The Chicago Diet

Cheese-Obsessed Chef Stephanie Izard Wants to Start Packing Her Own Plane Snacks

Stephanie Izard helps make chicken tacos at Common Threads.
Stephanie Izard helps make chicken tacos at Common Threads. Photo: Thomas Blue

Before she skyrocketed to global celebrity-chef status as winner of Top Chef Season Four, Stephanie Izard was a Chicago superstar in her own right. In her pre-Bravo days, she got the city’s attention for regular feats of seafood magic at Scylla, her erstwhile Bucktown restaurant. Though she’s often out of town in a publicity whirlwind — Aspen one day, then San Francisco, then Orlando — Izard’s focus stays close to home: plans for her long-await Top Chef followup, West Loop charcuterie-and-wine mecca The Drunken Goat, are well underway. Izard has said that she wants her new restaurant to be “a place that I want to hang out all the time.” Since the Goat won’t open till January, see where Izard’s been eating this week in our inaugural edition of the Chicago Diet.

Monday, July 6
I skipped breakfast, because I was cooking with kids at the Common Threads summer camp. We made fresh flour tortillas — it was my first time making them — and with that we made chicken soft tacos and topped it with an avocado yogurt. Again the Greek yogurt, but here we smashed some avocado and some lemon juice in it, kind of a healthy way to do tacos at home. Then we made that classic Mexican street corn where it’s grilled and rolled in a spicy mayonnaise and some cheese. And we made a strawberry and pineapple agua fresca — a little nonalcoholic beverage for the kids.

At night I went to another chef friend’s roof and he did Korean barbecue. We had somen noodles, or at least a Korean noodle similar to somen, with a bunch of different kimchee, glazed short ribs which he grilled, and he grilled some spicy chicken wings. It was delicious. We were drinking Kirin all night.

Tuesday, July 7
I had to wake up at 4 a.m. for a flight to New York. It was a one-day trip, in and out. I didn’t eat that much exciting while I was there - I had lunch at the Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District, I had a salad and some coffee.

At the airport on the way home I got a fruit smoothie. I get all nervous at the airport, everyone’s all gathered outside McDonald’s and it grosses me out, so I shoot for whatever healthy thing I can find, which is not a lot. I need to start packing lunches for my trips — I travel so much right now it’s ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 8
I had breakfast at Caffe de Luca which I live right near. I like to call their coffee crack, I have two sips and start shaking. But I’m completely addicted. I had an egg white omelet with spinach and cheese.

I threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game, so I basically spent the rest of the day drinking. My friend roger owns Socca up on Clark and School, and we went there after the game and continued drinking. He made a bunch of his pizzas which are delicious. He’s got this great pizza oven and makes these nice, thin Italian-style pizzas.

Later I went to Rootstock, which is my new favorite. I had the fried smelt — the chef, Mark, is doing a garlic aioli that’s topped with a chimichurri, so it’s two sauces in one ramekin, which is brilliant. And then a cheese plate, because I basically have to eat cheese with every meal.

Thursday, July 9
I got up really early Thursday morning because I had to fly to San Francisco. It was so early that I don’t remember what I had at the airport.

When I got to San Francisco we went to Heaven’s Dog, which is the new place from the guy from Slanted Door. We had pork belly buns and salt-and-pepper calamari, those were the highlights. If I see pork belly, I have to get it, wherever I go.

Friday, July 10
I had lunch in the Mission at a vegan restaurant, which was cool because i had to cook a vegan dinner the next day so it was kind of a palate warm-up. We had tofu spring rolls and beet burgers, veggie burgers made out of ground beets. It’s mushy and red like raw meat — the texture is close, but it doesn’t taste exactly right. Jury’s still out on that one.

On the plane back to Chicago, I ate a turkey, avocado, and cheese sandwich on whole wheat with mayo and mustard that I’d bought at the airport near my terminal, and a couple glasses of wine to knock me out.

Saturday, July 11
My new sous chef Dave Gollan and I went to the Green City Market to shop for a charity dinner I was doing through Bravo for a bunch of nondrinking vegans. First course was kohlrabi salad with crispy spring onions and pistachio butter, just some pistachio and miso and soy and honey, it’s really delicious. Then we had some soba noodles with purple cauliflower, some wild strawberries, and a miso mushroom broth. This place at the market was selling fresh tofu, so we did crisp tofu that we fried in chickpea flower with tempura squash blossoms, summer squash, and a fermented black bean sauce. And then for dessert I made a coconut milk risotto: I mixed in some honey powder while I was making it, and caramelized some more honey powder on top. I topped it with pineapple sautéed with a little red pepper flake and some fresh basil from the market.

Late that night I went to Bluebird - I love Bluebird. It’s one of those places, that an the bristol, where you run into all the chefs and restaurateurs there. I saw Greg Hall from Goose Island, all the guys from Hot Chocolate, the owners of Rootstock. It’s a real chefy place. We had some tasty beers and the meat and cheese plate, which is really all you need.

Sunday, July 12
I woke up this morning with a receipt from Taco Bell in my pocket and some change, and I was like “oh my God, did we go to Taco Bell last night?” I’ve been talking about this thing I want to do at The Drunken Goat which is a braised goat on crispy dough, and I keep explaining the crispy dough like what Taco Bell uses for their gorditas. So all I can imagine is that we were talking about it and we had to go try one. So I may have eaten Taco Bell very late last night, but that is not a proven fact. Either that or I hijacked someone who had eaten at Taco Bell and stole his receipt.

I had brunch at The Bristol, where I ran into Rick Bayless which was cool, ‘cause I haven’t seen him since I ran into him doing some Top Chef stuff. It was cool to see him and to talk about how hard the show was. He was like “It’s crazy, it’s not anything like the reality of being a chef” and I was like “Yeah, seriously.” I had the pork chilaquiles and i got the cheese plate. They have this thing where you get a bloody mary, a side of beer, and a big skewer of salami and cheese and caperberries and olives, so I figured we might as well try that too.

The Chicago Diet: Stephanie Izard