Mike Isabella had a busy 2009. He was nominated as one of Washington’s Rising Culinary Stars. He competed on “Top Chef” against some of the country’s best talent. And, he got married. But this young chef is hardly slowing down.
“We work on a new dish at Zaytinya every day. Even if it’s been on the menu for years,” he says, “we try to make it better.” José Andrés’s ThinkFood Group tapped Isabella to run the show at this Greek-Mediterranean hot spot in 2007, when he and Stacy moved to DC from Atlanta, where they met through work. (She is now the private dining coordinator at Poste.)
The couple frequents local farmers’ markets and cooks together on Sundays. “Stacy is definitely a much better home cook than I am,” says Mike, who gets scolded by his wife for preparing crowd-size portions and using every pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen of their lofty condo. But once in a while, Mike can’t resist cooking the traditional Sunday supper of his childhood. “I cook the food I love: pasta, meatballs and garlic bread,” he says. “I want to go back to my Italian heritage, the way I was raised, and combine it with techniques I’ve been working on.”
CAN’T COOK WITHOUT
Microplane for grating garlic, ginger, cheese. Le Creuset cookware. Japanese knives.
ALWAYS IN FRIDGE
Chicken stock, fresh vegetables, lemons, Greek yogurt, cheese, bacon, chicken, champagne.
Isabella’s Octopus Santorini combines grilled baby octopus, capers, marinated onions and a yellow split-pea purée.
“I want to open up my own concept restaurant. It’s a life-challenging goal. You can’t skip steps,” says Isabella. “I want José [Andrés] to be a part of everything I do because he’s been a big mentor to me. He has supported me, critiqued me and taken me all over the country. Not many people get that from their bosses.”
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