By Jessica Voelker
At Good Stuff Eatery, chef Spike Mendelsohn (Top Chef alum, Acid Reflux meds shill) famously serves burgers named for Barack and Michelle Obama. The edible homage to POTUS--as heartburn-inducing as a gridlocked Congress--is a beef patty topped with applewood bacon, onion marmalade, Roquefort cheese, and horseradish mayo. Reflecting her ever-controversial aversion to childhood obesity, Mrs. Obama's sandwich is a free-range turkey burger with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, ruby tomato, and lettuce on a whole wheat bun with "Southlawn herb garden mayo."
But as Washingtonians know well, a change in the White House leads to countless other little changes throughout the town. If Mitt Romney manages to grab the presidency, he'll be needing a Good Stuff burger too, right? We asked chef Spike what would be on it. "The Romney Burger would be fried cod, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, Creole mayo, and roasted red peppers," Mendelsohn revealed to us in an e-mail yesterday. The burger is "an ode to Massachusetts, and specifically Cape Cod. The roasted peppers and Creole mayo compliment the cod--a nod to the great seafood from Massachusetts."
Ed Lee, flanked by fellow cheftestants Heather Terhune and Paul Qui. Photograph courtesy of Virginia Sherwood/Bravo.
Top Chef: Texas fans, take note: Season 9 finalists Edward Lee and local son Paul Qui (from Springfield, Virginia) are going to be in town on March 31 for a cooking demo, lunch, and Q&A at Asia Nine, so get your tickets early. If you miss the class, you might catch Lee dining at Volt or tasting through a meal at Minibar—two spots he says he’d like to hit during the visit.
We recently checked in with the Louisville, Kentucky-based chef, who has spent this season whipping up rattlesnake for Padma, barbecuing for Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold, and creating gore-inspired treats for the Evil Queen herself, Charlize Theron. With only five toques left, the pressure is on, and we won’t know until tomorrow night whether Lee makes it to the final four. Below, the chef spills his thoughts on the toughest challenges, what he’d change about the season, and his upcoming projects.
So what have been some of your favorite challenges so far?
My favorite challenges were the ones I did well in! The one with Charlize Theron is definitely up there, and I think the other chefs would agree. It was challenging, but there was a lot of freedom. As chefs, that gets our juices flowing.
“This is not classic food,” says Mike Isabella, pointing to a draft of the Bandolero menu. “The tradition is there, but then it’s the Mike Isabella touch.”
A few days before Living Social announced a new pop-up project that will preview the menu at Isabella’s forthcoming Mexican restaurant in Georgetown, the Graffiato chef had just returned from an eating trip to San Francisco—the final leg of a three-city tour designed to familiarize himself with the offerings at the best Mexican eateries around the country. In between these jaunts, he’s been poring over the Mexican cookbook canon, “from Diana Kennedy, the classic, to Rick Bayless and some of the modern stuff.” The Bandolero menu has yet to be finalized—Isabella says he’ll likely make tweaks up until two weeks from the opening—but the chef seems to have nailed down the lion’s share of the dishes.
Here’s the scoop on what to expect:
Bryan Voltaggio’s time on Top Chef turned him into a household name, attracting foodies far and wide to the tasting menu at Volt, his restaurant in Frederick, Maryland. But on the outskirts of town, Voltaggio observed a different dining need. "I noticed chain restaurants packed full of families," he says. "People want something easy, where they can throw their family in the car, park outside, and have a quick meal."
So he decided to open a diner. Rumors of the project started circulating a few weeks back, but Voltaggio confirmed to us yesterday that the yet-to-be-named eatery will be housed in a former car dealership just outside downtown Frederick. The chef will retrofit the auto showroom into a classic American diner—albeit with a distinct Voltaggio touch. It will be "simple fare done really well at a moderate price,” he says. While the menu isn’t set, dinner options could include meatloaf, lasagna, and crispy fried chicken. And yes, there will be breakfast: Voltaggio is planning egg sandwiches, platters, and pancakes (his son's favorite).
Mike Isabella's paella stuffing brings new flavors to the feast. Photograph by Erik Uecke
This vibrant stuffing from chef Mike Isabella may look familiar: The Graffiato chef-owner conceived the dish during a quick-fire challenge on Top Chef All-Stars, where the cheftestants scrambled to create stuffing after cutlery and utensils were removed from the kitchen. Tre Wilcox took the prize, but Isabella’s bright riff on paella with saffron, piquillo peppers, and chorizo is a winner on the toque’s home table. Isabella likes to use it with a turkey for Thanksgiving, but even if you’re not cooking the big bird, it’ll make a zesty filling for wild game, peppers, and even whole roast fish.
Check out Washingtonian.com’s recap of last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale and a conversation with the runner-up here.
The final showdown was a nail biter, with the judges finding lots to love about both Mike’s and Richard’s dishes. But in the end, there could only be one Top Chef . .
While prepping for the elimination challenge—to create “the restaurant of your dreams”—on last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale, Richard Blais said he was planning to make Cap’n Crunch ice cream for his dessert course. As someone who could happily eat both ice cream and cereal at every meal, I was instantly salivating. But then Richard changed his mind, deciding instead to make fois gras ice cream. That’s right. He decided to swap out Cap’n Crunch for fattened goose liver. He might as well have reached through the screen and punched me in the face. And yet . . . I was still rooting for him. How could you not? He’s won more challenges than any other competitor on the show and somehow he’s not a jerk. In fact, he seems like an incredibly nice guy.
The tension between the three remaining contestants was palpable on last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars. Mike strutted around the chefs’ Atlantis suite, saying things like, “Hey Richard, Wolfgang called to ask how the goulash is coming,” causing us to worry that Richard may finally snap. For most of the hour, Richard appeared to be somewhere between puking and crying. Though he avoided doing either, he did continually remind us that he—and not Mike, damn it!—has won the most Top Chef challenges of any contestant in the show’s history. Someone needs to give that poor guy a drink. Or a Xanax.
On last night’s Top Chef: All Stars, there was a kitchen fire that derailed the Elimination Challenge and required real live firemen to put it out. And somehow, the episode was still one of the most boring of the season.
The five remaining chefs arrived in the Bahamas for the finals. For the Quickfire Challenge, they cooked against the chefs who won each of their seasons. Carla was clearly off her game early on. She undercooked the rice with her lamb dish and lost to returning chef Hosea.
The contestants were told they’d be cooking for Bahamian royalty for the Elimination Challenge. They got to work planning upscale fare to fit the occasion. Richard quipped that he had been preparing so hard for the finals he was willing to hunt down a goat if he had to. We wished he would, just to liven things up a little. Turned out the chefs would be cooking for the King of Junkanoo—a festival sort of like Mardi Gras—and not for actual royalty. Oh yeah, and they wouldn’t be working in a palace, but a small, divey restaurant with apparently faulty kitchen equipment. Basically, then, the challenge was to cook a meal in a regular restaurant for regular diners. Yawn.
We started to get a little suspicious about where last night’s episode of Top Chef: All-Stars was headed when, seated around the dining table with family members of all the contestants, the judges apparently couldn’t find anything to critique about anyone’s dish. Gail loved Carla’s grits. Tom raved that Tiffany had done the impossible and prepared okra that he actually enjoyed. Mike teared up when presenting the gnocchi he made using his grandma’s recipe. It was a love fest all around. And sure enough, when it was elimination time, the judges decided they just couldn’t bear to send anyone home. All five remaining chefs are now headed to the Bahamas for the final round.
But come on, this is a competition. If all you have to do is bring your mom to dinner to keep yourself from going home, what’s the fun in that? We found the whole thing pretty lame. What do you think? Should the judges have sent someone packing? Let us know in our poll. And tell us in the comments which contestant the chefs should have sent packing.