Mike Isabella originally intended to leave for Greece and Turkey last week for 15 days of research in anticipation of his forthcoming restaurant, Kapnos. But when his country called, the former “Top Chef” contestant and creator of Graffiato and Bandolero in Washington added some embassy stops and restaurant and vendor meetings to his overseas itinerary.
Isabella is one of the first chefs to be tapped by the State Department to serve as a culinary ambassador abroad, part of an ambitious new undertaking to use food as a diplomatic tool. Initiated by the U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall and blessed by her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership aims to “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts,” according to a mission statement.
The initiative, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, named for the late dean of American cooking, will be officially announced at the State Department on Sept. 7 at a reception featuring some of the nation’s premiere chefs and pedigreed products. “James used to say, ‘Food is our common ground,’” says foundation president Susan Ungaro. “He would be thrilled” by chefs “getting recognition in ways they never have before.”