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'Top Chef' winner: 'I deserved it'

After a night of celebrating, the season 4 champ checks in to tell EW.com about watching her victory with her family, ignoring blogs, becoming the first woman to win, and what’s next

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Ted Allen, Padma Lakshmi, ...

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.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tom Colicchio is sort of the anti-TV star. He seems to care only about the food and everything else is secondary. What’s your personal take on him?
STEPHANIE IZARD: Yeah, that’s totally true. He really wants to taste the food. He wants to talk to us about why we did certain things with the food. Tom Colicchio is an awesome chef, and I think this is one show he is happy and proud to be on. It’s not like a selling-out type of thing.

You’d obviously seen the previous seasons, but what’s your take on the iconic Top Chef sound effects and [host] Padma [Lakshmi]’s hilarious promos with the knives?
[Laughs] There’s definitely a little bit of a cheesy factor to all of it. But you know, it draws people in…. They’re just trying to make it entertaining, I guess.

So you keep in touch with the other chefs?
Yeah, I’m friends with almost everybody. I was just on the phone with Lisa and Antonia this morning. I’d say I talk to Antonia the most. Valerie is my friend that lives in Chicago, and Dale and I have been friends for a long time. Now when I go to New York, I have so many people to see — it’s exciting.

Have you been getting noticed on the street, and do you think this newfound fame will have an effect on you?
Yeah, it’s crazy. People are shouting at me on the street. It’s exciting but 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.

What’s next? What’s your one-year plan?
I’m going to stay in Chicago and I’m going to start working toward opening another restaurant. Hopefully, in a year I’ll have one open.

Do you have a concept yet?
I do. It’s hard for me even to try to explain it. It’s in my head in a bunch of different pieces at the moment. But it’s just going to be reflective of me, just a chill place [where] you can get great food, wine, and beer and hang out with your friends and have a good time.

Of all the celebrity/well-respected chefs on the show, is there one you wish you had in your address book that you could just call up and have a beer with?
I mean, Anthony Bourdain, I’m sure that’s the common answer. It was cool to meet him as much as we did, but I really would just want to hang out with him. I love [his] show [No Reservations]. Hey Anthony, do you want to take me around and travel with you?

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