Top Chef Stephanie Izard & Quaker Oats Quickfire Challenge

From Drop Box

Season 4 of Top Chef was a first in the series history. Why? Because it was the first time a woman chef won - Stephanie Izard was the chef that made history. From the beginning of that season, I was a huge fan of Stephanie because she was so knowledgable but not arrogant. She was always so supportive of the other chefs and was obviously gifted in the kitchen.

In speaking with Stephanie, I found that the personality we saw on the show was accurate. I asked her if the comraderie and everyone working together was really the way it was or just editing. Stephanie told me that they were put into this situation where they were all living together for 5 weeks and that "its all about the food" and "getting good food to the customer". No one really wanted to see the others fail even though they were all competing against each other.

For Season 4, there were open casting calls and over 5,000 chefs tried out for a spot on the show. The casting directors were contacting up-and-coming chefs and Stephanie received a phone call at her first restaurant, Scylla, asking her to come and talk to them about being a part of the show. When asked which challenge was the most stressful for her, Stephanie recalled the Wedding Wars challenge. Richard had won the Quickfire and opted to cook for the Bride, which meant a cake was needed. Stephanie took a risk and made her first wedding cake - ever. Even though the cake was a success, she said she was not likely to volunteer to make one again.

One of the recent episodes I found so fun to watch was the "Last Supper". So, I posed that same question to Stephanie, "What would you choose as your last supper?" Stephanie's answer was "Sushi and French fries dipped in Ranch dressing." These are the two foods that she just can't live without.

I asked her if she could invite four people to dinner who would she invite and what would she serve. Stephanie answered that her four grandparents would be her choice as it would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about their lives since she did not have the chance to know them growing up. The meal would be full of comfort foods such as roasted chicken and plenty of wine.

Since winning, Stephanie has been on a whirlwind of traveling and cooking with wonderful chefs. When asked what would be the highlight, she shared with me that working in the various kitchens and getting to know all of these chefs has been a lot of fun. By the end of each night they are all good friends and "are sharing a beer and laughing" together. She's made a lot of new friends as a result.

If you are in Chicago, then you will be happy to know that in late 2009 Stephanie's new restaurant, The Drunken Goat, will be opening. She is in the process of getting the location set. She is constantly thinking of ingredients and menu ideas. She plans to work with local farmers and create a family style atmosphere. Her philosophy really hinges on hanging out with family and friends simply enjoying good food together. This is a restaurant I would love to go to once it opens.

When asked if chefs have a natural instinct when it comes to creating dishes from unusual ingredients or if it is something learned from culinary school, Stephanie answered that "Training just gives you the skills, the rest is all instinct. Good chefs are born to do this and think about food all the time." She recommends that home cooks who want to take their skills up a notch take a class that focuses on a different region or cuisine each week. This will make it easier to incorporate different flavors into everyday cooking.

Stephanie is also involved in the Quaker Oats Quickfire Challenge that Bravo is running in conjunction with Top Chef. She's helping to get the word out on the competition and had a few bits of advice to share. She says "Go all out, but make sure it tastes good. Start playing around, and think outside of the box. Buy a couple of containers of Quaker Oats and find new ways to use it. Such as replacing other grains with the oats." The deadline for entering is February 28, 2009 - next Saturday.

The winners will be brought to New York to compete in a Quaker Oats Quickfire Challenge in the Top Chef kitchen. When asked what those winners should expect when the time begins she answered simply, "Stress." Then, realize that it's "fun and rewarding". She says to just have fun with it. When asked what the contestants should do when the time begins she says: "Take a deep breath, then calmly walk and go get your ingredients. Try not to freak out. " Stephanie said she always grabbed the salt and pepper first because those two ingredients always add flavor to any dish.

I want to thank Abigail at Ogilvy PR for giving me the opportunity to interview Stephanie. And, Stephanie for taking time out of what must be a very busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. It was truly a pleasure!

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Heather said…
lucky you! sounds like she was fun to meet :)
How fun! Stephanie was my favorite all season. She sounds even nicer in person! :)
Anonymous said…
Great blog post!!;0)
Maria said…
What a fun post!
Shelby said…
What a great opportunity for you!
Dragon said…
You are definitely a lucky girl! Great questions.
Anonymous said…
What a fun post P! She does sound nicer in person, so glad you were able to meet, and you had some fab q&a's too!
Anonymous said…
Great post - actually my sisters niece (from her husbands side of the family) is working with Stephanie on writing the dessert section of Stephanie's new book, and was the pastry chef at her now defunct restaurant.

I live 55 NW of Chicago, but would definitely try out her new restaurant when it opens.
Aggie said…
What a great post and article! Stephanie sounds like a great person to interview!

I am going to have to start watching Top Chef, I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I don't!

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