I was fortunate for the recent opportunity to interview Spike Mendelsohn--of Top Chef, Top Chef All-Stars, Life After Top Chef, and The Next Iron Chef fame and head chef at D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery, We the Pizza, and (the soon-to-be opened) Bearnaise (a steak and frites restaurant). He was a serious delight to talk to, and if I wasn't already a big fan, I would have become one.
I thought I’d start by asking what you had for Thanksgiving last week (editor's note: I spoke to him the Tuesday after Thanksgiving)—did you have a traditional meal or was there anything out of the ordinary on your menu?
I was in Florida this year, with a big group. We had a more traditional meal but with two kinds of turkeys, fried and roasted. You gotta have both!
One thing I’ve noticed about you, as I’ve followed your career, is how you manage to stay calm in high-stress situations. Do you have any tricks for not letting the pressure get to you?
Not caring what people think of you! That's not to say I don't care about my job, but I just don't take things too seriously. I try to have fun with what I do because at the end of the day, I love cooking, and the other stuff won't make or break me.
What do you think people would be surprised to know about being a “celebrity chef”?
How many people it takes to make it work. I've got a great group of people who are there for me, and they're just as important to my success as I am.
So, I have to share, I actually work for the publisher of the cookbook Made With Love, that you contributed “Uncle D’s Chili” recipe to this fall. We were thrilled to have your recipe. What’s another go-to comfort dish of yours?
I'm Greek, so roast chicken and potatoes. I make the potatoes following the SPOOL rule (salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil, lemon) and then maybe a Greek salad on the side.
What’s your favorite burger on the Good Stuff Eatery menu?
That would have to be the Obama brurger – it has salty bacon, tangy red onion marmalade. It just has a really delicious smoky flavor.
(Photo from goodstuffeatery.com)
Your family is a lot of fun to watch on Life After Top Chef—is it harder to run a restaurant together or film a tv show together?
You know, I think I'd say running a restaurant because my family has been running restaurants forever, so I have to prove myself a little more there, as the youngest in the family. They're so good at what they do on the restaurant side of things, and I probably have more experience with the filming and TV side of things.
Do you still tune in to Top Chef these days?
A little bit. I really love the show and all it gave me, but it's hard to watch anything every week because of my schedule.
I know you’ve teamed up with Captain Morgan for holiday-inspired recipes. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what recipe we should try first?
I was really excited about teaming up with Captain Morgan because I'm always looking for something new to challenge me and for new adventures. I'm obviously used to working with food, so basing a recipe around alcohol was new for me. I made it fun, though. I invited a bunch of friends over and drew some inspiration from the group. I think the Black Apple Harvest (recipe below) because it's perfect for the holiday season. It has apple sauce, which sounds like it wouldn't be good, but after muddling and straining it, it gave the drink such a bold, full-body flavor.
You mentioned your friends as a source of inspiration, where else do you get inspiration?
It might sound cliche but just by looking outside. What's the weather, the season, etc., and then I try to cook seasonally. I made a punch for Captain Morgan called "Morgan’s Mistress” and it would be the perfect drink for summer, having friends over, being outside. If you're keeping the season and the occasion in mind, then you can be really adventurous and try all sorts of combinations.
What are your holiday plans?
I've started a tradition of having a Christmas brunch at my house, decorated in a retro style, with a big spread. My family spent a long time iall in different cities but now that we're all together in DC, it'll be nice to get together and enjoy some time together.
What new things can we expect from you in 2013?
I'm always working on a few things. In February Bearnaise will open and there might be a few more shows in the works, too.
BLACK APPLE HARVEST
- ¾ cup apple sauce
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 dash allspice
- 1 dash nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon crushed ginger
- Juice from one lemon (save the rind)
- .25 ounces apricot liquor
- 1.25 ounces Captain Morgan® Black Spiced Rum
In a shaker, add ice and shake it like your momma taught you. Fill a rocks glass with ice, take a lemon rind and rim the glass. Next, take a thin slice of ginger and rim the glass and then put both garnishes in the glass. Pour cocktail through holes of the shaker. Cocktail should still have some apple sauce texture, but shouldn’t be thick. Lastly, drizzle with honey.
Note: If you don’t have apricot liquor on-hand or don’t want to make a run to the store, feel free to try without it.