Will the self-effacing Richard Blais take the crown? Or will bad boy Mike “Jersey Mike” Isabella pull a VCU and score a win for the underdog?
Check out this most un-Top Chef-like, no-tricks battle: cook your best. We chat with both the winner and the loser. Here is the runner-up.
Endless Simmer: I’ve got to know about this pepperoni sauce. Is this something you’ve holding on to?
Mike Isabella: I just saw pepperoni there and wanted to add a different element of pork. I kinda gambled and made a sauce out of it. It will be on the menu at Graffiato (his DC restaurant opening this spring).
What were your favorite challenges?
Of course I liked the fishing challenge and when we went to the farmers’ market and bought our own food. And the one where I won a car.
What did you mean by your statement: “Coming in second means you’re the first loser?”
I just say that to motivate myself sometimes. For me, I won. I was one of the biggest winners of the show and no one expected me to do this. I think Tom and Padma voted for Blais and Hubert and Bastianich voted for me.
You had this bad boy reputation for saying what you thought. Why was that your approach?
It’s the stupid side of me. <Laughing> My mouth has definitely gotten me into trouble my whole life. I’m a New Jersey Italian from a broken family and sometimes it still shows. I don’t mean to be disrespectful. I speak the truth. Under the age of 18, I definitely had been taken in and arrested a few times…a little bit of this, a little bit of that… I got into trouble in school and my mom had to pick me up from the police station a few times.
What did you do during the break to help you on the come back to the show stronger?
I started seeing a personal trainer and eating healthy. I was also staging at the top restaurants around DC: The Source, Volt, Central and Blue Duck Tavern. I was ready to shock the world.
What was it like finding out you and Antonia are distant cousins?
Me and Antoniona really got on each other’s nerves and when we found out [about us being related] all of that went away. She’s a great person.
How do you feel about being a part of the Top Chef family?
To be a part of the Top Chef family is great thing. And to be a top 5, top 10 chef ever on Top Chef is a huge thing.
What’s coming up with Graffiato?
The pizza oven is in, plumbing is in and we’ll open up in May. You’ll probably see the gnocchi dish that I made, the pepperoni sauce with different applications, the bucatini and pancetta bread crumbs. It’ll be inspirations of what I made on the show.
You’ll also see my grandmother’s gnocchi and pork dish. The big changing point was when I got married and we want to have a family and we thought about where we can bring them to remind them of their family. It’ll be Italian inspired food, flavors from my childhood worked into what I’m doing now.
What’s the best and worst things about the DC dining scene?
The best is the growth, watching it constantly growing. It’s the biggest year for DC with Fabio [Trabocchi with Fiola] me and RJ Cooper [with Rogue 24] opening up restaurants. There’s more James Beard and Food & Wine winners and Top Chefs and we’re growing rapid fire. It’s awesome to be a part of it. I’m so glad I moved to DC. But there’s more room to grow. There need to be more middle-of-the-road restaurants with great value and great food.
(Photo: NBC Media, Foodie Gossip)