The Restaurateur

Mike Isabella

Mike Isabella is a Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur, honored in 2016 by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as Restaurateur of the Year. In 2011, Isabella opened Graffiato to critical acclaim. He now has nine restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with additional outposts in Nationals Park and Ronald Reagan National Airport. This year, Isabella will open three more full-service restaurants and a concept in Baltimore-Washington International Airport, along with a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia. Isabella Eatery will be an unprecedented nine-concept dining experience spanning 41,000 square feet in Tysons Galleria, a luxury retail outlet in Northern Virginia.

In 2012, Isabella was named FOOD & WINE magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic. Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian is his first cookbook, also published in 2012.

Outside the kitchen, Isabella was a judge on “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown” on FYI. Previously, he competed on Season Six of Top Chef, and Top Chef Duels, and he was the runner-up on Top Chef All-Stars. He is also a member of the American Chef Corps, a network of chefs from across the United States who serve as culinary diplomats and resources to the Department of State.

Before opening Graffiato, Isabella was the executive chef of Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. During his three-year tenure Isabella generated accolades and national attention for Washington, D.C.’s Mediterranean powerhouse restaurant.

Before settling in D.C., Isabella moved to Atlanta and found his culinary niche when he joined Buckhead Life Group’s top-notch Greek restaurant, Kyma. As chef de cuisine of the seafood-inspired menu, Isabella learned the flavors and techniques of Greek cooking.

Isabella’s formal training began at The Restaurant School in New York, taking classes and cooking his way through some of New York City’s finest establishments. Later, he travelled down the coast to Philadelphia, first as a sous chef for James Beard award winner Douglas Rodriguez at Alma de Cuba, then a host of other Stephen Starr restaurants. At El Vez, Isabella learned the true craft of Latin cuisine under the direction of Jose Garces, and as executive sous chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s Washington Square, where Isabella educated himself on the art of opening a fine dining establishment.

Executive Chef

Michael Rafidi

Michael Rafidi is the executive chef of Arroz, a Mike Isabella Concepts restaurant located at Marriott Marquis Washington D.C., where he takes a contemporary look at the foods of Southern Spain and Morocco.

Prior to joining Mike Isabella Concepts, Chef Rafidi served as executive chef at Michael Mina’s wine-centric French restaurant RN74 in San Francisco. His work for the Mina Group included a role as corporate executive sous chef, in which he supported global culinary management of the group’s almost 30 properties, as well as serving as an opening team member at Wit & Wisdom, a tavern in Baltimore.

Chef Rafidi, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and is a graduate of Pennsylvania Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu program, has spent time at other celebrated East Coast restaurants, including Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, D.C., Talula’s Garden and The Mildred, both in Philadelphia. He also staged at chef René Redzepi’s internationally acclaimed Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, an experience that fostered his appreciation for foraging and other culinary techniques from around the world.

General Manager

Kevin de Young

Kevin de Young is the general manager of Arroz, and has been with the Mike Isabella Concepts team since 2011.

De Young has also served as general manager of Kapnos and G, assistant general manager at Graffiato, and was on the opening teams at all three of Chef Isabella’s D.C. restaurants. He was especially instrumental in the development of G, working closely with Chef Isabella to build the service and food experience into a neighborhood favorite. Prior to joining Chef Isabella’s team, de Young worked for José Andrés’s Zaytinya in Washington, D.C., and managed restaurants in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

De Young holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Florida Atlantic University.

Sommelier

Alissa Pelkola

Alissa Pelkola is the assistant general manager and sommelier at Mike Isabella’s contemporary Southern Spanish and Moroccan restaurant, Arroz. In this role she helps guide a wine selection that leans heavily on Spain and Portugal.

Prior to joining the team at Mike Isabella Concepts, Pelkola oversaw the wine program and was general manager at Cedric Maupillier’s Mintwood Place in Washington, D.C. She has also worked at several other celebrated area restaurants, including Zaytinya and Minibar from José Andrés, Cafe Saint-Ex, Bar Pilar, Cashion’s Eat Place and Restaurant Nora.

Pelkola completed level two of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2015 and is a Certified Sommelier.

Beverage Manager

Jason Smith

Jason Smith is the beverage manager at Arroz, where he oversees a beverage program that incorporates ingredients and influences from Southern Spain and Morocco. He was previously the bar manager at Kapnos.

Before joining Mike Isabella Concepts, Jason was a part of the opening team at the Royal in Washington, D.C., in addition to working behind the bar at several local Kimpton bars and restaurants. Prior to moving to the D.C. area, Smith worked in San Francisco with Pacific Edge Wine & Spirits, where he did sales and product education.

Raised in Northern California, Smith currently resides in Adams Morgan.

Pastry Chef

Rochelle Cooper

Rochelle Cooper is the pastry chef at Arroz, a Mike Isabella Concepts restaurant located at Marriott Marquis Washington D.C., where she will be working closely with executive chef Michael Rafidi to pair inventive desserts with his contemporary look at the foods of Southern Spain and Morocco.

Prior to joining Mike Isabella’s team, Cooper served as chef de partie at the two Michelin-starred Minibar by José Andrés, as well as a pastry cook at Range by Bryan Voltaggio, where she focused on plated desserts and menu development under prominent pastry chef Chris Ford. Before her experience at these celebrated Washington, D.C. restaurants, Cooper’s work took her to Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa in Manalapan, Florida, where she was a pastry cook.

Cooper received a Bachelor of Science in Baking and Pastry Arts from Johnson & Wales University.