Top Chef Exit Interview: Episode 10


It’s kind of eerie how similar Top Chef episodes are becoming to my wildest fantasies. This season has been filled with some of the most interesting challenges, iconic guest chefs and talented contestants, but this week Bravo outdid themselves:

Natalie Portman making a guest appearance and Padma talking dirty. Tommy C, you are a lucky man my friend. Oh and I think there was some excellent, veggie-friendly food too.

Now for a SPOILER ALERT after the jump..


DC chef Mike Isabella crashed and burned for his undercooked leek, scallop-ish dish last night. And true to form, he was happy to talk to ES about what he thinks he did well, and how tough the competition was this season.

In last night’s elimination challenge, you seemed really confident going into it. Was there any inkling when things started to go sour in the kitchen that this may be the dish to send you home?

Oh yeah, without a doubt! You worry about that every competition. I think I did a very good job on the show, I went to the winners circle a lot, I was never at the bottom at all, I was in 20 competitions. But you know, I think I really had a shot at going home last night. When I finally tasted the plate, I was like alright, I’m not going to go home for this, it’s not a horrible dish… but it’s not a good dish. It all worked. But yeah, I was nervous, definitely, without a doubt.

Everyone this season seems to be showing the pressure of the show, but you really seem to just roll with the punches. Every quickfire, every elimination, whatever is thrown at you. Did you have any expectations going into the show that prepared you for that?

Well… I’m a very tough individual [laughs], I… you know it’s me. I’ve done everything myself in my life to get where I am. Moved out at a young age, put myself through school, I’ve just done everything. And I work at Zaytinya in DC and Zaytinya is one of the biggest restaurants in DC. Pressure situations come all day every day. I have an employee staff of over 130 people. For me it’s pressure that becomes secondary and I thought that was going to be one of my strengths.

What was it like filming in Las Vegas?

Same thing as filming in Alcatraz, it was horrible, [laughs] just joking. I mean where you are doesn’t make a difference, you’re so focused on cooking and you spend so many hours of the day recording, you don’t really get to enjoy anything. It was pretty cool to be able to cook in some of the great restaurants, Joel Robuchon, Wolfgang Puck, Craft. All that stuff.

There was a lot of drama in the TC house this season, what was it like being cooped up with all that tension?

Umm [long sigh] you get a lot of strong minded individuals that are all owners or executive chefs of big restaurants, award winning chefs who control their own destinies everyday and to put them up to these big egos in the house is not always the funnest thing to be around ya know? We all really got along except for one person, but… besides that, you know.

Now that you’ve experienced it, seen it on TV, would you do it all over again?

No. [laughs]

Why not?

I won’t do TV unless it’s my own show. It was really tough, really, really mentally and physically challenging. A lot more than you could even imagine. I talked to Carla when she got back last year and she said how upset she was, and I’m thinking in my head, “No way, no way it’s as tough as she says it is” and you would never imagine how tough it really is.

Any other previous Top Chef contestants that you’ve been in contact with?

Talked to Spike before I left, that was really it, those two are the locals around [DC]. We try to pull together here and help each other out. Spike is a friend of mine.

So who do you think is going to take this season’s Top Chef?

Honestly on paper, I think the three best guys is Brian, Mike, and Kevin. I thought it was going to be Brian, Mike and me, but Kevin was kinda the dark horse that came from nowhere, and no one knew much about him or anything and this guy came out and was cooking like an animal. The guy can cook. You know, it’s whoever doesn’t crack under the pressure; if Jen doesn’t crumble, Robin doesn’t really count, and Eli is the middle man. But any one of them could win.

What’s next for you?

I’m working at Zaytinya still and we just got re-reviewed which we got 3 of 4 stars, which is a huge accomplishment for myself. I want to keep moving forward, but I want to stay at Zaytinya for a bit. I’ve put in a lot of work there and I want to bring it to the next level. Next is probably my own adventure. I want to do my own concept and my own food and create. That’s a big thing for me.

PS – Even more Exit Interview over at the I’m Not Here to Make Friends/Endless Simmer podcast.

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  • Britannia October 30, 2009  

    “…we just got re-reviewed which we got 3 or 4 stars, which is a huge accomplishment for myself”

    Such a huge accomplishment he doesn’t know how many stars the restaurant received, Mike it was 3 stars, you got 3.

  • gansie October 30, 2009  

    well played

  • tj October 31, 2009  

    Brittania, seriously? You seriously think he doesn’t know how many stars his restaurant received? Wow.

    Doesn’t even a tiny part of you think it’s a typo, meant to read “3 of 4”?

    Pull your head out, snot.

  • Allie November 1, 2009  

    Ugh, I have such mixed feelings about Mike. He acted like such an ass on most of the show; I really just wanted him to go. On The other hand, the food at his restaurant, Zatinya, is kind of fabulous, so I sort of wanted him to win. Probably ended how correctly. If he was as good as he thought he was, he wouldn’t have been so concerned with Robyn.

  • Bliz November 2, 2009  

    One correction that should be noted is that Mike Isabella did actually say “3 of 4 stars” and not “3 or 4 stars” during the interview. My mistake, my voice recorder isn’t exactly the highest quality. Sorry for any confusion.

    But lets be honest, Mike I has made more than his fair share of asinine comments throughout the season. I think the hostility towards him is pretty amusing though.

  • Britannia November 3, 2009  

    Typo or not, Mike’s arrogance precedes him.

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