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Mike Isabella from Zaytinya: Top Chef material

When Mike Isabella got the call to appear on Season 6 of Top Chef, the Zaytinya chef apparently didn’t want to do it. It took a little urging from THINKfoodGROUP‘s big daddy, José Andrés, before the chef decided to pack his knives and go onto the show. So says Andrés, who has a little experience with food TV himself.

“I said, ‘You have to do it,'” Andrés told Y&H this afternoon. “I said, ‘I want you to do it.'”

And so Isabella is one of 17 contestants who will appear on Season 6, which debuts on Wednesday, Aug. 26, in Las Vegas. Isabella is not the only D.C. area toque to compete this season. VOLT chef/owner Bryan Voltaggio is also a contestant, as is Voltaggio’s brother, Michael, who’s chef de cuisine at the Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles. Whew, it’s getting rather incestuous in here.

The good news for Andrés is that Season 6 is already in the can; filming, he says, took place last month. Isabella, who just earned a nod on Young & Hungry’s 2009 Dining Guide, took some vacation time to compete on the program.  Andrés had more than enough chef power to cover for Isabella during his nearly three-week absence.

“My restaurants are good at not making any one person important, in that losing any one person brings the system down,” Andrés tells me. “I have a big bench of amazing chefs supporting the playing team.” By that, Andrés means chefs such as THINKfoodGROUP’s Ruben Garcia and Katsuya Fukushima were available to oversee the Zaytinya kitchen, while the sous chefs ran it in Isabella’s absence.

The big question, though, is this: Will Top Chef fame go to Isabella’s head, like it does to many former contestants,  so that he wants to open his own restaurant? In other words, will Andrés lose his toque?

“I doubt I’m going to lose him,” Andrés says. “I want to believe that he wants to stay, because Zaytinya is a good place for him.”

So is Isabella back in the kitchen already?

“Yes,” Andrés says, “he’s back in the kitchen.”

By the way, Andrés tells Y&H that he was approached about competing on Bravo’s latest, Top Chef Masters. But that he turned them down. He says he’s more interested in using TV to promote Spanish cooking than to merely entertain.

Photo courtesy of Zaytinya