When Stephanie Izard woke up yesterday, she was just your average chef. Today, everything’s changed. For starters, she has a wicked hangover, and 100 grand in her pocket, after having been declared the season 4 Top Chef winner (see our season finale TV Watch recap). ”Way too many strangers [bought] me shots of things last night,” she says. And the baked potato chips she was snacking on in the morning weren’t much help sopping up the congratulatory gestures. Before breaking for a cure, the 31-year-old spoke with EW.com about her newfound fame.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have things been for you in the past 24 hours? I’m sure you’re doing more interviews than you ever thought you’d do.
STEPHANIE IZARD: Lots of interviews and, of course, not a lot of sleep. I watched the show at [Chicago restaurant] Room 21. I had my family there. I hadn’t told them what happened, so it was fun to watch their reaction. It was priceless. My mom and my sister were like, ”We’re going to puke, we can’t watch this.” They really thought that I lost. I kept saying to them, ”Well, I did the best that I could.” Which was true. And then another bar in Chicago had a little celebration, so I went over there.
How long did you have to keep the result under wraps from your family? When was the finale shot?
It was three or four weeks ago. It was hard, but since my parents don’t live [in Chicago], they couldn’t really look me in the eye. So I was just lying to them over the phone, which isn’t quite as bad.
Have you been reading the blogs and message boards?
I don’t read any of them. My dad actually is obsessed. He’s retired; he just sits there and reads them all day. So if there are any funny things he thinks I might enjoy, he tells me about them.
Was there anything that happened on the show that you wish you could take back now?
I was really happy with the way I came across on TV. I don’t think I would take anything back. In the end, it all worked out pretty well. It’s very hard watching myself. I don’t even like looking in the mirror. I just started watching it like I was some character I didn’t know.
Do you think any of the other contestants were given a bad rap or were their true colors shown?
For the most part, I think they were pretty true to who people were. I just think that some of it was magnified a little bit. Like you know, Lisa, I think she’s gotten the worst rap throughout the whole thing. She can be negative, and I think she realizes that. But at the same time, she can also be a lot of fun.
How would you say you were able to maintain your composure and your competitive edge? Were there any moments when you felt like you might blow up at somebody and then thought better of it?
I’m just pretty laid-back, and I don’t usually blow up at anybody about anything. It’s just not the way I like to handle myself, and I just think that it makes things worse for everyone. I was just trying to be myself.
Some people are really excited that you are the first woman to win Top Chef, and others are saying that you won because you’re a woman and the producers wanted that. Do you just feel like telling people to go to hell?
Pretty much. We were having the reunion show, and [show judge] Tom [Colicchio] was talking about how they came up with the decision, and I really believe that it was their decision. They compared our meals. I think [other Top Chef finalist] Richard and I are both good chefs, but he just didn’t make as great of a meal that night. So yeah, people can believe and say whatever they want; I just know in my heart that I worked really hard for that and I deserved it.
You want to push the envelope and advance the ball for women, but at the same time, you don’t want to be marginalized because of it.
I never think of myself as a woman chef. I’m just a good chef. I don’t see why we have to be talked about as male or female.
NEXT PAGE: ”I’m not going to let it change me or try not to let it change me. I just take it for what it is: It was a TV show, a great competition, and I’m so excited to have won.”