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What's Up Magazine

Back Talk: Celebrity Chef Michael Isabella

Nov 20, 2012 05:28PM ● By Anonymous

You are originally from New Jersey. What made you settle down and launch your career in Washington, D.C.?
I traveled around cooking, so before I was in D.C., I was in Atlanta running a Greek restaurant. That opened up the door for me to take over Zaytinya (a Greek restaurant in Washington, D.C.). I really like the city, it’s a perfect size.

What drew you to working with Prostart, an organization that offers students a platform to learn and experience life in the restaurant industry?
For me, it’s always been about the younger generation. Reaching out to see what they enjoy, help with scholarships; that really attracted me. That’s the future of what we do. These kids are really serious, they love food, eating, and dining.

What led you to originally appear on Top Chef’s season six in 2009, and what caused you to come back for the All-Stars season in 2010?
There are always challenging chefs on Top Chef, but I thought there were a very small amount [in season five, the season before Isabella competed]. I definitely thought I was unique and different from a lot of people, and felt I had a shot to win. When you have 16 chefs in the kitchen … you see 30 different dishes with different styles and techniques. It’s very eye-opening. When they asked me to come back [for All-Stars], I felt I had unfinished business.

What made you decide to write a cookbook?
I always wanted to write a cookbook. After the family challenge on the All-Stars season, people wanted to know more about me. It’s a cookbook, but there are also a lot of stories about when I was a kid and family recipes. Every recipe is straightforward and simple.

What is your favorite meal to serve around the holidays?
Every Thanksgiving, my wife and I do all the sides for the family. We’ll always make a roasted mushroom dish, roasted onion casserole, and we do Brussels sprouts with pancetta. Our food is simple, but it’s good and fresh.

What is your top tip for home cooks entertaining for large groups of people around the holidays?
Try to get ahead. When we have people coming over, we get ahead, get prepped up, and get as much stuff cooked ahead of time as possible.