Stephanie Izard: I was an Olive Garden hostess

February 11, 2012

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Stephanie Izard wasn’t like other kids.

When the future Top Chef-winner and owner/executive chef of the West Loop restaurant Girl and the Goat went shopping with her parents, she would walk right past the toy store. Instead, she’d head straight for the cheese shop, where she would sample brie and bleu cheese with great gusto. “It was the most exciting thing ever,” Izard recalls.

She and her sister would play restaurant, drawing up elaborate menus. “We’d have a full menu with 25 items,” Izard recalls. “But the only thing you could actually order was the chicken cordon bleu, because we could put it in the toaster oven. That was all we were allowed to use when mom was out of the house.”

And after a particularly intense swim practice, Izard would reward herself with an entire bag of frozen French fries-- garnished with freshly chopped parsley.

Later in life, Izard would proudly recall her days as sous chef at Andersonville’s now-shuttered La Tache, where she created a dish of pan-roasted sturgeon. Paul Kahan enjoyed it so much while dining at the bar one night that he ordered another one to go. Izard would go on to create dishes for Girl and the Goat like wood-oven-roasted pig face, which Izard describes as “breakfast on crack.” This summer she’ll add a second restaurant to her portfolio: a café called Little Goat.

But in between her adorable proto-foodie childhood and her later accolades and success, Izard had some years in the food biz that were about as unglamorous as it gets.

Izard spoke at the Museum of Contemporary Art in January, and described some of the many gigs she had during her early years in “the industry.” These included a stint as a college cafeteria lady, and one as a hostess at the Olive Garden. There, she says, she learned to prepare salad-by-numbers (five croutons for every two people!) and watched servers regularly over-charge customers to get bigger tips.

You can hear many more scandalous and hilarious details of Izard’s time in the food trenches in the audio above--although listening may make you think twice about walking into a restaurant, or working in one.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Stephanie Izard spoke at an event presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in January. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.