To win the hard-fought fourth season of Bravo’s hit reality cooking show, Top Chef, Stephanie Izard expertly handled almost every challenge the judges threw at her. She transformed a taco into an haute fruit crumble, topped with fried wontons, butchered a whole pig, made appetizers based on a gorilla’s diet and prepared a wedding cake for 250 guests. In the process, she impressed people like star chef Anthony Bourdain. “That’s what’s fascinating about the show,” says Bourdain, who judged a few of the episodes. “You see talented cooks reach the limit of their abilities, and then go beyond it…or not.”
Stephanie claims there’s a fairly straightforward way to master these myriad culinary skills: Open your own restaurant, and do everything yourself. She was 27 when she launched the well-received Scylla in Chicago, where she took reservations and waited on tables, as well as serving dishes like grilled octopus with prosciutto and lemon-pistachio vinaigrette.
At Scylla, Stephanie also became serious about wine. She’d been keeping a notebook of memorable bottles she’d drunk since she started cooking, but at her restaurant she wrote the list, met with importers and studied food-and-wine pairings. To accompany Scylla’s boldly flavored dishes, Stephanie created an international list of artisanal producers, with Sauvignon Blancs from California, New Zealand and Chile, and red wines from Oregon and Greece.