Chef & Reality TV Star Mike Isabella

Chef & Reality TV Star Mike Isabella

He's a self-described "Jersey Italian boy" -- but don't go to his high-end Chinatown restaurant looking for stuffed shells, chicken Parmesan or cheese ravioli...

On Top Chef, his tattooed tough-guy persona turned off some viewers and some of his competitors. But all agreed his pepperoni sauce made them swoon. We're talking food, flavors, family and friendship with one of DC's hottest new chefs.


Mike Isabella

Chef & Owner, Graffiato; Runner-Up, Top Chef All-Stars (Season 8, 2011)

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Isabella shares the secret to his Italian grandmother's "gravy" (spaghetti sauce) - pig's feet:


Courtesy Chef Mike Isabella

Pepperoni Sauce
Sample the pepperoni sauce that won Chef Isabella so much praise on the finale of "Top Chef All-Stars."

Makes 4 1/2 cups to 4 3/4 cups

6-oz. pepperoni, cut into thin slices
4-oz. yellow onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 teaspoon chili flake
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted
4-oz. crushed San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
4-oz. chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1. In a pot, sweat onions in olive oil for five to seven minutes.

  1. Add garlic and continue to sweat for two minutes.

  2. Add the pepperoni and cook for about three more minutes. A

  3. Add spices and cook for an additional minute.

  4. Add the crushed tomatoes with the juice and cook for five more minutes.

  5. Lastly, add chicken stock and simmer for 40 minutes.

  6. Remove the mixture from heat and puree in a blender.

  7. Season with salt and pass it through a fine china cap.

  8. Finally, add the splash of vinegar.

Roasted Potato Gnocchi with Pork Ragu, Buratta

Isabella's grandmother taught him how to make this dish.

Serves 4-6

4 large Idaho potatoes, washed
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 large egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup zested parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
4 quarts water (for cooking)
3 tablespoons salt (for cooking water)
pork ragu (see recipe below)
buratta (see recipe below)
¼ cup zested parmesan cheese
1 cup baby arugula leaves, loosely packed

1. Preheat the oven 425 degrees.

  1. Prick each potato several times with a fork and place on baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour.

  2. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool for 10-12 minutes just until you can handle them.

  3. Cut each potato open length wise and scoop out the flesh. Pass the flesh through a potato ricer into a mixing bowl.

  4. Stir in 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, egg yolks, parmesan cheese and salt. Using your hands, mix until all ingredients are just combine but make sure not to over work the dough or the gnocchi will become tough.

  5. Roll the mixture out into 12 inch by ¾ inch ropes. Sprinkle with the remaining flour so it does not stick.

  6. Cut into ¾ inch sized pieces.

  7. Bring water to a boil in a large pot then add the salt to season the water.

  8. In 3-4 batches, drop the gnocchi in the water and cook until they all float, approximately 1-2 minutes.

  9. Remove from the water and serve over the pork ragu. Top with dollops of the buratta, parmesan cheese and arugula leaves.

Pork Ragu
yields 3 cups
¾ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 ½ cups warm water
2 pork shanks, 2 ½-3 pounds bone in (pork shoulder can be substituted)
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrot
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1 ½ cup chicken broth
1 ½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 sprig rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Soak dried porcini mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, season the pork shanks with kosher salt and black pepper. Then dust the pork shanks with flour.

  3. Heat the olive oil in large heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, sear the pork shanks on all sides until golden brown; approximately 2 minutes on all sides. Remove from the pot and let rest.

  4. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid for later use. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.

  5. In the same pot add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the garlic is golden.

  6. Add the white wine scraping the bottom of the pot to remove all the brown bits. Cook until the wine evaporates.

  7. Add the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, rosemary and reserved mushroom liquid. Bring mixture to a boil and add the seared pork shanks. Cover with a lid and bake in the oven for 3 hours. Check after 1 ½ hours and turn the shanks over once.

  8. Bake the remaining 1 ½ hours and then remove the pork shank from the liquid and let both cool for 15 minutes. The meat should be falling off the bone.

  9. Pass the liquid and vegetables through a food mill on the smallest disk (or pulse in a food processor until pureed; be sure to remove the rosemary sprig). Return the liquid to the pot.

  10. Shred the pork shank making sure to get rid of all the fatty parts. Return the shredded pork in the liquid and continue to cook for 15 minutes until it becomes a rich stew.

8 ounces buratta
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Coarsely chop the buratta then add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Mix to evenly combine.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pecorino, Mint
A popular dish at Graffiato

Serves 4
Prep Time = 35-40 minutes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 head cauliflower (cut into florets)
½ cup thinly shaved red onion
¼ cup grated pecorino
10 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

  1. Add the butter to a stainless steel pan over medium heat. Once it begins to melt; whisk occasionally so the butter does not burn. It will start to bubble and you will want to whisk it around every 10-15 seconds. You will start to see little brown bits form and it will happen quickly. Continue to whisk and once the butter has turned light brown and has a nutty aroma, remove from the heat. It will continue to brown after it has been removed from the heat. This is browned butter.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the cauliflower florets with the browned butter. Then transfer to a baking sheet and roasted in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until just tender. You still want a little crunch.

  3. Return the roasted cauliflower to the mixing bowl and while still hot, toss in the red onion, pecorino and mint. Then drizzle the lemon juice over the cauliflower; toss and transfer to a serving dish.

Note:It is important to use a stainless steel pan when making the browned butter. It allows you to see what is happening.

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