Top Chef's Mike Isabella: I Took Offense to Judges Calling Me Cocky
Top Chef's Mike Isabella was portrayed as a somewhat sexist and often cocky cheftestant. And when the judges commented on his arrogance following the vegetarian challenge, he took offense. Find out why the 34-year-old executive chef reacted that way to the judges' sentiments and why he thinks so many chefs aren't fans of Robin. With his departure, six cheftestants remain.
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TVGuide.com: How did you feel when the challenge changed from meat to vegetarian?
Mike Isabella: Overconfident. My original plan when we were supposed to do meats was to do lamb with carrot puree and some fingerling potatoes and stuff like that. When they said we were doing only vegetables, I was like, "Oh I just keep my same dish." I didn't really think it out. I was going to braise the whole leek, cut it into big medallions and then sear it off so the top would be caramelized to look like little scallops. I've done it before. I usually roll them up in plastic, freeze them and then slice them so they keep their shape. But when the pot was buckled, I lost about 40 minutes of cooking time and that's when I started rolling into the losing circle.
TVGuide.com: What did you think of judges' comments that you were cocky?
Mike: I was never really in the bottom much, so what do you expect? I was really surprised to be there. I speak my mind and am very vocal, so I told them, "Yeah, I messed up." What do you want me to do, you know? I'm sorry. Do you want me to cry? Jennifer was about to cry and Robin was crying, and I'm a strong individual. I took offense when I saw that last night — you're going to judge me because I'm not upset? I mean, what do you want me to do? It's food. I cooked a bad dish, I knew I should be there. So, it is what it is.
TVGuide.com: Do you think Jen or Robin should have gone?
Mike: Regardless of that, my dish wasn't a good dish or anywhere close to what it would have been any other day of the week. Do I think mine was better than theirs? Yeah, maybe. I mean, I didn't taste them. But, I do know what Robin did. She had like 13 vegetables on a plate from different regions around the world. It just didn't make sense to me. But, any one of us could have went home, so what could I do?
TVGuide.com: Why do you think so many chefs didn't get along with Robin?
Mike: Honestly, when you compete at a level of this magnitude where we've worked for some of the best chefs in the world, it's very serious and quiet in the kitchen because you're focused on the food. And we'd go to these competitions, and she'd be constantly chattering and talking about nothing. That's her style and who she is, and there's nothing wrong with being like that as a person. But before challenges, she'd always be making comments or saying something; it just got underneath our skin. I think that's what irked most of us.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of irked, Mike V. seemed really angry when Kevin won. What do you think?
Mike: I agree with Mike to an extent. But they judge on flavor and this or that so it's hard to say. I understand Mike because he did multiple textures of asparagus and multiple textures of tomato and Kevin made sautéed mushrooms and kale and put it on a plate. There was no knife skills, presentation or technicalities behind it. Mike had a lot of different cuts, shapes, textures, flavors and it was very unique.
TVGuide.com: What's next for you?
Mike: I'm at Zaytinya [in Washington, D.C.], and we just got re-reviewed and got three stars. We're in the Zagat and are the second most popular restaurant this year. To me, to be a part of running Zaytinya and working with [Chef] José Andrés, there's not much more you can ask for. Eventually you open up your own place, and I feel I'm on par and on goal with my career and am going to keep moving forward.