New Season of Top Chef’ Features Local Chefs

Posted August 19, 2009 at 3:37pm

Washingtonians will see some familiar faces when the sixth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef— premieres Wednesday night. Local chefs Michael Isabella of Zaytinya and Bryan Voltaggio of Volt in Frederick, Md., are among the 17 participants competing in Las Vegas for the title of top chef.

Isabella, who took a month off earlier this year to shoot the show, says he was drawn to “Top Chef— because he thought it would help raise his profile in the cooking world.

“I thought it would help my career out,— he says, adding that he was lured to the show more for the competition than for the thrill of being on television. “The TV side of it’s very tough, and I didn’t expect it to be that tough [both] mentally and a little bit physically.—

Each week the show features two cooking challenges in which the chefs are pitted against one another. The “quickfire— challenge comes first and tests the chefs’ basic skills. Then comes the elimination challenge, which tends to be more arduous and complex. At the end of each episode, one of the chefs is asked to leave. The winner of the competition receives $200,000 in cash and prizes, a spread in Food & Wine magazine and a showcase at the Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo.

While Isabella was unable to discuss the specifics of the challenges or how long he lasted on the show, he did say it was fun to compete with and learn from the other chefs.

“It was really inspiring to get your competitive juices going,— he said. “And to really see what level you’re at when you’re competing with guys who— have won James Beard Awards.

Voltaggio echoed this sentiment, adding that it was especially fun for him to be competing with his brother Michael, who is a chef in Los Angeles.

“It was great being on with my brother. We’re both competitive by nature and it was the first time for us to be back in the kitchen cooking side by side,— he says.

Voltaggio said the key to success on “Top Chef— is thinking on your toes. The chef says he prides himself on problem solving in the kitchen at Volt, a skill that proved useful in Las Vegas.

“I definitely went in with the understanding that no matter how well I believe I can cook fundamentally, that there could be some instances that curveballs could be thrown to make a challenge interesting,— he said. Voltaggio is barred from going into detail about the show until after it airs, but he did say he would encourage others to apply for the competition.

“I would definitely encourage colleagues and people who are working for me to apply for future seasons,— he said. “It was something I would never trade.—