Top Chef reunion when Tiffani Faison welcomes fellow alum Mike Isabella to celebrate his recently released cookbook, Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Plates, this Friday, October 5 at Sweet Cheeks in the Fenway. Faison and Isabella partnered up during Season 8 of Top Chef All-Stars. The book signing party includes passed snacks from Isabella’s cookbook - risotto balls, chicken wings with pepperoni sauce (which he made famous on Top Chef All-Stars) and carnival-style zeppole with seasonal sugars. Cash bar (5-7 PM; hardcover book is $35; 617-266-1300).
Isabella owns Graffiato, an Italian restaurant in DC as well as Bandolero, a modern Mexican spot in Georgetown. He's planning to open a Greek restaurant, Kapnos, and an Italian sandwich shop, G, both in DC this spring 2013.
Zagat stole some time to chat with Isabella, who's on a national book tour.
Zagat: Tell us about the book.
Isabella: It’s has a little bit of everything, [including] family secrets from my aunt, mom and grandmother. Everything is meant to be small portions (like Graffiato), foods made for the home cook. I made it a little bit easier. My wife, Stacy, worked on the recipes with me. I try to have cool flavor profiles and techniques. There is some high-level stuff in there, but not a lot. It has my grandmother’s recipes for gravy, gnocchi and ragu. And, obviously, there’s the pepperoni sauce from the Top Chef All-Stars, that’s one thing we’re serving at Sweet Cheeks.
Zagat: How was it meeting Tiffani Faison?
Isabella: I met her on All-Stars, and knew about her. Heard she was smart, talented - and it was all true. We got along since the beginning and were teammates a couple of times. We worked really well together. I loved her style. She’s dedicated; she’s focused and has great technique.
Zagat: I hear you were self-taught.
Isabella: I went to The New York Restaurant School, which is now The Art Institute of New York City. But you learn everything working in the industry, working under talented chefs.
Zagat: What did Top Chef teach you about opening a restaurant?
Isabella: The first time I was on the show, in Vegas, I was working with all these chefs who had their own restaurants. I realized I was in a similar situation, “I know I can do this.” They were younger than me. I went for it, now I’m on my third and fourth - a Greek restaurant and an Italian sandwich shop.
Zagat: So, have you eaten at Sweet Cheeks yet?
Isabella: No. I’m super psyched - can’t wait to see the space, eat some pork and chill with Tiff.