Winning “Top Chef” on Season 4 catapulted Izard into somewhat of a celebrity, putting her restaurant – Girl & the Goat, in Chicago’s West Loop – firmly on the map for foodies everywhere shortly after it opened in 2010. What sets her restaurants apart – this fall she opens “Little Goat” next door – is she insists on meeting every farmer she buys from. Normally an easy feat, since most foods (dairy, meat, vegetables, even grains) are grown within 120 miles, she recently put her mantra to the test by trekking to a coffee farm in Columbia that will provide beans for Little Goat. “Just because it’s a local farm doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. We like to see for ourselves.”
“I was lucky enough to grow up with a mom who cooked all the time,” explains the Evanston-born Izard who grew up in Connecticut and whose last name translates in French to a type of goat. “I didn’t have meat loaf until I got to college (at University of Michigan).” Every Sunday she, along with her sisters and mother, would pore over cookbooks and plan the week’s meals.
But Chicago beckoned her home. Izard’s first culinary job was at Charlie Trotter’s. “Chicago is a great food town, almost like a family tree,” says Izard, who thinks the casual-restaurant trend – spearheaded by several new chefs – popping up around the city is here to stay. That includes Izard’s restaurants. “It’s a big party all the time. There’s no pretentiousness in our service.” Serving between five and eight goat dishes daily, such as goat ribs, goat belly and goat empanadas, Girl & the Goat introduces many to goat for the first time.
Local-agriculture lover Brenner – sous chef at Lockwood Restaurant, inside Palmer House Hilton, just off South Michigan Avenue – is still tickled that she got beehives onto the historic hotel’s 25th-floor rooftop.
What she didn’t expect was how much she’d like the buzz. “I did not realize how in love with bees I was going to be,” she says. “I’m totally smitten.” Honeycombs will join cheese plates this fall, with the honey drizzled over desserts.
Two months after joining Lockwood in March of 2011, Brenner installed the 2,000-square-foot rooftop garden, what she refers to as “extreme gardening.” Peas, chiles, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and more are grown in containers. Formerly a food educator at Mifflin Street Co-Op in Madison, and a butcher in that city too, she started cooking as the oldest of five kids whose parents worked long hours. Her first culinary job was at the Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wis., which was the perfect precursor for her most prestigious cooking stint pre-Lockwood. “The American Club (in Kohler, Wis.) called me – out of the blue. They needed a butcher with a culinary background.”
The Pump Room, inside Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC Hotel, coaxed her down to Chicago. She doesn’t see herself cooking anywhere but the Midwest. “Here, it’s about hospitality. We’re more about warmth and making people feel welcome.”