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California Questionnaire: Stephanie Izard

California Questionnaire: Stephanie Izard

The perennially smiling “Top Chef” winner is settling into life in SoCal, exploring new towns and sinking her roots into South Pasadena

Stephanie Izard checked all the right boxes during the early stages of her culinary career: Top Chef winner in 2008; Food & Wine “Best New Chef” in 2011; and a James Beard award in 2013. Building on that early success, Izard proceeded to open five acclaimed restaurants in the Chicago area, further cementing her status as a chef and entrepreneur to be reckoned with.

These days, however, Izard is less focused on the Great Lakes and is paying more attention to the Golden State. She has opened two restaurants in Downtown Los AngelesGirl & the Goat and Cabra—and has settled into a road trip–filled, flip-flop-wearing SoCal lifestyle. Chef, author, owner of a retail cooking product line, Little League mom—Izard has a lot going on. We asked her to share some of what she loves about California living, and Izard obliged. 

Where do you live? South Pasadena

Why there? When I was looking for neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, South Pasadena was one of the first places I checked out because it’s known for its great schools and being family friendly, so it was the perfect place for me to set down roots for my son, Ernie, and I. 

Who or what is your greatest California love? California has so many amazing places to explore, but I really fell in love with Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu. There are caves and tide pools to wander in and so much space to run around—it’s perfect for kids (and those of us that are kids at heart). And as a professional chef, I have to mention California’s farmers’ markets. Everyone talks about the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, which is great, but I’m partial to the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market across town.  It’s such a great community of people and they always have live music, so you can grab food for the week and a few snacks to enjoy on the lawn. 

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? I grew up thinking that L.A. people always dress super fancy—maybe from Troop Beverly Hills?—but most people are actually really casual! Lots of jeans and flip-flops. 

And as a restaurateur I thought that our bread, meat, and dessert sales would be way down in comparison to our Chicago guests, but it’s actually the opposite! The goat liver mousse is one of our biggest sellers and Californians rarely turn down dessert.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? The love of the outdoors. Californians are so active because there are so many awesome things to explore and activities to do with the beaches and all the great hiking. It’s also very true that no one walks anywhere, which took some getting used to!  

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? When visiting wine country, it’s really hard not to splurge by shipping yourself a few cases from every winery you visit. No regrets there.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? One of my favorite things about L.A. is that you can drive an hour or two in any direction and have a totally different experience. My favorite drive yet was up to Santa Barbara with Ernie and friends. We stayed at a gorgeous hotel on the beach, hung out by the pool, and then walked around the most picturesque little town I have ever seen. We felt like we were on a movie set the entire time. We had the perfect evening: Dinner at a ramen shop followed by wandering around the town and people watching, and then, of course, ice cream to end the night. One morning we stopped at Dune Coffee Roasters for croissants and coffee then went to the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, which has the coolest wooden play space I’ve ever seen, and had the best morning chilling by the lagoon. 

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? Finding small, off-the-beaten path culinary gems. Whether it’s the most amazing birria you’ve ever had from a roadside tent or bites from the Thai Night Market in Thai Town, you can always get incredible food in L.A. that’s not actually in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. A friend told me to look for the stand with the longest lines to know which ones to go to! 

Where would you go for the ultimate shopping spree in California? Healdsburg has some of the cutest boutiques and shopping that I’ve seen, from clothes to books to really cute kid shops. And shopping is always best done after some wine tastings and snacks! 

Best California song? “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas & The Papas really hits home for me. It feels like it was written by someone sitting on the East Coast on a cloudy, cold day wishing for sunshine—which was exactly like me before I moved out here. I remember walking to work one day thinking, “Wow, this is amazing.” Los Angeles is so sunshiny most of the time and it just really lightens your mood to wake up on a sunny day.

How would your California dream day unfold? In my California dream day, there’s absolutely no traffic. I’d wake up early and go for a long drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Hearst Castle and having lunch in Santa Barbara. I’d be driving REALLY fast in this dream day and make my way all the way up to Lake Tahoe just in time for a sunset boat ride filled with cocktails and laughs, followed by an amazing dinner. 

California Winery

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