Fri 2 Dec 2011
WE GOT TO HANG OUT WITH TOP CHEF STEPHANIE IZARD!
Ah, much better. If you’ve read Capital Spice before now, you know we’re kind of huge Top Chef fans. And our first big interview was with Chef Spike Mendelsohn as he prepared to open Good Stuff Eatery, so we’re especially partial to Season 4 (Top Chef Chicago). So when we were given the chance to attend a dinner prepared by Spike and Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, we jumped at it.
The dinner, which took place on Wednesday, November 16th, was part of Chef Izard’s tour promoting her new cookbook, Girl in the Kitchen. Rather than subject herself and her fans to a series of low-key bookstore signing events, Izard has partnered with local chefs in cities across the country to put on special dinner events benefiting Share Our Strength. The “Goat Tour” (the name is a nod to her year-old, critically acclaimed Girl and the Goat restaurant) has the look and feel of a concert tour, right down to the t-shirts worn by Izard and her team featuring a map and a list of dates on the back. With everyone from Jimmy Fallon to the Wall Street Journal calling chefs “rock stars,” it’s only fitting.
A four-course pizza feast with a pair of fun chefs after the jump.
We arrived at We, the Pizza unsure of exactly what kind of dinner we would experience. The menus were already set up, and we learned that we would be having wings, salad, and pizza, with both chefs doing their versions throughout. We struck up a conversation with a couple – let’s call them Armand and JDQ – who knew Elizabeth through a mutual friend, and settled in for a full-on feast. This was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
Although the menu made no mention of which preparations belonged to each chef, we recognized several We, the Pizza menu items and figured out others through a process of elimination. We grabbed a beer and settled in to meet our fellow guests while we waited for the chefs to come up and explain their dishes to us.
The first course was a pair of chicken wing recipes whose heat had many people grabbing for another beverage right off the bat. Interestingly, both chefs opted to use harissa in their sauce, resulting in one dish dosed with even more heat from jalapenos and one that brought a lighter, more citrusy flavor courtesy of yuzu. It was a bold way to begin the event, and it made us hungry for more.
The food was served buffet-style, so we piled the wings and salad onto our first round plates. The salad course matched up Chef Izard’s offering of shaved kohlrabi, fennel and red oak with Chef Spike’s chopped antipasto salad. Izard’s dish was more complex, with fennel, cheese and a ginger-maple vinaigrette. Spike’s salad topped lettuce with Italian meats and cheeses, tomatoes, onions and a red wine vinaigrette. Even knowing what lay ahead, we were tempted to go back for more greens.
And then came the pizzas. They were relentless, with pie after pie making its way up from the kitchen to the event. It felt like a grown-up version of every kid’s dream birthday party. We saw pizzas topped with goat chorizo, ricotta and pickled peppers (Stephanie brought the chorizo with her from Chicago). Spike’s fall classic, with butternut squash, goat cheese and balsamic onions, was a huge hit. The surprising star of the night was a pizza topped with fried chick peas and eggplant caponata. It had a great balance of acidity and creamy mozarella, and we were all excited when Chef Izard told us that the caponata recipe can be found in her cookbook.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, we were treated to a surprise dessert of gelati from We, the Pizza’s handmade selections. Sure, the vanilla and chocolate were rich and smooth, but people pretty much lost their minds when the salted caramel made an appearance. If you haven’t tried it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
After the plates were cleared, we had a chance to chat with the chefs and hear about what went on behind the scenes. Though Chef Izard and her team travel with some key ingredients (like that goat chorizo), they tend to shop locally and keep things simple. In this case, that meant using We the Pizza’s dough for their crust, resulting in larger, denser pies than they normal serve at Girl and the Goat. As Chef Izard put it, “Spike knows what he’s doing when it comes to pizza…why would I travel with all those extra ingredients?”
Our friends for the evening were pleased across the board, commenting favorably on the yuzu wings, the “earthy” Shroomin’ pizza and the aforementioned caponata pizza. But it was the overall feeling of the event that they really enjoyed. Armand summed it up best when he described the event as having “amazing atmosphere. It felt like we were having dinner with old friends!” JDQ agreed that the chefs were fun and accessible, and they both made sure to point out just how much they had enjoyed the food by showing off an impressive stack of gelato cups.
The Goat Tour is terrific on so many levels – a chance to interact with Chef Izard and taste her food, team-ups with some of the highest profile chefs across the country, and all to benefit Share Our Strength! Keep an eye on the website, as there are plans to do an event in Philadelphia in February though the date, location and guest chef are still being kept under wraps.