Spike Mendelsohn -- National Book Festival
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 1:00 PM
Spike Mendelsohn was a fan favorite on the fourth season of Bravo TV's 'Top Chef' and opened Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2008. He is a former chef at Mai House, which was named one of New York City's 10 best restaurants by The New York Times. He has just released (with Micheline Mendelsohn) "The Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges and More."
Mendelsohn was online Thursday, Sept. 23, to discuss his book and his appearance at the National Book Festival.
Capitol Hill: Hi Spike--Any chance you'll roll out a gluten free pizza one of these days? I see your new pizza place on Penn. Ave. bustling, and I'd love to stop in myself, but most pizza is obviously off limits for someone who can't eat wheat!
Spike Mendelsohn: Would love to work on a gluten-free pizza for you. Many people have asked me about it so I think it's a must.
All Stars: Who do you think will be your biggest competition on 'Top Chef All Stars'? Who do you think will surprise everyone?
Spike Mendelsohn: Hahaha, I think I'll be the biggest surprise and I think Richard Blais is the man to beat.
Bowie, Md.: Hi Spike-- any thoughts about opening another restaurant outside of the D.C. area?
Spike Mendelsohn: I'd like to do something in NYC eventually and we're going to try to open Good Stuff Eatery all over the place but first I must take care of the new place We, The Pizza.
Hoping for onion rings without frying: Mr. Mendelsohn, Any suggestions for onion rings without frying?
Spike Mendelsohn: This is a hard one to answer. Hahaha, onion rings without frying??? Lol. Maybe you can pan fry them so they're not deep-fried or bake them??
Fairfax, Va.: Hey Spike, haven't seen you in the shop lately. Have you been able to take some time off since We The Pizza opened?
Spike Mendelsohn: Hahaha, yes. I've needed a little rest. I'll be back in a couple of days...Chillin' in NYC for a little and going out to eat and stuff.
Washington, D.C.: If you didn't do burgers or pizza, what other type of food would you want to focus on? And, as a follow up, what is your favorite food?
Spike Mendelsohn: I would love to do a Vietnamese small plates resto, maybe a bistro of sorts but we're also throwing around a taco concept for D.C. I personally love my Greek food. Lol.
Washington, D.C.: Rumor has it that the White House is fond of the fare at the Good Stuff Eatery. Do Tell! Have you been to the White House? What does the administration eat?
Spike Mendelsohn: I'm actually cooking at the White House in a couple of weeks and rumor has it that they like the restaurants on the hill. I personally think Sasha loves the milkshakes and drags her mother to get them.
Reston, Va. - your "environmental tax": I know the Post rarely allows negative questions to go through but here goes anyway.
I was absolutely appalled at your 1 percent "environmental tax" that I was charged at We The Pizza. When I asked about it I was told - "Its a tax, we have to charge it, but if you don't like it we will take it off your bill." Uh, OK, fine.
But then I was given what a little research has shown to be your "stock answer" - we want you to know what you are paying for. Really? You do? Then if you really want me to know what I'm paying for, why not a line item breakdown of all the costs that go into a $4 slice of pizza? How much the dough and ingredients cost etc.
I applaud you wanting to be environmental, I think its very noble. But you are really, really rubbing customers the wrong way with this "tax" - and on top of that passing it off like you are doing us a favor.
Spike Mendelsohn: I think I know who you are and I'm sorry that you feel that way but the answer you're looking for. I think I have explained to you before... We do a lot of green stuff in the company and it cost us a pretty penny. The environment tax comes out to a couple of pennies on your bill and we will always happily refund if you want.
D.C.: What's the likelihood that you'll open a higher-end place in D.C.? something like Mai House (though not necessarily Vietnamese). You've done burgers and pizza -- don't you miss doing higher-end, creative stuff?
Spike Mendelsohn: Well the two places I have I've actually been able to build from the ground up... Which is something I never did before and it's really given me the opportunity to be a creative business man and it's allowed be to design concepts and build a brand I actually had a blast coming up with both menus... But if you're asking if I miss the day-to-day line grind and serious cooking... OMG I miss it soo much and I willl get back to it at some point.
We, the Pizza: I love the new Cider Soda at We, the Pizza. What exactly goes into it?
Spike Mendelsohn: Funny. To be honest, I've been away for a couple of weeks and have not tried the Cider Soda. One of the guys must have put it on - haha. But I cannot wait. I'm working on a licorice soda also.
Richmond, Va.: Hey, Spike - I'm trying to learn how to cook the perfect burger, but I'm stuck on one thing: what the proper meat-to-fat ratio should be.
Spike Mendelsohn: 75/25 is a good place to start.
Washington, D.C.: What's your favorite pizza at We, the Pizza? Also, where will you be at the Book Fair?
Spike Mendelsohn: Not sure where they will put me at the fair and I love the shroomin' pie the best.
'Top Chef' question : Hi, I hope it's okay to ask about 'Top Chef.' I've wondered how long the contest lasts for the chefs. We see it over many weeks but what is the actual length of the contest for the contestants? Thanks.
Spike Mendelsohn: It lasts about a month.
Washington, D.C.: Did you watch Top Chef D.C.? IF so, who was your favorite chef? Were you surprised by the winner?
Spike Mendelsohn: I did watch a little but I was really busy with We, The Pizza. I thought the winner deserved it and I'm very happy for him.
Vienna, Va.: Kind of off the subject (sorry!), but what are you looking forward to most (or, if filming has already occurred, what did you enjoy most) about being one of the chef-testants in Top Chef All-Stars?
Good Stuff's burgers and fries are the best I've ever had, btw.
Spike Mendelsohn: i just really enjoyed being back on the show and connecting with some of my friends.
Munich, Germany: Gosh, your books sounds like true, unabashedly decadent pleasure. Is this the type of book that you have to hide from concerned, health-conscious relatives (in case they become corrupted and won't eat anything else afterwards)? Actually, it sounds like great Oktoberfest food. Prost!
Spike Mendelsohn: I would love to come to Octobefest and do a book promotion. Hahaha, the food is farm fresh...and homemade and health is of no concern when it comes to something so good and fresh. Just don't eat out of it everyday. Haha!
More on the enviro charge: I'm not the original poster, nor have I asked you about it in person. I'm curious, though. What are your enviro efforts that cost so much? I'm not challenging it, just curious. Please explain, because I'd love to know more about it. And I'm happy to chip in a few cents, no complaints about that. Thanks!
Spike Mendelsohn: All the paper products we use: potato forks, cups, bags, everything that relates to packaging... this stuff really adds up especially if you're purchasing products that are greener than most.
Washington, D.C.: Hey - not a question to post, just wanted to say hi, Spike - it's Wendy Tien, haven't seen you around the joint for a while, hope it's all going well! Love the new pizza place.
Spike Mendelsohn: Thank you so much.
Green is Good: I actually appreciate what your restaurants are doing to stay green, and if a few cents is all I have to pay for it, that's fine with me. Can you elaborate on some of the green initiatives?
Spike Mendelsohn: Thanks for the support.
Washington, D.C.: Love the mushroom truffle at WTP, but will we eventually be able to order our own customized toppings? Were you surprised by Kevin's win last week on Top Chef?
Spike Mendelsohn: I'm never surprised on who wins the show. It's really for anybody to win. A lot of it is a luck sometimes......
Washington, D.C.: Spike, are we going to see a food truck from you soon?
Spike Mendelsohn: I'd love to open a Mr. Shaky in D.C.
Jeez.: It's 1 percent! I'm laughing. Someone needs a little perspective if this has them all worked up even after it was removed from the bill.
Spike Mendelsohn: Thanks, hahaha.
Toby's, Arlington, Va.: Hello Spike, Do you still watch 'Top Chef'? If you do, what do you think about the latest 'Top Chef'? Also, who do you think is the hottest female 'Top Chef' contestant?
Spike Mendelsohn: Hottest female contestant would have to be Andrew D'Ambrosi.
All Stars: Spike, I saw last night that you're part of the 'Top Chef All-Stars' cast--what kind of a time commitment will that involve and who will be running Good Stuff while you're away? Also, what motivated you to do another season of 'Top Chef' with a well-established restaurant already open? Thanks and good luck
Spike Mendelsohn: Well, the show has done so much for me that when they asked me to do it I could not refuse. And the Good Stuff team is really strong and my guys are really good so I'm never really that nervous leaving for other commitments that are worth it. It's also a great way to market my new place.
Books question, D.C.: What books do you consider essential for an aspiring chef?
Spike Mendelsohn: "On Food and Cooking" is a great book to learn about the science of cooking. And I love all of Thomas Keller's books, Mario Batali. Oh, and you must read Anthony Bourdain's books to get a good idea of the business, lol.
D.C.: What's your position on quality control? For example, Good Stuff does incredible volume, but doesn't that -- naturally -- mean that quality sometimes suffers? How do chefs work to remedy that?
Spike Mendelsohn: Actually it's the opposite with so much volume we run through all of our prep and we are always working from fresh. Not many places get that luxury. We also have great systems in place at the resto that are very easy to follow.
Capitol Hill, D.C.: Spike - $4 a slice? C'mon dude.
Spike Mendelsohn: $3 for cheese....$4 dollars for any of the other slices. C'mon dude right back to you. It's quality ingredients, my friend, and really fresh. I dont feel like there is anything wrong with the price. Maybe get a whole pie it because brings the average cost per slice down?? Sorry.
Washington, D.C.: Besides Good Stuff and We, The Pizza where would you suggest eating in D.C. Any fun "hidden gems"?
Spike Mendelsohn: I'm forgetting the name of the resto, but it's the same owner as My Two Amy's...it's a little italian place. Maybe you can look it up, but it was delicious.
Richmond, Va.: A couple pennies to breath clean air is a great deal. I wish more companies dared lead the way in responsible community-minded commerce. Thanks and keep up the good work!
Spike Mendelsohn: I appreciate your comment, thank you.
Arlington, Va.: I've yet to visit We, the Pizza or Good Stuff, but your "enviro tax" is an interesting concept. I also own a small food shop and know that it takes time to collect the recycling, train staff on green initiatives, store recyclables, and research other ways to become a "greener" business. But I'm curious; why not just add a flat rate to your products to cover these costs? That way you wouldn't get as many questions/comments about it?
Spike Mendelsohn: Not a bad idea, but to be honest with, you if a million people eat at Good Stuff a year, maybe ten of them don't support or question the enviro charge and I just wish they would. No big deal. I will always take it off for somebody that does not like it.
Washington, D.C.: Why not just roll in the "environment tax" into the base prices of all the items?
Spike Mendelsohn: That would be illegal, I think. Also it's there for people to see and approve of. I'm not trying to trick anybody, it's really just business at the end of the day. We do a lot of green work, community work and I love being part of supporting this cause, so I let the people know. We all have to be a little more cautious about the the environment.
Washington, D.C.: I wanted to complement you on price at We, the pizza! My husband and I got a large pie for $18 and could only eat half it was so filling...so we got two meals for under $20...in D.C. that seems like a deal!
Now a question: How are you enjoying the business end of your two places (vs the menu/cooking). Do you have help from someone/a team with experience on this?
Spike Mendelsohn: Well, I'm enjoying the business part because I really think it's making me a better restaurateur and chef. I come from a family of chefs and restaurateurs so I've picked up a lot along the way and the support system we have is like no other. I feel like I'm very lucky to be in the position I am in.
Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Thanks for using Martin's potato rolls at Good Stuff. They're the best!
Spike Mendelsohn: You're welcome. I love them.
Capitol Hill: Hey Spike, I live near Good Stuff and just wanted to give a quick shout out. You're a great addition to the neighborhood! I tried Ray's HellBurger after Pres Obama ate there, and I still like Good Stuff better.
Quick side note--I ate there yesterday and noticed an 11 cent enviro charge on the receipt. I assume this is for the takeout bag, which every order gets. Your sign at the soda station mentions reduce/resuse/recycle--how about giving patrons the option of eat in or take out? I don't need that bag and throw it away immediately, so I'd appreciate the choice to skip the bag.
Thanks! Keep it up!
Spike Mendelsohn: Thanks for the support and I will look into that for sure.
Mexico City, Mexico: Hey Spike. Are you expanding overseas soon?? Mexico maybe?? Hope all is well... Eduardo Morali
Spike Mendelsohn: I'd love to move to Mexico.
Spike Mendelsohn: Chatters! Thank you for the time you took to reach out and chat. See you on Saturday at the Festival?!
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