Spike Mendelsohn – the restaurateur/chef at the helm of Good Stuff Eatery - basically has his own Top Chef franchise. After competing on Top Chef Season 4 in Chicago, he moved on to Top Chef All Stars and then to Life After Top Chef. Mendelsohn (and his famed fedora) have been at the forefront of food TV for quite some time. He’s the kind of chef the food TV movement was made for (we’re thinking he was a talk show host/Ryan Seacrest type in another life). We chatted with this new icon on trends, TV and where he just loves to eat…
What would be your ideal food day?
I would wake up in Montreal and I’d go to Fairmount Bagel and have a bagel with cream cheese, chicken livers and sliced tomatoes.
Then, I would fly over to Vietnam and go to the street markets and have a couple of noodle dishes at different little shops. I’d do the morning Pho from the street, then I’d proceed to a little dumpling place in Saigon.
For dinner, I would fly to Greece and have lamb on a spit with potatoes, Greek salad and all sorts of Greek fare.
How has the food TV industry changed since you started?
The food industry – TV wise – has become super competitive. Everyone wants to be on TV; it gets diners in the chairs of their restaurants. There are all different types of competition shows these days. It’s been this crazy phenomenon with chefs and TV (and chefs being the rock stars). It’s been pretty intense; you just cross your fingers and hope it lasts for your lifetime.
Do you think it messes up the priorities of young chefs coming out of school?
Younger chefs are definitely excited about TV and going that route. The word ‘chef’ is a little bit abused these days if you know what I mean. All these Food Network stars are chefs, but they have no restaurants. So, are they chefs? Are they TV chefs? It’s just so difficult to put a label on it. As far as the young kids, (in my opinion) do what you want to do. But, if you want to be a restaurant chef and run a restaurant, then you need to go learn the basics. You need that training and experience of cooking at a restaurant and running a restaurant. Once you master that skill, it gives you a really nice base to go anywhere with. My opinion for younger chefs is get your formal training and learn how to cook before you jump to the next stage – because there’s no working backwards. If you want to be the next Food Network star, then you need something to rely on. The TV stuff can go away any day; you never know what will happen.
I’ve been in the kitchen since I was thirteen years old – even younger. I worked all over the world and then decided to be on Top Chef.
How does that all play into Life After Top Chef? What made you decide to do it?
I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. I wanted to show how the success of a show can really launch your restaurant. I also had the notion that people think we live these really lavish lifestyles, and we do. We have fun; we travel and things like that. But there’s definitely a behind the scenes that people don’t understand. There’s an actual restaurant – those people that work for you, work with you, support you and make you who you are. So to me, it was a great canvas to show people my team and all of the people that supported me and helped me get to this point – because a lot of people think it’s just you. When you see Gordon Ramsay, you don’t think of the people that helped him get to that point – his mentors and all the people that work for him on a daily basis. It’s an interesting perspective for people to see a little bit more about how we run our businesses. That’s why we did it. My parents always wanted to be on television, so I figured I’d give them that nod.