Checking in with Chef Mike Isabella

With a new season of Top Chef well underway it is easy to lose yourself in a roster of new cheftestants. With so many former winners and finalists opening restaurants, we decided to check in on one of the most memorable contestants the show has ever seen, Chef Mike Isabella. Isabella is remembered not just for his big smile and personality, but because he had one of the best runs in show history when he emerged as a dark horse during the All-Stars season and narrowly lost to favorite Richard Blaze in the finals.

CnC: What was the most difficult challenge during your time on Top Chef? Recently, we talked to Isabella about his new restaurant venture, the hardest part about being on Top Chef and his guilty pleasure foods.

Chef Isabella: The challenge at Target on the Top Chef All-Stars season because we had to run around and buy equipment and then assemble it before we even start cooking.

CnC: Where did the decision to call the restaurant Graffiato, which means scratchy or ragged in Italian, come from?

Chef Isabella: Graffiato means scratched or etched and it came from Roman soldiers using their swords to carve into stone. It was an original form of art, and expression. Graffiato is my expression of childhood flavors.

CnC: Do you have a favorite dish or something on the menu you would call Graffiato’s signature?

Chef Isabella: Hand cut spaghetti with olive oil poached cherry tomatoes and basil

CnC: What are your guilty pleasure foods? What sort of dishes do you like to make for yourself when you are alone?

Chef Isabella: I eat a lot of pasta and my favorite junk food is Reese’s peanut butter cups.

CnC: Is there anything that you love to eat, but don’t know how to make or refuse to make and prefer to get elsewhere?

Chef Isabella: Graffiato is located in Chinatown so I go to New Big Wong for Salt & Pepper Shrimp.

Back when Top Chef 8 began, we wrote that Isabella didn’t have “it” and would merely be one of the chefs that would hang around for a while before being dispatched in favor of the more accomplished and better chefs. That sentiment was probably written more than once about Isabella, and boy were we all very wrong. You won’t catch us underestimating Chef Isabella or his restaurant Graffiato anytime soon, and neither should anyone else.

(photo from