Should he ever build it, Spike Mendelsohn has elaborate plans for his dream kitchen.
“It’s in Maui, overlooking the ocean,” he says. “It has a huge marble island, gas appliances, a wood-burning oven, a plate warmer, huge sinks and refrigerators, a separate freezer, a great audio system, a full-service bar, a wine room . . . and a waterslide.”
Right now, however, he is perfectly content with the waterslide-less cooking space in his Atlas District efficiency: a galley kitchen with shallow cabinets, an electric range and no pantry.
For Mendelsohn, 31, the lack of space is one of his kitchen’s greatest assets. “I like this kitchen because it’s compact,” he says. “The bigger the kitchen, the messier. And I don’t want to have to run a mile to wash vegetables.”
Another asset? It’s elevated. Standing on a 41 / 2-foot platform in the center of the room, the kitchen is reached by metal steps and faces the entire apartment. “When you’re cooking, it’s nice to face people and talk to them,” he says. “It’s like you’re on a show.”
Mendelsohn, who says “Spike” is a nickname from early childhood, moved to the District after tiring of living in New York and wanting to be closer to his family. “My sister lived on the Hill, and we would always make fun of the fact that there weren’t great places to eat there,” he says. “We felt there was a void on the strip where we opened Good Stuff. We took a risk.”
The timing was perfect, and the risk paid off. With his family, Mendelsohn opened the first Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill the month after the his first “Top Chef” season finale aired. Lines of customers and devotees of the show wrapped around the corner for months. The Obamas are frequent patrons.
“We didn’t realize the effect the show would have,” says Mendelsohn, who appeared on two “Top Chef” seasons but didn’t win either time. “It’s amazing what it’s done for this business. ‘Top Chef’ was a crazy experience, but life after ‘Top Chef’ is even crazier.”
In the midst of the craziness, Mendelsohn can often be found at home cooking and entertaining family and friends.
“This kitchen gets worked,” he says. “I use it as a test kitchen. I love to have friends over. A lot of late-night sandwiches get made.”
Mendelsohn doesn’t own his apartment, but he admits to treating it as if he does. He’s had custom window treatments installed and graffiti painted on a wall. He brought in a Coca-Cola refrigerator, has a copper pot rack waiting to be hung and may add a stainless-steel lip to the ledge above his countertop where he keeps his condiments.
But those are the extent of the changes he’ll make to the kitchen, because Mendelsohn says he doesn’t need much to make a great dish.
“I competed on those shows. I could cook with two sticks and a stone,” he says. “This kitchen is a piece of cake.”
Lives in: Atlas District
‘Top Chef’: Season 4, 5th place; Season 8 (All-Stars), eliminated 5th
Good Stuff Eatery. Capitol Hill, opened 2008 (Crystal City location scheduled to open spring 2012; Georgetown location in early winter 2012; locations in Philadelphia and Chicago in 2013)
We the Pizza. Capitol Hill, opened July 2010
“The Good Stuff.” Cookbook, published May 2010
Kosher deli food truck. Launched May 2011
Advice for someone renovating a kitchen: Consult a chef. Ask them what they most love about their kitchens.
Most important element of a kitchen:
The heat source.
Least favorite trend: I hate super-modern, futuristic kitchen designs. It’s so uncomfortable. Kitchens are supposed to be homey, not look like a clinic. I also hate those cabinets that you push to open and kitchens with two dishwashers. Do you really need two dishwashers?
Large or small kitchens: An efficient compromise.
Favorite thing about your kitchen:
Least favorite: The electric stove.
What you have at your work kitchen that you wish you had at home: A soft-serve machine. That and a slushy machine would complete this place.
Most recent kitchen purchase: Dark blue Staub cookware.
Favorite dish to prepare: Really great chicken soup. It smells so delicious, like a chicken soup-scented candle.
Kitchen item you can’t live without: My crockpot for searing meats, making short ribs. My electric skillet for pancakes and steaks. It’s hearty, and it only gets better and better.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be? A professional surfer or a world traveler. That said, if I was anything else, I’d tell you I wanted to be a chef.