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We missed you!

Sorry for the post silence lately – we promise we’re still keeping an eye on openings, eating around town and trying some delicious dishes at home.  We’re just a bit behind on letting you know about it.

So…how about that Top Chef DC?  Yeah, definite wasted opportunity.  It had its moments: Sam Kass and school lunches, for example.  But Washingtonians and viewers in general pretty much agree that this season was lackluster.

Oh well – they’re off to Thailand and we’re ready for the rumored-but-not-officially-confirmed Top Chef All Star season that may or may not be currently filming in New York (more on that later – some familiar faces from DC may be involved).  We’re also rooting for the home team on Top Chef: Just Desserts when it debuts this week, cheering on Hook’s Heather Chittum as she takes on a field of eleven other pastry chefs.

And we’re also looking back at some more enjoyable Top Chef memories, as well.  Top Chef Season 6 gave fans plenty of talent and competition – and gave DC fans a favorite to root for clear to the end in VOLT’s Bryan Voltaggio.  The first season of Top Chef Masters provided a fun twist on the format and a winner who’s just such a darn nice guy.  And then there was the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook – everything you need (except years of training) to duplicate some of the most inventive dishes from the show’s first five seasons.

They’re all available for purchase now…or you can win them right here.  That’s right – we’re having another Top Chef Finale giveaway contest this week.  The winner gets a prize pack that includes Top Chef Season 6, Top Chef Masters Season 1, and the Quickfire Cookbook!

Want to win?  Leave a comment with three components (one for each prize):

1. A celebrity chef you’d like to see as a judge next season
2. The competitor you would MOST like to see in an “All Star” season, were there to be one
3. A challenge from a previous season you’d like to see brought back

We’ll announce a winner (selected at random from all eligible entries) on Thursday morning, just in case you don’t get your fill of Top Chef with Wednesday night’s back-to-back episodes.

And thanks for reading!

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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. (more…)

Bryan

Photo Credit: Bravo

We’re a little more than 24 hours away from the premiere of Top Chef’s sixth season (Cleaving Las Vegas, anyone?), and the excitement is definitely building in Washington as we watch for our local competitors to show the rest of the country what we already know: that DC is underrated when it comes to the quality of our up-and-coming chefs.

Yesterday, we gave you a first look at Zaytinya’s Mike Isabella.  Today, we’re chatting with Frederick’s own Bryan Voltaggio.  After working his way up through the stations at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole (eventually earning the role of sous chef), Voltaggio was named Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer Steak when it opened here in Washington.

As much of a home coming as that was for Voltaggio, he had always envisioned owning his own restaurant and bringing something back to Frederick County where he grew up.  In July 0f 2008 that vision became reality with VOLT, a modern American restaurant that is at once part of the DC restaurant scene and the agricultural community that supports it.

We talked with Bryan Voltaggio about his approach to Top Chef, the way he was able to stay under the radar (at least relative to Isabella) and sibling rivlary:

Capital Spice: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, chef.  We’ve heard you were actually a big Top Chef fan even before you started the application process.  Is that true?
Bryan Voltaggio: Absolutely, though I rarely get to watch the episodes when they first air since I’m usually working.

CS: Did that have anything to do with your decision to apply for this season?
BV: It did.  I’ve actually always wanted to compete [on Top Chef].

Photo Courtesy: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

CS:Was it a tough decision to make to apply this time around?
BV: Yes and no.  On the one hand, it meant that I was applying soon after VOLT opened up, and I knew that if I was accepted I would need to leave the restaurant for a month or more.  But I’ve got a great team working with me at VOLT, so I wasn’t too worried.

CS: It seems like you had an easier time keeping your participation under wraps than Chef Isabella of Zaytinya did.  Considering how many food bloggers DC has these days, how did you manage to pull it off?
BV: I think there were a couple of factors that helped.  First off, we’re a bit removed from the downtown dining scene, so I’m able to keep a lower profile in general.  Second, I think the timing made a lot of people skeptical that I would do it.  And the fact that I’ve already opened my own restaurant makes me different than a lot of the other competitors, whose goal is to win and then roll the prize money into a new venture.

Voltaggio vs. Voltaggio and Bryan’s connection to another Top Chef after the jump. (more…)

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…)