The Top Chef Moment Mike Isabella Kept Living Over And Over Again

You know the feeling. You're minding your own business, feeling good. Maybe you even had your glass of water, essentially living your best life, when all of a sudden, that embarrassing thing you said 10 years ago creeps up on you. You cringe, getting that queasy feeling in your stomach, but hey, you proceed to replay the moment in your head some more anyway.

For Mike Isabella of "Top Chef," Season 6 fame, there's a key moment from his past living rent-free in his head. Chef Mike Isabella, known for his skills in Italian cuisine, has faced personal and legal battles. He has dealt with everything from bankruptcy to permanently closing his restaurants. Yet there is something else keeping him up at night. To understand what that is, you'd have to take a closer look at 2009, the season in Las Vegas when Isabella found himself in the bottom two of the elimination round.

A classic bait-and-switch

It was a classic bait-and-switch. "Top Chef" producers are known for building plot twists into the show's episodes, and this was a major one. Picture it; the remaining seven chefs are brought in to host Chef Tom Colicchio's Craft steak restaurant expecting to cook with meat.

That's when they drop the gauntlet. Enter guest judge Natalie Portman, a vegetarian since childhood who has since become a vegan and animal rights advocate. For this elimination round, the "cheftestants" are tasked with having to prepare a vegetarian dish for the famous actress.

Chef Mike had been in the winner's circle "a lot" throughout the competition, but tonight was going to be his last challenge. His downfall? A plate of whole roasted leeks with onion jus, baby carrot purée, and fingerling potatoes.

Isabella was sent home over a plate of undercooked leeks. Maybe he should've become familiar with the leek before heading into this challenge? 

Down but not out

In 2011, Chef Mike returned to "Top Chef" to compete in the "All-Stars" competition, but he never got over his loss. He even began working with carrots and leeks on a daily basis. The problem was the first time that Isabella cooked the leeks too quickly, leaving them undercooked inside. Leeks require time to cook properly. Sliced leeks need up to seven minutes of cooking time to become tender, while whole leeks need anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.

In "Top Chef: All-Stars," Chef Mike is forced to relive his Season 6 failure when given a chance to cook yet again with leeks, carrots, and potatoes. This time he was ready. Because he couldn't live it down, he worked with the ingredients daily, improving his technique. Jokingly, he admits to having been "trained on it" since his epic loss.

Vegetarian recipes require careful care, just like any other dish. Here, Chef Mike shows us how his "involuntary memories" (aka cringe-worthy moments) can be turned into a learning opportunity for growth.