First Person Singular: Chef Spike Mendelsohn

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I am the best dishwasher you've ever seen. Perfection with every dish. Dishwashing is where I started my whole career. In a busy restaurant, like my parents ran, dishwashing is an art unto itself. I'd always be in the zone. The hard thing about it is that it's very repetitive, and you can get fed up if you start to think it doesn't matter. My mom likes to tell the story of when one of the cooks didn't show up and I took over and started balancing saute pans and closing oven doors with my foot. She says that's when she knew when her son was going to be a chef. From that point on, I was on the line more. I just applied all the details of the dishwashing station to cooking: Perfection. Repetition.

After the show, I didn't really want to open a restaurant in New York. Why open some fine-dining restaurant with 20 seats to prove that I'm some big great chef already? I'm a young guy. I know my place. The big chefs out there are 45 years old with a wealth of experience. There's a lot more to learn. I know that a lot of people watch "Top Chef" and come up with reasons to hate you or not like you or whatever, but as cocky as I came off on the show, it was just for the show. So I just really needed to open a restaurant that would appeal to everybody, that was accessible.

I've been here a little over a year. D.C. has slowed my pace of life way down. I actually have breakfast in the morning. I'm not rushing to the subway, spending half my life transferring in subway stations or walking past 10 billion people to get to work.

I don't feel like I'm famous. I'm recognizable. Famous people are not approachable, and I don't want to live like that. But there was that point where I thought: I'm sitting here with Michelle Obama in my restaurant and cracking jokes. And she's laughing at my joke! And that's when it's, like: Wow. All that dishwashing paid off.

Interview by Amanda Long

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