Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

Today’s the day.  Top Chef season six (Sous-Vide-a Las Vegas?) debuts tonight at 9, an hour earlier than usual and supersized with an extra 15 minutes of footage.  By this time tomorrow, we’ll see the field of 17 cheftestants thinned by at least one – two, if they follow the format in last season’s premiere.

We’ve already introduced you to Bryan Voltaggio of VOLT and Mike Isabella of Zaytinya, two chefs representing the DC metro area.  Skilled chefs with impressive resumes, they’ve both got the chops to go far in the competition.  Voltaggio’s sibling rivalry storyline should guarantee some good face-time for him (and his brother, Michael) – always a positive on competition shows.  And Isabella is the head chef at one of Jose Andres’ busiest restaurants here in DC, which means he knows how to handle pressure and turn out good food for large numbers with ease.

That brings us to our third (somewhat) local competitor – Jesse Sandlin.  Chef Sandlin will be representing Charm City this year, following in Jill Snyder’s footsteps (but hopefully sticking around a bit longer).  She’s the Executive Chef of Jerry Pelegrino’s Abacrombie Fine Foods & Dining.  Over the course of her career, she’s cooked her way from Maryland to Los Angeles and all the way to Australia before returning to Baltimore.  Check out her Top Chef bio, and you’ll learn that she considers bacon AND duck fat to be kitchen must-haves…sounds like we need to make a trip to Abacrombie soon!

We had a chance to chat with Chef Sandlin last week, and we quickly learned that she’s not one to hold anything back, either in the kitchen or in an interview:

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making Top Chef.  What drew you to the show in the first place?
Jesse Sandlin: I’ve been a fan for a while.  I hope my appearance on Top Chef encourages people to check out new places and try new things.

Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

CS: And what was your approach to the competition?
JS: Honesty is the best policy when it comes to reality shows like Top Chef.  Sure, there’s a lot of footage that they have to edit down and those editorial choices can have an impact on how you come across, but if you’re being yourself the whole time it’s going to show through.

CS: You’ve cooked all over the world.  What brought you to Baltimore?
JS: I’m originally from Baltimore, and my family is still in the area.  I came back to be “Aunt Jess” to my brother’s kids and to be a part of the restaurant scene here.

Chef Sandlin’s approach to cooking and keeping secrets – and her take on a Baltimore institution making its way to DC – after the jump.

CS: It definitely feels like Baltimore has a lot going on right now…
JS: We do.  Baltimore is an underrated city when it comes to food.  The Brewer’s Art just got named the best bar in America by Esquire, Woodberry Kitchen is one of Bon Appetit’s top ten new restaurants in the country, and Charleston continues to get rave reviews from all over the country.

CS: Jerry Pelegrino [the owner of Abacrombie] is pretty well regarded, too.  How is it working with him?
JS: It’s great to work with someone like him.  He’s so talented, but it’s not all about him.  He has really allowed me to make the menu at Abacrombie my own.

CS: How would you describe your cooking style?
JS: Local, fresh ingredients prepared using classic technique.  I like to support local businesses and local farmers as much as possible.  I just think food tastes better the sooner you eat it – in the case of vegetables, right after they’re harvested.

CS: This is the second season in a row that Baltimore is being represented on Top Chef.  Do you know Jill Snyder?
JS: She and I both participated in a dinner highlighting women chefs a few years ago, but I haven’t had a chance to connect with her since I got back from Vegas.

CS: What about other folks?  Anyone starting to ask questions at Abacrombie?
JS: Some, but I’m not too worried about giving anything away.  Most people get it, but I have no problem telling someone to fuck off if they push too much.

CS: Here in Washington, we’ve learned that we’re going to be getting a local branch of one of Charm City’s specialties – Dangerously Delicious Pies is coming to H Street, NE…
JS: They are?  That’s great!

CS: Have you ever tried Dangerously Delicious?  Any thoughts for DC diners?
JS: Definitely!  Rodney Henry is an awesome dude, you’re in for a real treat.  They’ve got some killer savory pies and quiche, too – sausage tomato fennel, bacon onion gruyere…
CS: Yeah…we got a chance to try the Baltimore Bomb when we were at HonFest last month.  We can’t wait to welcome them to our neighborhood in DC. 

CS: I really appreciate your time today.  Any final thoughts you want people to know?
JS: Just that I’m really pleased that Baltimore and DC are so well-represented on this show and others.  I think it sends a great message to people watching who might not think of us otherwise.

CS: Thanks again.  Best of luck to you!
JS: Thank you!

So there you have it…we’ve got three local chefs, they’ve got three spots in the finale.  Coincidence?  Hopefully not.

To get a veteran’s perspective, we reached out to last season’s nicest finalist: DC’s own Carla Hall of Alchemy Caterers.  She was definitely reflective on how this season would be different, now that she’s not watching from the inside.  As she put it:

“I’m looking forward to the seeing the next season, now that I’m armed with a different perspective.  I also wonder how the new cheftestants will compete.  Friendly competition or not-so-much?   The bar seems to be raised each season; I wonder what tricks are up the producers sleeves.  It will certainly be interesting.”

We’ll see just how interesting things get as the season progresses.