Spike From 'Top Chef' Talks, Well, 'Top Chef'
Ready for the new season of 'Top Chef'? We sure are. Today at 11 we'll have former cheftestant Spike Mendelsohn in to chat about the show, the battling chefs, and more. Host Spike Mendelsohn

Editor’s Note: Washingtonian Online moderators and hosts retain editorial control over chats and choose the most relevant questions; hosts can decline to answer questions.

Published November 6, 2008
Wednesday night, we know you'll be glued to the tube for the premiere of Top Chef season 5, and we want you to talk about it on Thursday morning. That's why we invited Spike Mendelsohn, one of last season's cheftestants and owner of Capitol Hill's Good Stuff Eatery, to come in for a live chat. At 11 AM, you can ask him for his thoughts on the new crew (and new addition to the judges' table), the season's first cooking challenge, and his future predictions. Submit your questions now!

DC
Why do you think they decided to weed someone out before the show even started? I don't think they have done that in past years. Was it just for drama?
pretty much for the exact reason the culinary student got sent home first. when the cast people, the judges have some say, but at the end of the day, its the casting dept. i think to launch the show, they had to enhance the drama and do something unexpected. i was suprised to see that myself. i think it was a technical challenge and cooking is all techniques, so that was probably a good choice, bc she was exposed to be weak there.
DC
What is your favorite Greek meal to cook?
id have to say, anything with lamb with oregano and lemon, with a greek salad.  something really simple, salt and pepper is a must and letting the true, fresh ingredients speak for themselves.  greek food is really simple. however, you've got to (!!) throw something tzadziki into the mix!!
Washington, DC
Have you learned how to properly flute a mushroom yet?
Hahaha. I know what you're referring to...and fluting a mushroom i've done a million times in french kitchens. but let me tell you, try fluting a mushroom in front of daniel bouloud and there ps:there's more than one way to flute a mushroom and mine was an asian flute. 
Washington, D.C.
Are you single? My girlfriends and I are dying to know!
how flattering! no, i'm not single. actually my girlfriend is here and watching me answer this question very VERY closely. hahah. i've got some great single friends working at good stuff tho (come and ask for Nick Georgades..you wont regret it... i mean, come on, he's Greek). 
arlington va
What percentage of the dishes you prepared on Top Chef were truly original and completely improvised? What are your 2-3 favorite ingredients to work with at the moment? A few non-Top Chef related questions...I was wondering if you have tried Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington and, if so, what you thought of their burgers as compared to yours? Also, I know you have some vietnamese cooking experience and I was curious as to whether or not you have made it out to the Eden Center in Falls Church.

Yes, ive made it out to the Eden Center. One of the first places I went. LOVED it. 

If you saw the WashPo, I did a cooking demo w/ a lady about Vietnamese cooking and got all my ingredients there. 

As far as Ray's Hells, haven't had a chance bc sooo busy, but i've heard really good things. I'd have to say he's burger concept is totally different than mine, for a different market, etc. but I totally respect what he's done for the DC scene. We'll be checking it out soon, no doubt. 

Favorite ingredients- LEMON! But everyone knows that. I'm also really into fish sauce....in limited doses. Try it!

Washington, DC
Strategically, how much can you prepare for the show? Is it enough to perfect 5-10 "signature dishes" or are the challenges such that you have to come in with a completely open mind and trust your instincts?
You try to prepare but it's better just to go with your natural talent and instincts. You want to cook with your heart, not your head.  Like, with my souffle, I dind't prepare for that, but most chefs come w/ a dessert in mind, so I tried to come out of left field. It didn't go too great for me, but i WAS praised for taking risks. Which is definitely part of who I am.
Washington, DC
It seems like every contestant's answer when they mess up a dish is, "I stand behind my dish." Does anyone ever realize their dish just wasn't that good?
Conceptualizing and executing a dish are two compltely different things. So when they say "i stand behind my dish," i feel they mean, they stand behind the concept/idea of their dish.  Even if it fell short of expectations, in the real word, you'd return to the concept and perfect it.  We believe in what we're putting out there, you know? Good question, and I get it, I'm tired of hearing that line too! As well as 'I cooked with passion' blah blah blah, even though I probably said it the most ;)
Washington, DC
What is it about so many talented chefs that they have such huge egos? Like Stefan seems really talented, but a huge jerk. Same with a past few other contestants. Is this common?
Chefs and "Ego" go hand in hand, yes. However, what makes a great chef is being in control of your ego. You want your food to show confidence and you want to be bold, BUT if it gets out of control, the food will suffer. Like, ok, I love both of these guys but Anthony Bourdain is PURE ego (and talent and intellect) but he doesn't even cook any more, compared to his great friend, Eric Ripert, one of the best chefs in the worlds, with immaculate taste and class, who has very little ego but incredible confidence. You can see that balance in his work. Anyways, there are a lot stereotypes about chefs, some true, some not so true. We're all in it to please people and most of us are "entertainers" by nature. Which is why the restaurant business is such a natural fit. 
Washington, DC
What do you think about Patrick, the 21-year-old culinary student being on the show? He didn't seem very prepared. And he didn't last very long.
Honestly, I found it mind-boggling. Why would they ever do that? Kind-of insulting to the judges and the former cheftestants.  I think they were looking/hoping, he would go far and be a Christian-Siriano-like breakthru star. Hardly!
Wash DC
Why did they choose apples for the knife skills tournament? Do you think that was a good barometer for the chef's skills?
I love that they came out w/ a technical challenge to weed 'em out. Cooking is first and foremost technique. But maybe starting of w/ a relay race and exposing variations of techniques would have been better. And it wasn't so realistic...i mean, everyone has peelers in the real world. It doesn't really make you a better/worse chef. I would love if they'd step up these challenges. That's why I think a Top Chef All Star season would be amazing. Bring the best of us back to compete and just KILLL us with the most drastic, severe challenges. Like Amazing Race meets Top Chef meets Survivor meets Entourgage (thinking bout me and Andrew here, ha)!
Chantilly
Hi Spike! What did you think of the first quick-fire challenge with the apples? Don't you think all of these people should be able to peel apples and dice them? That seems kind of silly and easy. Isn't it?
Yeah, like I was just saying, pretty pedestrian (Padma used that word against me once!) and lame.
the district
Spike- Do you think the right person was eliminated? How do you think the judges made that decision?
This guys didn't stand a chance. Not even on Junior Top Chef!! I called it from the introductions. This ins't Top Culinary Student, it's Top Freakin' Chef. Personally, I've paid a LOT of dues to be granted a spot on that show. And I know there's a lot of people out there, that probably applied and feel insulted that they were denied and this toddler got a spot instead. Including some of my friends! Rosie Cheeks Boy MIGHT stand a chance in Top Chef, Season 89, but not this one.
DC
Do you think not going to culinary school is a big disadvantage in Top Chef? Because it seems the people who make it really far have generally been to culinary school.
For me, personally, I had the chops without my culinary school experience. I'd been cooking since I was a kid in my family's restaurant.  But in this day in age, what cuilinary school does, it refines you as a chef and opens your eyes to lots of new techniques and styles of food, not to mention, the networking. Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know, whether that's right or wrong.  At the end of the day, becoming a great chef, is all what you put into it and the journey getting there, the stuff that's not in a book or in a classroom.
Washington DC
Is there an ethnic food that you think is the hardest to cook? Which neighborhood would you have dreaded getting the most?
The Russian nabe would have been rough, but what I would have done would seriously talked to the store and gotten a traditional dish/recipe from them. So much of cooking is research. 
Clarendon
Spike, don't you think it's embarrassing for the CIA to have Patrick leave so early? Doesn't the school consider itself like the Harvard of culinary schools? And the judges said his dish had no flavor!
On the Contrary. I think the school wanted to have him on. I think they're probably thrilled, it was a great plug for the school, either way. There's no embarassement bc the expectations weren't high for him as is, so no major let down. Let's face it, technically, his salmon looked like it was cooked well. It was a dish from 1960, but....he didn't make such a huge mistake. Like I said, he has limited experience.  He needs to merge what he's learning in school, and whatever he learns in the future from just living life and working his butt off, he'll be okay. If you open Pro-Chef (the text books in school), go to page 121, you will see his dish. Mark my words. Sorry kiddo, busted.
Vienna, VA
I've had a debate going with my friends. I watched you on the show, followed your restaurant opening, and definitely got excited when I saw you walking around Good Stuff 'gee, look it's Spike!' So I go back to brag to my friends, and the less-reality TV obsessed are like 'who? huh?' So my question: do you feel like a celebrity chef or would you say you're more invisible to the everyday folk, and which one works better for you?
I do get a lot of attention from fans, more than I ever expected, and I do like it, not going to lie! It's just a nice feeling, to be honest. Top Chef was a great oppurtunity to brand myself as a chef, and see where it takes me. It wasn't about the money or winning, I just wanted to get my name and the "real me" out there. So to answer your question, if I end up famous or not famous at all, I'll be perfectly fine and happy. But I do enjoy being an entertainer, there's new shows in the works, and I hope things really move in that direction for me. It's kinda like a dream coming true right in front of my eyes....
TopChefLover
What's it like when you have to present your food to the judges? Is it really scary when you're on the chopping block? Is Tom as scary as he seems when he's yelling at you?

First of all, I LOVE Tom. Super-talented and a great role model. You have to remember, he also has a job to do on the show. He's one of us, you know, he's a real chef and he's had his food critisized too...so I truly blv it comes from a good place and his opinion is something that should be seriously absorbed.

 

Presenting my food was never scary. I can honestly say I was always having a blast.  Richard, on the other hand, was about to pass out right n left. ha. 

washington DC
I'd just like to know what the most popular burger is at good stuff. the 5 napkin is incredible!

Of the original burgers,  the Colletti Smokehouse is still the most popular. The cheeseburger, by far kills it, but that's more traditional. In sales tho, it's alllll about the cheeseburger. 

People talk about the milkshakes like it's a new religion tho, seriously. 

Bethesda
Did you spot any strong contenders early that you think will make it far? How can you tell?

Stefan and Fabio, based on their accents alone, haha.

But my early pick is Hosea. 

DCLove
Have there been any negative repercussions personally or professionally from being on a reality-tv show?
For me, no. But I'm lucky. I also let the negative stuff roll off my shoulders, so maybe i'm just oblivious. Some of the contestants have really dug themselves into a hole and I feel bad about it. 
Arlington
Do you think caterers have a harder time doing well on the show? I think I heard that somewhere. And I know the DC chef is a caterer! Uh oh?
No way! Caterers have the advantage. What you dont realize is that most of these challenges are catering challenges. Not restaurant-chef challenges. In my season at least...
Silver Spring, MD
Which of the new cast members is most like you in cooking style, personality, etc.?

I kinda relate to Fabio. He's going to carry a lot of the show in looks and personality ;) Hopefully he'll start focusing earlier on the food than I did. He's got a "winner" personality.

That's all the time Spike has to chat with us today. Check back on Best Bites later today for our Top Chef recap!

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Posted at 07:00 AM/ET, 11/06/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Chats