Stephanie Izard Celebrates The First Anniversary Of LA's Girl & The Goat - Exclusive Interview

It may be a global "All Stars" event, but Stephanie Izard told Tasting Table that you won't see the first female victor of "Top Chef" in its upcoming Season 20. Perhaps competing — like the days when Izard used to party hard and overnight in her restaurants — has given way to gentler routines. Don't get her wrong; Izard still loves to dance. She and her Girl & the Goat LA team had a karaoke party to celebrate their one-year anniversary earlier this year.

Despite delaying its opening due to COVID-19, the chef's LA joint is thriving. Michelin recently added the establishment to its guide. Meanwhile, Izard told Tasting Table that Bobby Flay is a believer in her goat curry. But if you succeed in nabbing a coveted table at the restaurant, don't limit yourself to meat. One of the qualities that makes Izard a remarkable chef is her uncanny ability to elevate veggies to the divine. Her magic green beans are a mainstay and have been bewitching customers since she first opened in Chicago 12 years ago. In LA, Izard's grilled corn with spiced coconut caramel might be the menu's Cinderella story.

In her exclusive interview with us, Izard reflected on her journey, talked about Bobby Flay, remembered meeting Gwyneth Paltrow, and gave us late-season corn tips along with the keys to truly enjoying chili crunch.

Stephanie Izard's favorite LA vegetable dish

It's been about a year since you opened Girl & the Goat LA. Can you reflect on the biggest hurdles that you've overcome and share any unexpected successes?

A few months ago ... we had our one-year anniversary, and it was awesome. We all got together and had a nice little karaoke party. Some of the hurdles [were] coming to a new city, and the whole opening was pushed back with COVID. My chef moved out here to get ready to open the restaurant before COVID and then lived out here waiting for it, and it was a lot of anticipation for our opening.

[There was] a lot of hard work going into it, and we were so happy to find such amazing people to join our team and learn that working in LA is ... There's some of the same challenges that are in Chicago, and then there's a lot of the same exciting things. Our guests that come in here are awesome and excited to try things. We weren't sure what the clientele would be like in LA. We weren't sure what the staffing would be like, and it's been amazing. We've made a nice little West Coast family.

Despite your focus on meats at Girl & the Goat, you've also said that green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, and shishitos are some of the best things on the menu. What are your tried and true methods for making veggies taste good?

Out here in LA, we have some different sorts of go-tos, but the green beans have always been around since Girl & the Goat 12 years ago. We treat vegetable dishes as we do meat dishes, where we think about layers of flavor and all the different textures. Here in LA, our green beans have been around forever.

One of my favorite dishes here that you can only get out in LA is our grilled corn that has a spiced coconut caramel, some cotija, and tajin. It's bringing some fun flavors in the sauce on there. It's like a coconut caramel that ... It's tossed in a little bit of heat, so it's bright. It's got some acidity to it. It's a little bit sweet, adding the saltiness in the cotija and then a little spicy brightness from the tajin. It's a fun way to approach vegetables and give them some unexpected flavor profiles and textures.

Stephanie Izard's corn on the cob hack

You're big on late-season, sweet corn on the cob. Playing into the dish that you just described, can you give us a tip to nail good corn on the cob when we're making it at home?

It's about not overcooking it ... I love corn on the grill. It's how we do it here in Los Angeles, which I do at home in the summer, but it's also great in the air fryer. I started cutting the cobs into four little coblets and putting [them] in the air fryer and cooking it for a few minutes until it changes color. [That] is my favorite way to do it at home. Sometimes, corn gets a little overcooked, and then it's a little mealy, but it's about cooking it nice and quick and [on] high heat.

You also love celebrating street foods from around the world on your menus. I'm wondering how that has played into your menu experimentation in LA. Also, do you have any fall-inspired street food tips for us?

I like to think about flavors from around the world, and I recently was working on a new show with Tastemade where we're traveling. I'm cooking with home cooks from different parts of the world, and I got to go have some street food carnitas, and I got to cook with this amazing chef — Eros — from Nigeria who showed me some fun new flavors.

As far as getting inspiration and cooking at home, go out and find fun vendors in your city. Every city has them. I haven't gotten enough time to do it in LA as much as I want, but luckily during the filming, we get to go around. There's so many outside of the chef-driven restaurants or some of the go-to favorites. There's so many fun little off-the-beaten-path restaurants and ethnic restaurants in different neighborhoods. It's great to explore and get inspiration.

She doesn't like to be called chef

After graduating culinary school, you headed into a job making $7 an hour making salads. Looking back now, having done what you've done today, can you tell us your favorite kitchen story from when you were starting?

I'm trying to think — it was like 20 years ago, literally 25 years ago. When I was first getting started — my first job — I was working at a place where I was making all of the fruit platters at a hotel. That was probably my first salad-making job. My favorite thing was that on Sundays, after I had been there for long [enough] and shown that I could do more than cut the fruit platters, they put me in charge of the brunch buffet, which I thought was the coolest thing ever because ... they made me wear a big chef hat and walk over to the brunch buffet and oversee it. People walking by would ask me questions and call me "chef," and I thought it was really cool.

It's those little things that now I look back at and I'm like, "I would never wear a chef hat, and I don't like anybody calling me 'chef.'" But at the time — 25 years ago — when I was having my first job cutting a bunch of cantaloupe, it was exciting to be put in that position and have people asking me questions about the buffet and wanting to talk about food. I thought it was really fun.

The best dance party Stephanie Izard has had

You're in a different part of your life now, but when you closed your first restaurant that you opened at 27, legend has it that you threw a party where you danced until 6:00 a.m. Has any party beaten that party since?

That was the best party ever. I still remember dancing the night away without any shoes on with our team. At Girl & the Goat, we like to get our teams together for some fun dance parties. We had to celebrate our one year of Girl & the Goat LA. We had a fun party with karaoke and did a lot of dancing, and we always try to get our teams together to release a bit. I love dance parties, so any reason they can find to do some dancing is always appreciated.

But I don't know if anything could ever top that party. [It was] one of those nights where it was such an amazing team that had come together and so much fun and the relief of being like, "Ah, we're not open tomorrow."

Before you opened Girl & the Goat in Chicago, you were holding these wildly popular underground dinners called "The Wandering Goat." Take us back to those days. What are your most poignant memories from the pre-opening stage?

The Wandering Goat was awesome. This was almost before social media became quite as big as it is nowadays ... It was to give some people an insight into what Girl & the Goat was going to be. I remember when they came to the first one, it was at my friend Roger's house. He lived in a weird little mansion on the south side near Hyde park with some roommates, and when people got tickets to the party, they came to the house, and we had to welcome people.

There was a mannequin with a goat skull and this funny Wandering Goat t-shirt on. That was at the door, and people were like ... It set the tone that Girl & the Goat wasn't going to take itself too seriously, that it was going to be not super fancy, more casual, but still taking the food seriously. That's how we try to paint a picture with all the Wandering Goat dinners. It was really fun.

Stephanie Izard remembers Gwyneth Paltrow's visit

When you opened your restaurant, you opened with an open kitchen concept. Does that ever backfire?

I don't think so. Having open kitchens [are] great for guests who come in who maybe don't understand how restaurants work. Some people look in, and they're like, "Wow, that guy keeps keeping cooking green beans all night." We're like, "Yep. That's how it works." 

It gives a little inside [insight]. They can see what's happening in the kitchen but also watch our staff. You can see them working very hard, but also laughing and smiling and having a good time. Also, it lets the team look out into the dining room and see people smiling while they're eating and enjoying all the food, and it makes it all worth it. It's great for both sides.

In 2015 on Instagram, you posted a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow, who came into the Little Goat Diner. You must get a lot of celebrity visitors on a regular basis in LA now, but what do you remember most about that day, if you do?

We were upstairs at Little Goat doing [a] little party for a group. I remember she was really tall, and I went over and was like, "Oh, hello." I looked up, and I don't remember which hors d'oeuvre she took a bite of, but she took a bite of something while she was standing next to me and said, "Wow, this is delicious." That was pretty much [it]. I didn't get to chat with her for too long — tall and very kind was what I remember.

One of your favorite things about Chicago is the camaraderie in the industry. How have you seen the food scene in Chicago evolve since opening Girl & the Goat, and what dishes have you tried last in that scene that most inspire you?

It's hard to keep up with. [In the] Fulton Market area alone, over by where all of the restaurants are, it's crazy how many things have opened. I'm most proud of my old sous chef, Joe Flamm, and his restaurant, Rose Mary, that has opened down the street ... Honestly, I eat there almost every time that I'm back in Chicago — not every time, but I eat there probably once a month because it's super tasty. It's got a yummy clam vitello tonnato with a raw tuna to start off the meal that's one of my favorites, but it's more so I'm inspired by his passion for his new restaurant and how we've always had a lot of fun together. The vibe of his restaurant is so similar to the vibe of Girl & the Goat. It's fun to see.

Favorite chili crunch combinations

We've seen you on Instagram lately with lots of "Top Chef" alums. How are you feeling about the upcoming 20th season, and might we see you in it?

I said I wasn't going to participate as a competitor, so I don't think I get to be in it at all this year, unfortunately. No, I won't be part of it. I'll be curious to see it for sure. 20 years is very impressive that they have continued to see such success and continue to keep it fresh and fun and exciting every season.

One thing that you have been working on a lot lately is your chili crunch. You experimented with recipes with Kelly Clarkson for a show that airs in October. What's your favorite thing to put it on?

The fun of it is that it's good on everything. We have — in my line of sauces and spices — we just launched three chili crunches. We have a chili lime, spicy, and our original. We use it at Girl & the Goat; we have the original on a salmon poke right now. It's so good on raw salmon and on avocado. We have it on a chicken and noodles dish, and we use it on a pork belly and egg and noodles dish at brunch.

That's the fun — it's good on everything. It's good on corn. Don't overcook your corn, and put some chili crunch on top. It's great on chicken, great on eggs for breakfast. I put it on a big glazed donut the other day with eggs and bacon for a breakfast sandwich. It's fun. Anything that you're eating, you put it on, and it's going to taste even better.

Can you give us the breakfast sandwich recipe?

I got this giant glazed donut and sliced it in half and put bacon that I cooked in our This Little Goat went to Hong Kong sauce. It's like a soy glaze, basically. It's a few slices of bacon, egg, and then the spicy chili crunch on a big glazed donut. You get sweet. You get a little bit of the meatiness from the bacon. You get the richness from the egg, and you get the nice spice. Our chili crunches are extra crunchy because we have masa chips that we make in our facility, and we smash them up and put them in each of the jars. It's like extra crunchy chili crunch.

Bobby Flay is a fan of Izard's ventures

One of your other secret ingredients that you use in your recipes and in your restaurants is lime powder. You recently gave Bobby Flay some of it — what is the secret to your lime powder, and what makes it so good?

We get it from a friend of ours in Chicago, and it's actual lime juice that's been dehydrated. It's not easy to find, but it's so bright and acidic, and it's a great way to bring ... We're always looking to bring acidity into dishes, and the lime powder is even brighter than fresh lime juice. We love using it in different spice mixes; mixing it with chilies is awesome. It adds the unexpected pop of brightness to anything you're making.

Bobby Flay has been in the industry for so long. What's it like feeding him at this point? Do you think it's still possible to surprise him with food in restaurants?

I think so ... He's always been a big supporter of me. He's been in for dinner a number of times, but we were walking through the kitchen, and he tasted our curry goat and was very wowed by that. He's always seemed to be a big fan of the way that we have our food here, that it's a lot of flavor. When you read the menu, it seems relatively simple, and then when you eat the dish, it jumps out at you with all these unexpected layers of flavor and such. He appreciates that.

Stephanie Izard still loves Cheez-Its

You are a huge fan of Cheez-Its. What's your take on Taco Bell's Big Cheez-It Crunchwrap Supreme experiment?

I haven't tried it, and I don't eat a lot of Taco Bell, but I'm very sad that big Cheez-Its, in general, have gone away. We have our Cheez-It cupcake, but we used to use the big Cheez-Its that we cover with chocolate and peanut butter and stuff on our Cheez-It cupcake. Now they took away big Cheez-Its forever. They're much flakier and worked so much better, so I'm sad about that. My sous chef at Sugar Goat has one box of big Cheez-Its that she's hidden for me for whenever I would like to have them.

Can you give our readers some Cheez-It recipe hacks? I know you had a wedding cake that was Cheez-It-themed.

You could probably actually find it — Cheez-Its brought me on to make their 100-year anniversary cake. It was during COVID at some point, so it was in the last year or two, but the Cheez-It cake recipe is on their website somewhere for that. It's fun. You basically take Cheez-Its and grind them up and use them as part of the flour in a cake recipe, and then we add in a little bit of cheddar cheese, too, so you can bring out the flavor a little bit more.

But my favorite thing — the recipe's probably somewhere in my world; it's in my cookbook for sure — is the chocolate peanut butter-covered Cheez-Its. We melt a little bit of peanut butter, and you stir the Cheez-Its into it. Put some cocoa powder and sugar on the outside, and they taste almost like Butterfingers.

Take a bite of Stephanie Izard's genius at her locations in Los Angeles & Chicago. To bring her flavors into your house, shop her This Little Goat line, which includes three different varieties of chili crunch!

This interview has been edited for clarity.