add in butter. Baste butter over top of steaks as it melts. Reduce heat to medium high and continue to cook about another 5 minutes or until beef reaches desired doneness. (Beef will continue to cook when it is removed from pan.) Let meat rest about 5 minutes before slicing.
3. Serve sliced, topped with caramel and cucumber.
Steamed Mussel and Fennel Escabeche with Cilantro Vin
Makes: 4 appetizer portions
Escabeche is spelled and pronounced differently depending on which country you are in, but whether it’s referring to Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Spanish or Provencal cuisine it’s generally referring to an acidic marinade. This recipe makes a perfect addition to oilier fish like mackerel or served on nice plump mussels where the acidity helps balance the dish.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and bearded
salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup white wine
2 sprigs thyme
In a large saucepot with a cover, heat olive oil over medium high heat; add onion and garlic and sauté for two minutes or until onion begins to become translucent.
Add mussels, stir to coat, and season with salt and pepper.
Add wine and thyme, cover and let steam until the shells just open, about three to five minutes, depending on the size of the mussels.
Once cool, pull mussels from shells, discarding shells; set mussels aside.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red pepper, julienned
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
1 serrano chile, seeds removed and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine1 teaspoon sugarsalt and pepper, to taste
1. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat; add the pepper, onion, fennel, chile and garlic and sauté, without browning, until tender, about three minutes.
2. Stir in vinegar, white wine, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another minute or until almost all of the liquid is evaporated. Pour the mixture over the mussels, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour and no more than overnight.
1 egg yolk (you can buy pasteurized eggs if you want)
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 1/4 cup blended or grape seed oil
2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cups tightly packed cilantro, some stem is ok
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to tastepepper, to taste
1. Put yolk, vinegar, mustard and garlic in blender or food processor. While blender is on low speed, slowly drizzle in oil. Add in honey, cilantro, sriracha and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: Recipe yields 1 2/3 cup; use leftovers on salads, fish or as a dip for cut-up vegetables.
6-inch baguette, cut into 12 1/2-inch slices, on bias
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt, to taste
3 large basil leaves, sliced into thin strips
Preheat oven to 375.
Brush baguette slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place on cookie sheet and bake until just toasted, about 8 minutes. While bread is baking, pull the escabeche from the refrigerator to bring up to room temperature.
Once bread slices are toasted, place three on each plate and top with a ¼ of mussel escabeche; garnish with basil threads and serve with Cilantro Vin in a small bowl on the side.
Tip of the trade: Bearding mussels
Before cooking mussels, they have to be soaked, “bearded” (meaning you have to remove what’s technically called the byssal threads), and then cleaned. First, soak the mussels in clean water for about 15 minutes to loosen any sand stowaways. Next, grab hold of the beard (using a dry towel or even tweezers helps keep your grip on the slippery shell) and give it a yank, pulling toward the hinged end of the mussel. (Pulling toward the opening end can kill the mussel.) Lastly, clean the shells and edge with an abrasive scrub pad under running water. Now you’re ready to cook. To save some time, you can also buy your mussels already cleaned.