While Isabella, 37, is known for cooking on TV and in the kitchen of his restaurant, when it comes to making meals at home, his approach is less hands-on.
“I don’t do much,” the New Jersey native admits as he glances at his wife, Stacy. “If she wasn’t here, I’d tell you I did.”
The lack of cooking he does at home is one reason it wasn’t the kitchen that drew him to his new Chinatown apartment. It was the open floor plan and the view. Directly opposite the kitchen is an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city.
“I love the city and being able to cook and stare out into it,” he says. “Graffiato and Bandolero have open kitchens. I think every kitchen I have will be open. If there is a wall, I will knock it down.”
The open nature of Isabella’s home kitchen makes the 18-by-9 foot space feel larger than it is. But the size, he says, is perfect for an apartment.
“If you have a big kitchen, it’s a waste of space,” he says. “You only need the essentials.”
Essentials for this chef include a good stove (“the heart and soul of a kitchen,” he says), sharp knives, heat-resistant utensils and enough cabinet space to store his Le Creuset cookware and his appliances.
“I don’t like to leave appliances out,” he says. “It’s messy.”
When asked if that means he’s neat when he cooks, Isabella hesitates and laughs. So does his wife. “I’m very organized in the kitchen,” he says. “That’s the best way to put it.”
In Isabella’s organized kitchen, light-color cabinets, polished black granite countertops and a suite of GE Profile stainless-steel appliances sit across from a granite-topped island with a row of backless stools.
Because they are renting, he has no plans to make changes to this kitchen, such as tiling the backsplash (which would be easier to clean, he says) or swapping out the electric range for a gas model.
“I don’t mind having electric because I don’t cook on it that often,” he says. “If you’re cooking for two to six people, it’s perfectly fine, but if you’re cooking for more people, you want more firepower.”
If he were to make changes, function, not aesthetics, would come first.
“The more details you have, the more the cost goes up,” he says. “So for me, less is more.”
That rule doesn’t appear to apply to his career.
“I’d like to continue to be part of the growing D.C. culinary scene, and I’d like to open more casual restaurants, because I think we need more of them,” he says.
Isabella may have just missed winning the $200,000 grand prize and title of Top Chef, but it clearly hasn’t fazed him.
“I didn’t win,” he says, “but I got what I wanted.”