I have to be honest... When I heard I would be sitting down with Spike, currently starring on Bravo's Life After Top Chef and who will also be on The Food Network's The Next Iron Chef (premiering Nov. 4th) -- I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, with a name like Spike I was afraid if I said the wrong thing I might end up the main ingredient in his next dish.
But alas, I could not have asked for a nicer guy who not only promised to keep me off the menu, but was also willing to share a secret recipe!
Joshua Estrin: While you have proven you know your way around a kitchen, what other skills does a chef have to have to be truly successful?
Spike Mendelsohn: For the modern-day chef, it takes a combination of different things to be successful. Not only do you need to know recipes and how to run the kitchen and a staff, but you need to know how to crunch numbers; you have to have low food costs and low labor costs. At this point in the game, you have to know how to market yourself in addition to delivering great food. We're a lot more than people just cooking food in the kitchen these days; we're so much more part of the community. Involving yourself in the community and with local charities is really important and ways to give back. Taking initiatives with healthier food is also important. I think we're more of role models than we used to be and I think that's important when it comes to being a modern-day chef.
JE: What do you encounter as your biggest cooking challenge?
SM: I'm much more of a methodical chef. So for me, cooking under pressure on television is something that's a little bit more difficult and doesn't come as naturally to me. When I'm in a restaurant, I get to work on my recipes, perfect them and try them. I don't get judged on them. These reality shows I keep doing for whatever reason are probably my biggest cooking challenges.
JE: What do people need to know before taking on a new recipe?
SM: Don't get so caught up in the recipe all the time. I watch people cook out of cookbooks and recipes are usually just guidelines -- unless you're baking, which is a little more scientific. I think you have to taste your food while you're cooking, season it how you like and try different things. You can substitute different things and don't always have to follow the recipe word-for-word. Have a little bit of fun with it, be relaxed and make it an adventure.
JE: Tell me about your latest projects. Willing to share any "secret" recipes?
SM: Good Stuff Eatery, my hamburger place, is about to open its third location so that's going to be fun. I also have We, the Pizza, the pizza place in Washington, D.C., which is doing really well. We just launched delivery so everyone on Capitol Hill gets to eat it at home if they want. Then of course, my new project is Bearnaise, the steak frites restaurant, which I'm really excited about. Looking forward to getting back in the kitchen and making classical French sauces and getting back to my roots a little more. That's keeping me pretty busy, along with some of the television we're doing. Just filmed a show called Life After Top Chef, which has been airing for the past few weeks. On November 4th, The Next Iron Chef is premiering. It's another competition so we'll see what happens on that. On top of all of that, I recently teamed up with CaptainMorganUSA to create some one-of-a-kind cocktail recipes using their Original and Black Spiced Rums. These recipes are easy to create at home and showcase a lot of great seasonal ingredients (see example below).
Black Apple Harvest
· ¾ cup of apple sauce
· 1 tsp of cinnamon
· 1 dash of allspice
· 1 dash of nutmeg
· 1 tablespoon of crushed ginger
· Juice from one lemon (save the rind)
· .25 oz Apricot liqueur
· 1.25 oz Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum
Directions: 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 not thick. Lastly, drizzle with honey.
JE: What would you do if you weren't a chef?
SM: I'd be a professional surfer. I feel like I might be getting good at it but I'd take it to the next level and become a big wave surfer and spend the rest of my life on a surfboard or on an island, just having some fun.