Photo Credit: Bravo
Photo Credit: Bravo

Season Four gave us Spike Mendelsohn, a DC transplant, who checked out at a respectable fifth place.  Season Five gave us Carla Hall (not to mention Jill Snyder from Baltimore).  We were able to root for her as a local – and an all-around solid competitor – all the way to the finale.  With the season premiere of Top Chef’s sixth season just a few days away, we here in Washington have high hopes that this may be the season where one of our local cheftestants takes the win.

With not one but three competitors representing Washington, Baltimore and points in between (Frederick), those hopes have a better shot than ever before at being fulfilled.  Mike Isabella, head chef at Zaytinya; Bryan Voltaggio, chef/owner of Volt in Frederick; and Jesse Sandlin, executive chef of Abacrombie Fine Foods & Dining in Baltimore all packed their knives and headed out to Las Vegas this spring to measure themselves against fourteen other chefs from across the country.

We here at Capital Spice reached out to all three locals to talk to them in advance of Wednesday’s premiere.  First up: Mike Isabella.  Of the three cheftestants we interviewed, Isabella definitely brought the most swagger.  This Jersey boy has cooked his way up and down the Eastern seaboard, working in some of the top kitchens in New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta before making his way to Washington about two and a half years ago.  These days, he’s the head chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya.  He oversees their menu of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese small plates (with a few other Eastern Mediterranean cuisines thrown in for good measure), squeeze bottle of Greek olive oil in hand.

top-chefCapital Spice: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.  So what kinds of thoughts did you have going into the competition?
Mike Isabella: From past seasons, I had an idea that the competitive aspect of the show would be tough.  I didn’t find out just how tough until after I got there.  I wanted to make sure my flavors showed through in everything I did.

CS: And how would you describe your flavors?
MI: I’m definitely an ethnic chef, and I’ve learned under some of the best ethnic chefs as I’ve come up.  I’ve got a lot of experience with Greek dishes, so I’d say those flavors are my flavors.

CS: It was something of an open secret that you were out in Vegas competing.   Any idea how the cat got out of the bag?
MI: Zaytinya is a monster restaurant.  We’ve got a staff of 160 employees at Zaytinya – 60 in the kitchen alone.  That’s a lot of opportunities for leaks.  On top of that, I’m usually out of the kitchen a lot in the restaurant; people noticed that I wasn’t around for a while.

More with Mike Isabella after the jump. (more…)