He's certainly been one of the more colorful chefs this season, so I was excited to chat with Spike yesterday about the whole frozen scallops incident, the recent rumors about his job, and his affinity for fedoras. Oh, and in case you're curious, the 27-year-old chef is currently single. For all the juicy details on Spike, read more.
YumSugar: What made you go out for Top Chef?
Spike Mendelsohn: I applied actually for season three. I had a lot of friends and family telling me I should do it. I was part of the final 30, in the final casting, and then they just decided not to use me. I was pretty much bummed out. I think I sent them some type of hate mail at some point. I guess they liked my spunk, and they reached out to me for season four.
YS: So you were pretty familiar with the show?
SM: I had definitely watched the show. I had a couple friends who were on the show. Marcel was a good friend of mine from culinary school, and Harold from season one I also got to know.
YS: Was it what you expected?
SM: You don’t know how well you’re going to react in front of the camera. You have pressure in the kitchen as it is, but being on camera and the competitiveness adds even more. I didn’t take it too seriously. Some people are all about the food and took it so seriously. I took more of the approach of showing who I was as a person and doing great food at the same time.
YS: Tell me about your decision to use the frozen scallops.
SM: To me, I felt like every ingredient in that walk-in should have been top notch. I heard there were scallops there, and I had conceived a scallop dish the night before. I think you could even see how nervous I was. I was like, I’m totally gonna go down for these frozen scallops. At the end of the day, I just screwed up. Normally, I would never use frozen scallops, but there’s ways of getting around things. I could have probably done something that called for wet ingredients, scallop ceviche or something that.
YS: In retrospect, how do you feel about what you said to Rick Tramonto about the scallops?
Maybe it was undeserved, but it was a point that I was trying to prove. He went after me a little bit, but I was like, the fact that you had frozen scallops, to me, was appalling. I was expecting the most beautiful diver scallops ever. I’d done so well in the quickfire, and I’d finally gained some momentum, so I was a little upset. I have a Greek temper, so I lashed out at him, and after I said that, I was appalled that I’d said that to him. I apologized to him three times. I think they showed me shaking his hand on the way out.
YS: What did you think about what went down at the judges' table?
This one really took awkwardly a long time. Hours and hours. They were really going back and forth with me and Lisa. I’m not quite sure what they based their decision on, even after watching the show. You think, OK, they thought her dish was the worst, so why am I being sent home? My other dish was really good, and I was proud of it. It was exactly what Rick Tramonto would have liked to serve at his steakhouse, and he said that. The only flaw for me was that I had to do tasting portions of that dish. My thinking was, I want to give them the whole chop, let them pick up a fork and knife and feel the texture of it. That’s the whole experience of that steak. If you ask me to do a tasting portion of a tomahawk chop, you lose the whole reason I want to cook it.
YS: What's next for you?
SM: Right now I have Lisa helping me at Mai House. I know there’s been a lot of rumors out there on the Internet that I got fired and she took over. But Drew [Nieporent] and I are very good partners, and I mentioned to Lisa if she was interested to come help me out, and she was. I’m gonna go launch my new concept, Good Stuff Eatery, towards the end of this month. Eventually, I want to open my own fine dining restaurant, but I don’t want to do that right now. There’s too much pressure and critics out there for a 27-year-old after doing the show. I wanted something simpler to capitalize on the publicity [from the show]. I came up with this great concept in DC, all organic food, and all I’ve got to perfect is burgers, fries, and milkshakes. And I’m bringing wedge salads back. It’s much more about being a restaurant chef than a kitchen chef on this one.
YS: Finally, I gotta ask about the hats. Are you just a hat guy?
SM: I wear hats. I’m a hat guy. I love my hats, I love the fedoras. I feel like I sport ‘em really well. I used to wear a couple hats here and there, but after being on the show and being the chef who wears hats, I gotta live up to it.
Photos courtesy of Bravo