You teamed up with Morton Salt on the #EraseFoodWaste campaign to encourage home chefs to waste less food. What’s your number-one piece of advice? “I think just planning ahead. Don’t over-purchase at the grocery store, and always have one night scheduled a week for leftovers.”
How big of a problem is food waste in America? “More than 40 percent of the total food in America is wasted, which is just a shocking number. One way to look at it in a smaller way is that one out of every four bags of groceries we buy gets thrown out, which represents about $2,200 per family per year. ”
What do you do in your restaurants’ kitchens to reduce food waste that will also work at home? “We make sure to use the ‘nose to tail’ approach with everything, not just animals. Try to use as much as possible: If you get some carrots at the market, you can turn the greens into a chimichurri or salsa verde instead of throwing them out.”
Any tips to make leftovers more appealing and less apt to be ignored in the back of the fridge? “For me personally, I started to become aware of how many things got left in the back of my fridge when I worked on this project! Make it seem like a new meal: Chop up the leftover veggies and make them into fried rice. Reinvent your leftovers to keep it fresh.”
What first drew you to cooking? “My mom was a really good cook. At a certain point, I started cooking in the kitchen with her, and eventually she just let my sister and me take over.”
What are some of your favorite things to cook at home? “We tend to keep it simpler than people imagine. We cook a lot of chicken thighs—toss them in some spices and roast them off. We also eat a ton of fried rice; it’s one of my husband’s faves, and our almost-2-year-old eats it up, too.”
Besides the three restaurants you run, what are some of your favorite places to eat and drink in Chicago? “Our West Loop neighborhood has so many good places. Monteverde, El Che Bar, La Sirena Clandestina, Cold Storage for raw oysters and drinks. Those are my go-tos.”
Chicago has lately been a center of restaurant innovation and experimentation. Why do you think that is? “I think that Chicago’s got a lot of great chefs at the moment. You look at a spot like Alinea where it’s such an innovative approach to food, and that trickles down to the more casual restaurants, too. It’s not just about the food, either; it’s about the hospitality that Chicago offers.”
Any favorite food cities besides Chicago? “I was just in Los Angeles last week, and there are a lot of new restaurants. David Chang just opened Majordomo in Chinatown. There’s a new Italian restaurant called Felix that’s really awesome. LA has a lot of great places right now.”
Which three recipes are the most important ones for a home cook to know by heart? “A simple roasted chicken is always nice, especially for a family—it can make a meal for a few days. I live in Chicago, so I like to have a good simple stew ready to go that I can throw in the slow cooker—I use pork shoulder, canned tomatoes and the end of a jar of jam, and let it go all day. And a great simple pasta dish; every family should have their own twist on a tomato sauce.”
Winning season 4 of Top Chef enabled you to open the James Beard Award-winning Girl & the Goat, but you’re also a culinary school graduate who’d already worked at several top restaurants and opened one of your own before you went on the show. How do you feel about being called a “celebrity chef”? “I think it’s a funny category to be a part of. I do have restaurants, so I’m first and foremost a chef. I don’t take it as a negative or a positive; I’m really proud of both directions my career is taking. Some days I play celebrity, some days I play chef, but I always try to spend a lot of time in my own restaurants.”
You were named an official Iron Chef after winning Iron Chef Gauntlet last year. Who do you most want to challenge in Kitchen Stadium? “Bobby Flay’s not gonna be doing Kitchen Stadium regularly anymore, but I’d like one more chance to cook against him. Bobby, let me know if the challenge is accepted!”
What’s next for you? “I have my next cookbook coming out April 3, called Gather & Graze. We’ve also been filming in Kitchen Stadium, so there’s more Iron Chef to come. Hopefully, I’ll have some other TV things in the works, and possibly another restaurant to announce in the near future.”
In addition to her restaurants, Stephanie Izard also owns a catering company and the This Little Goat line of sauces and spice mixes. Her first cookbook, Girl in the Kitchen, was released in 2011. You can find more of her food-waste tips on the #EraseFoodWaste website.
Interview has been condensed and edited.