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. Isabella now has more than a dozen restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with additional outposts in Nationals Park and Ronald Reagan National Airport. His newest and largest project is a food emporium in Fairfax, Virginia. Isabella Eatery is 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 was 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 José Andrés’ 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 traveled 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 Requin in District Wharf and Arroz in the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., both concepts from award-winning restaurateur Mike Isabella. Chef Rafidi creatively updates classic French cuisine at Requin, and similarly takes a contemporary look at the foods of Southern Spain and Morocco at Arroz.

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.

Beverage Director

Taha Ismail

Taha Ismail is the beverage director and a partner at Mike Isabella Concepts. Since joining the team in 2011 as the opening bar manager of Graffiato, Ismail has built and continues to develop diverse bar programs at Arroz, Graffiato, Kapnos and G in Washington, D.C., Kapnos Taverna, Yona and Pepita in Arlington, Va., Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda, Md., and Requin Brasserie in Fairfax, Va. In addition to overseeing the cocktail experience at all Mike Isabella Concepts restaurants, Ismail is a partner with Isabella at Pepita, a Mexican cantina that also brings in tiki influence.

In 2017, Ismail won the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY Award for Cocktail Program of the Year for his work at Kapnos. His Mediterranean-inspired cocktail program was also a finalist for the award in 2016.

Previously, Ismail was the head bartender at José Andrés’ Zaytinya for seven years. While in this role, he discovered his passion for developing innovative cocktails and honed his skills in a high-volume environment.

Originally from Casablanca, Morocco, Ismail has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 15 years, holding positions from line cook to bartender. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Strayer University, and is BarSmarts certified.

General Manager/Wine Director

Jennifer Knowles

Jennifer Knowles is the General Manager and Wine Director of Requin, Mike Isabella’s contemporary French restaurant located at District Wharf in Washington, D.C. Knowles, an Advanced Level Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, previously brought her expertise to the lauded French-American restaurant Mirabelle, where she served as service and wine director.

Her deep industry experience, enthusiasm for wine and commitment to mentorship within her field also extend to other hospitality vanguards, including The Jefferson Hotel, Fiola Mare and The Inn at Little Washington. While in her role as wine director at The Inn, Knowles was named Best Sommelier by the International Academy of Gastronomy and received the 2013 Golden Goblet Award from the Association of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs.

After studying Chemistry at Syracuse University, Knowles moved to San Francisco with the intention of taking part in the Oenology program at UC Davis. It was while living in the Bay Area that she began working in fine dining restaurants, exploring the practical piece of her longtime interest in wine, and ultimately deciding to pursue a career in the field.

Alongside Knowles’ work in restaurants, she is actively involved with the Virginia Wine Council, the Virginia Wine Summit and the Virginia Governor’s Cup.