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Top Chef Stephanie Izard Gets Curious on Tastemade

stephanie izard with another chef and a tray of ribs

Stephanie Izard is no stranger to food television. She was the first female contestant to win Top Chef and has since appeared on the show as a participant and a judge while operating an award-winning restaurant group with locations in Chicago and LA. She also launched her own line of sauces and condiments and become a mainstay judge on Food Network competition shows while also casually becoming an Iron Chef herself.

Now she’s putting all the cut-throat contests on hold to host The Curious Chef on Tastemade. Izard grew up in a home full of global flavors – think weeknight tempura parties and everything homemade at the holidays. Her goal with Tastemade is to meet home cooks in their own kitchens and get a taste of their creations.

We chatted with Izard about what makes home cooking different from restaurant work, the inspiration she’s brought to her own work from the show and her beloved air fryer. Viewers can catch the final episode of the first season of The Curious Chef on 12/13.

stephanie izard leaning over a table with another cook

What do you think is different about working on this Tastemade show?

It’s my first time actually hosting a show. Being on a show that’s not about competition is a nice change of pace. Everybody on the team is really fun and loves food. After we do a shoot and there’s tasty food around, everybody wants to taste it and talk about it and get excited about it.

How did you go about selecting the people and the types of cuisine you wanted to highlight?

The folks from Tastemade helped find all of the different people, but what we had talked about was mostly focusing on cooking at home in different ways. There are so many people that have a job that’s not in food and are amazing home cooks. We wanted to connect with people that cook as a little second job or a side gig. On the show, we also cook with a couple of Nigerians who are amazing; one has a popup and one’s out of a ghost kitchen. Everyone is very passionate about their background and where they come from and all the food they ate growing up and wanting to share it with people around them.

What have you taken from how these home cooks back into either your own home cooking or your restaurant spaces?

The original thought of the show was that I was trying to get myself more inspired for more home cooking. I grew up with a mom who was an amazing home cook, and now I have a six year old and I cook at work all the time, so my cooking at home is sometimes lacking or is, you know, as simple as noodles for my six year old and I just eat whatever I can with my hands out of the fridge. Now that he’s getting older, I really wanna focus on putting more things in front of him and just having more fun with it, like my mom did with me. I found some things that I was making in my home kitchen afterwards and just reminding myself that it’s not the same as cooking in the restaurant because you don’t have things that are already prepped for you, but there’s so many fun things that you can do and it’s fun to experiment.

Now my cupboard’s kind of overflowing honestly with all these other ingredients that I grabbed. And last night if you could have seen my kitchen, it was a train wreck. I was just testing all different things, so I was getting excited. So it’s definitely got my blood flowing. Sometimes I get into little ruts, I think every chef does. We have ups and downs of creativity and right now I’m feeling very creative.

How’s your son’s palate?

It’s like a lot of six year olds. He talks about wanting to explore foods and he is really good about giving something a try, so we’ll see. He’s started to like different spices and he really likes to bake. He likes getting his hands dirty in the kitchen, so mostly he can eat the icing and things like that. But anything dough related I think is his most favorite thing in the kitchen. He likes to do experiments. He’ll grab a bowl and grab like 10 different ingredients and list them and ask me to try it.

stephanie izard and 2 cooks

Were you helping in the kitchen when you were young?

I was. On Sundays we had this whole thing – me, my mom and my sister would go through all our cookbooks and plan a menu and it would be on our refrigerator so when our friends came over they could pick which night they wanted to come for dinner. We had a very open household of letting friends come over whenever they wanted. They could plan their visits, and we had foods from all over the world. It was awesome. I remember my friend came over one night, and we were having a whole artichoke and she just looked at me like, what’s an artichoke? It was so normal to me, and I didn’t think about how fortunate I was.

Where did your mom learn to cook?

She taught herself. Her mom was actually a terrible cook so she just fell in love with it. She had lots of cookbooks and magazines.

Any tips that have come out of the show that reinforced what you’re doing in your home kitchen or that you learned that you think people will come away with from watching?

I think something fun about it is just exploring different neighborhoods and getting different ingredients. A lot of times people go to the same grocery store that’s around the corner from their house and it has the offerings that it has, and if you go to different neighborhoods, like we went to a market that has all Nigerian food and who knew? I had no idea there was a market. You walk in and there’s all these smells and you can see all these foods and talk to the people that work there about what you can do with all the different foods. It was just really exciting. We went to Thai Town to this cool little market. I hadn’t even been to Thai Town in LA yet and didn’t really know anything about it. So I think just going into different neighborhoods that you’re not used to and finding those little markets, that’s when you can find some new inspiration and ingredients.

What are a couple things you always have for your home cooking?

Anytime you go in my fridge there’s lots of fresh herbs and things like that. I love to finish things with fresh herbs. It’s funny, on the show everybody had their spice cabinet filled with all these different spices and some staples that I hadn’t used in a long time. We were cooking with a couple of folks from Jamaica, and they had allspice and thyme and things that I just never really reach for. I’m sure I’ve had allspice in my cupboard for a while and I bought it for something a long time ago, but now I have new ways and a new excitement to pull out some of those spices.

How about a tool that you might not use every day in the restaurant, but you need at home?

I just did a roast pork loin in my instant air fryer. It’s my go-to. Ernie and I do everything in it.

stephanie izard posing with a cook

Is there anything new that you’re looking forward to making for the holidays?

We’re doing the 12 Days of Dishes with our brand, This Little Goat. I was judging an episode of Chopped the other day, and one of the contestants caramelized slices of cabbage and it was so good. I had never eaten cabbage like that, I don’t know why. So I just got a head of cabbage and caramelized it in the pan with our spicy chili crunch on top, and it’s the easiest side dish and so delicious with so many textures and flavors.

Did you do anything to prepare for this style show versus what you’ve done in the past?

The great thing about this show is that the whole point was not to prepare. I was given one sheet about the different people we were gonna meet but I wanted to wait and ask them questions. I wanted to learn about the different home cooks and chefs from them. I think when I’m hanging out with other people that love food and wanna talk about food, it just naturally turns into this ease of conversation of their background and their family and cooking with their grandma and things that they love to do. I think that people that love food have a strong connection very quickly. I didn’t prepare at all. I just found some fun pants to wear and went in excited to try new things.


Sarah Strong

Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.


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