Mike Isabella has made his culinary name known both on Top Chef and in Washington D.C. with his restaurants, and New York City got a little taste of his Italian-meets-Mediterranean cooking style on Thursday night at Mike's cocktail party to welcome the release of his cookbook Crazy Good Italian at City Grit in Manhattan.
With Mike bouncing between the kitchen and the room full of guests, the Chef alum was excited to get first reactions on his cookbook recipes, and while some might wince at watching people critique your food right in front of your face, Mike's just used to it at this point.
"I competed on two seasons of Top Chef, so it's nothing new," he told The Dish.
As for the food served, it was a variety of all things Italian, but with Mike's signature twists and turns of flavor. The scallop crudo with grapefruit and caviar featured Greek yogurt instead of creme fraiche, the bolognese sauce on the gnocchi was rocking cinnamon and other spices reminiscent of Greek moussaka, and yes, there were meatballs and the one dish that sent Gail Simmons into a foodie freakout. Click on the photo below to see the full gallery.
"We do have pepperoni sauce on the menu tonight," Mike said with a smile. "It isn't the same sauce I used on the show -- it's prepared with a different set-up for the chicken wings."
The Italy-meets-elsewhere mash-ups are something Mike says just comes natural to him thanks to both his experience as well as his preferences. "That's my style. I've never cooked Italian professional until now at Graffiato, I've cooked Mediterranean, Spanish, Greek ... so for me that's just how flavors work. If I like yogurt with something, I'm going to use it. Just because it's not Italian doesn't mean I'm not going to use it. That's just how I cook and think."
Example? "I have curry in my cookbook in an eggplant caponata, which is a traditional Italian thing, but eggplant and curry go great together, and I like curry, so why not? It works."
Mike was only at City Grit for one night, but he'll be back in the Big Apple in a few weeks to cook at Top Chef Kitchen, the show-inspired restaurant featuring a rotation of Chef alumn. What's Mike's take on how that will be?
"I think it's going to be very busy, very intense and it's going to be that tough situation Top Chef always puts you in. Why would they make everything easy?" he joked. "To sell out in 45 minutes for 10 chefs, five weeks, that's a lot of tickets and dinners. The toughest thing is I'm going first, so I don't know what to expect. Ed and I get to work out all the kinks for everyone else, and that's the toughest part."
Crazy Good Italian is on sale now, and visit the City Grit website to see events coming up (including an April Bloomfield dinner),