If you’ve had a chance to check out the first two weeks of the new Top Chef season, then you know that the producers have chosen to bring back competitors from each of the first seven seasons who came *this* close to winning it all.  This “All-Star” season, set in New York City, pits some fan favorites (and some favorite villains) against each other in a rematch to see who has grown the most since their initial Top Chef appearance.

Here in Washington, we’re lucky enough to have THREE local competitors vying for our slavish loyalty.  In order of original appearance, they are:

  • Spike Mendelsohn (Season 4 – Chicago), chef/owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza.  In his first season, Spike came across as…arrogant.  Has wisdom come with age?
  • Carla Hall (Season 5 – New York), owner of Alchemy by Carla Hall.  She’s transitioning from catering to gourmet sweets and savories.  Hootie hoo!
  • Mike Isabella (Season 6 – Vegas), who has moved on from his position at Zaytinya and is in the process of opening his own place, Graffiato.  He had trouble with leeks last time around (what…that’s NOT what you remember about him?).

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had a chance to chat with each of them.  We asked about what they’re doing professionally, the differences between their first appearances and this season, and what made them decide to subject themselves to the pressure cooker competition again.  Sure, a victory would be big for any of them, but each brought a sense of perspective to the show that they may not have had at first.

Check out some of our conversations with the cheftestants – including big news from each about the directions their projects are heading – after the jump. (more…)

Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

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. (more…)

dc-tv-chefs<<EDIT 5/5 11:06 PM:  As it turns out, Rock Harper has some big news to share this week, as well.  Tom Sietsema was the first to announce that Harper will be taking over as the chef at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria later this week.>>

When it comes to DC chefs and television, the hits just keep on coming.  Top Chef Spike and his family have some big news for their fans, and he and Carla Hall are both in the news this week (literally, in Carla’s case).  There’s all kinds of buzz surrounding Teddy Folkman’s upcoming appearance on the Next Food Network Star.  And – as if that weren’t enough celebrity for one town – we’ve got an inside scoop to further feed the Top Chef Season 6 rumor mill.

The details:

  • Spike Mendelsohn, who rocked the fedoras all the way to the #5 spot in Top Chef Season 4, can be seen in a new series: “Kelsey & Spike Cook.”  Part of the new Food2 website launched by the Food Network, the show pairs Kelsey Nixon, the fan favorite of last season’s “Next Food Network Star,” with Spike – the “Top Chef loose cannon.”  In each episode, Kelsey offers straightforward, upscale presentations of dishes like grilled steak and French toast.  Spike takes things in more creative directions with bold flavors and unique pairings.  Guess which ones we’re more excited to try at home…
  • In addition to Spike’s new show, fans of Good Stuff Eatery should keep an eye on the space next door.  Spike and his family have purchased Zack’s Taverna (aka Taverna the Greek Islands), and their plan is to completely renovate and upgrade before opening an Italian restaurant in the space.  No word on how much longer Taverna will remain open (the Mendelsohns just signed for the place on Friday night), but we suspect they’re aiming for a quick turnaround.  Pair this news with the pizza plans Spike shared with New York’s Grub Street (thanks for the heads-up to Tim Carman), and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s in store next door.  We love the shout-outs to all the great local spots – Peregrine Espresso, Bower’s Fancy Dairy Products, Crepes at Market, Taylor Gourmet…
  • Carla Hall, whose Alchemy Caterers have recently catered gigs for Mayor Adrian Fenty and Members of Congress, joins the mayor as one of five local celebrities whose workout routines are chronicled in this Sunday’s “Fit for Fame” feature in the Washington Post Magazine.  Print copies of the magazine featured the Top Chef finalist front and center on the cover in an impressive-looking yoga pose.  A highlight: “My body wants to be vegetarian,” she laughs, “but my mind wants a hamburger.”  The mind has my vote…
  • Could Teddy Folkman really be the big winner of the upcoming season of “Next Food Network Star?”  A post in the forums over at Food TV Fans claims to have it on good authority that “Teddy is currently in New York City filming the first 6 episodes of his new Food Network program, possibly to be 12 episode due to his expected popularity.”  Sure, we’re ready to believe you…but we’re hardly impartial when it comes to Granville Moore’s crushable chef.  Anyone noticed Teddy AWOL lately who could lend some credence to this rumor?
  • Finally, we’re hardly the first to mention Mike Isabella as a likely contender on the not-even-filming-yet next season of Top Chef (Eater still gets credit for that), but we’re here to fuel the rumors with a little bit of inside gossip from a little birdie.  Apparently the Zaytinya chef’s boss, Jose Andres – himself no stranger to the cheflebrity limelight – has been talking about how Top Chef could impact his top talent.  That little tidbit of info, coupled with Andres’ response to Tim Carman’s post on the subject last week, all but confirms that Isabella will be following in Spike and Carla’s footsteps on the show.  Fifth place in Season Four, third place in Season Five…can you say first place in Season Six?  Sounds like DC is due for another winner (we can’t forget Hell’s Kitchen champion Rock Harper, who’s helming the heavenly kitchen at Ben’s Next Door these days)!