First Phenom at Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival
By Francine Cohen
Of course you wouldn’t be wrong to refer to Chef Stephanie Izard as the fourth winner of Bravo’s Top Chef competition, but really you’d sound like an ignoramous for shirking your restaurant industry history and not fully recounting her provenance; thereby giving her credit where credit is due (while looking really smart yourself for having and sharing this knowledge).
This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned Izard in INSIDE F&B and it’s true that this fourth season winner may not have been in front of the camera when this influential television program began, but to her “1st” credit she is the first (and only) woman to have won Top Chef. What else has Izard done first? Well, she helms the restaurant that was the subject of Saveur magazine’s (www.saveur.com) first ever restaurant review and her first James Beard Award (www.jamesbeard.org) nomination for Best New Restaurant came around the same time she was first nominated for Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs list (www.foodandwine.com).
Just being honored by her peers and the media for leading the way isn’t enough for this chef. This year Izard decided to make her first foray to the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival where today, along with Beard Award winning chef Stephen Stryjewski (of New Orleans’ Cochon www.cochonrestaurant.com), Chef Julien Gremaud (Pistache French Bistro, West Palm Beach – www.pistachewpb.com), and Jennifer Reed (of The Sugar Monkey, West Palm Beach – www.thesugarmonkey.com) she’s cooking the Southern Hospitality: Pig & Goat lunch (www.pbfoodwinefest.com/schedule/).
Before having to face all those hungry south Floridians we warmed up Izard with a few questions. See what she has to say about her first time at the festival and why she thinks you should consider being at these festivals too.
IF&B: How long have you been involved in the Palm Beach Food &Wine Fest?
SI: This is actually my first year and I am very excited to get out of the Chicago cold for a couple of days in December.
IF&B: Why did you initially say “yes” when you were asked to participate?
SI: I really love experiencing different food events around the country. It is great to meet people from all over and show them what we are all about.
IF&B: What is the event you’re presenting here?
SI: I am part of a lunch called Southern Hospitality: Pig and the Goat. I will be cooking with Chefs Julien Gremaud, Stephen Stryjewski, & Jennifer Reed.
IF&B: How is it special and unique to the Palm Beach fest?
SI: This is the first year they are doing this lunch and I am just excited to see how the other chefs run with the theme of pig and goat… I love a good theme.
IF&B: How do you feel it best represents you and what you’re doing in Chicago?
SI: Well, we love goat… but we love pork too. We love to show people what you can do with all the parts of an animal to ensure every last piece is used and nothing goes to waste. This is our philosophy and definitely one of most Chicago chefs.
IF&B: Why do you think it’s important for chefs like you to travel to other cities and participate in food festivals like this one in Palm Beach?
SI: It is great to experience the different food cultures in various cities. We always love to see something new and hopefully bring something new to the table.
IF&B: What do food festivals do for the restaurant industry/what’s the impact of all these tasting and private dining events that go on?
SI: I think these festivals really bring the chefs to the people. It may be difficult for a chef to tear themselves away from the kitchen to mingle with guests while they are dining, but at these events the chefs are put right in front of their guests.
IF&B: What sort of preparation is required to pull off an event like this and how is it different from running a restaurant?
SI: It is always a challenge to move food from one city to another so we just focus on being organized and making sure everyone is on the same page about the menu… I think we have gotten better at it after a couple years of practice.
IF&B: If a younger, less established chef friend came to you and said, “Hey, Stephanie, I’ve been invited to participate in this festival. Should I?” What advice and ins and out would you clue him into about being part of the event so that it was successful and enjoyable for him?
SI: I would definitely say yes… it is so fun to be able to interact directly with not only the guests at the festival but the other chefs. I have met some of my best chef friends at different events across the county and it really brings the entire food community closer.
IF&B: How much impact do you think these events have on the dining and traveling public; both locally to the festival and as a ripple effect for the rest of the country?
SI: I know when we have festivals in Chicago, the entire city seems to come alive. Hotels are full, people are on the streets having fun, and everyone has something to do that brings people together in a positive way. I think it is important for cities to invest in these type of events to give not only the people who live in the city, but visitors, something that will showcase their town.
IF&B: What charity are you involved with and why?
SI: I work with a few different charities through various events. We work a lot with Common Threads, Art Smith’s Charity, that teaches low-income children and families how to prepare healthy meals on a budget. And I also do a lot of work with Share Our Strength which focuses on ending childhood hunger.