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This week, Top Chef DC approached Washington less like tourists and more like honeymooners.  Sure, they knew the sights were out there, but they were perfectly content to spend the day in the hotel.

Poor Season 7 cheftestants.  When Top Chef did a hotel dining challenge in Season 1, the chefs served professional poker players and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.  When they did a hotel dining challenge last season (in Las Vegas, where the hotels pretty much ARE the attractions), they served breakfast in bed to Padma and Nigella Lawson.

This time?  Breakfast lunch and dinner to DC area Top Chef alums and the chef/owner of the country’s first certified organic restaurant.

So that means we’re all about the personalities this week as we dig into the who’s, what’s and where’s of Top Chef DC.  After the jump, find out what Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn and Bryan Voltaggio have been up to since their appearances on Top Chef, meet celebrated chef Nora Pouillon and check out a local company that’s doing baby food even Padma and Tom would like.

Photo Credit: Bravo

Mike Isabella

Talk about tough timing.  Just two weeks after the first episode of last season’s Top Chef aired – you know, the one where Chef Isabella made a rather widely-discussed sexist comment about Jennifer Carroll – he got married.  His wife, Stacy Nemeth, encouraged him to compete in the show despite it taking him away for five weeks while they were planning the big event.

Since then, Isabella has been back at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, where he runs the kitchen…for the next month.  The Washington City Paper’s Tim Carman broke the news last week that August 7th will be Chef Isabella’s last day at Zaytinya.  He intends to open his own restaurant with a focus on cicchetti, Venice’s answer to small plate dining.  His ambitious timeline has him opening by the end of this year or early next.  We’ll be sure to update you when we hear more.

Evangelos “Spike” Mendelsohn

Capitol Hill residents and staffers have another reason to cheer as Spike, his family and his partners-in-crime Mike Colletti and Brian Lacayo are days away from opening We, the Pizza.  Located next door to their popular Good Stuff Eatery, WTP is bringing hand-tossed pizza, sandwiches, gelatto and old-school fountain sodas in an updated version of the classic neighborhood pizza joint.  We took a first look at the space yesterday and can’t wait for it to open.

We could fill an entire post with Spike-related news like his Good Stuff cookbook, but it’s more fun to point you toward his fiancee’s blog.  Check out Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety.  It will tell you everything you need to know about Spike from the perspective of someone who has a ringside seat.  Even without him, it’s a great read.

Photo Credit: Bravo

Bryan Voltaggio

BroVo East, as he was first named by Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan, is one of those contestants that made last season’s Top Chef so damned hard to live up to.  He came across like the accomplished chef/owner he is, turning out top-quality food week after week.  Since then, as you might expect, he’s been back to work at VOLT in kinda-nearby Frederick, Maryland and working with a wide range of local organizations to raise money and awareness for sustainable agriculture in the nearby area.

Bryan and Michael Voltaggio have parlayed their tag-team appearance in last season’s finale into a new website, The Voltaggio Brothers, a platform from which they’ll be launching all kinds of ventures.  So far they’ve made a number of joint and solo appearances at food & wine events across the country.  Appropriately enough, VOLT was also a destination on the Chevrolet Volt Freedom Drive that just took place last week, highlighting Chevrolet’s new electric vehicle and its freedom from dependence on fossil fuels.

Nora Pouillon

Chef Nora Pouillon is a bonafide celebrity chef in Washington dining circles.  She has been doing the fresh, seasonal, local thing for thirty years now, and her eponymous restaurant was the first in the country to be certified organic.  She is very active in the local farmers’ market scene and has published Cooking with Nora to inspire home cooks to use the best ingredients to their full advantage.  I learned a red-faced lesson in choosing my words here on the blog carefully after writing about my experience cooking some of her recipes last year.

Oh, and that restaurant is kind of a destination.  First Lady Michelle Obama had her surprise birthday dinner there this year, and there was a post over at Apron Anxiety recently that indicated that Spike and Alyssa celebrated their anniversary there, too.

Mom-Made Foods

If Tom and Padma want to keep an eye on what they’re feeding their babies, I hope they took advantage of their time in DC to check out Mom-Made Foods.  This Alexandria-based enterprise uses quality organic ingredients to turn out a line of fruit and vegetable purees for infants and a few organic dishes for big kids, as well.  No curry here, but it’s a great way to make sure that babies are eating healthy options without all the processing that goes into most commercial options.


As for your suggestions from our contest last year:

Without any DC connections for the challenge or the location, it fell to your suggestions on guest judges to carry us through this week.

smarfil and Sarah get credit for suggesting that Spike would make a good judge (though they paired him with his family and Michel Richard, respectively).

I wish the producers had taken Hershel Lipow’s suggestion and had the cheftestants cater four dinner parties using the DC alums’ styles as their inspiration…now that would have made for some interesting dishes.

We were kind of surprised no one suggested Chef Nora Pouillon or her restaurant.