Spike Mendelsohn: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 12.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
>> It's my pleasure to introduce the author who respects food,
who respects his customers and respects local Washington DC.
Spike Mendelsohn has written The Good Stuff Cookbook, it's as warm
and friendly, family friendly as his restaurants, so please welcome
to the National Book Festival, Spike Mendelsohn.
[ Applause ]
[ Inaudible Remark ]
>> Thank you, thank you very much.
It's an honor to be here.
You know, if you asked me a couple of years ago if I thought I'd be
up here being presented as an author I'd probably say, you know, no.
You know, I'm a chef at heart and I've been very lucky
in the past couple of years.
For those who don't know,
I obviously film the reality TV show called Top Chef.
Are there any Top Chef fans out there?
Wooh! You know, we have an all star season.
We just got them filming, so that was really exciting.
I just got back yesterday from New York.
It was really, really intense
and it should be a great season for you guys.
But, you know, after filming the show, I wanted to open
up a restaurant that, you know, was very fast, casual and kind of,
you know, gave [audio cut] that watched the show,
so I didn't really want to open up a fine dining restaurant with,
you know, tasting menus and you know 20 seats.
I really wanted to open up a restaurant that I can kind
of invite everybody in and focusing on classic American food and,
you know, just doing it really,
really well like taking the hamburger
and just making it something a little bit healthier to eat,
something really super fresh.
And, you know, with a lot of luck and a great location
on Capitol Hill, you know, we did that.
We opened up Good Stuff Eatery about 2 and a half years ago.
You know for the-- who-- how many people have been there?
Yeah? Wooh.
That's only half of you, so the rest-- the other half of you,
I expect you to walk up the hill a little later
and check the place out.
You know, and the great part about this concept is is
that it really kind of-- you know, I was new to DC.
I was very worried leaving New York City
to come open up a restaurant in DC.
You know, I didn't have too many roots here.
My sister had lived on the Hill for a couple of years.
But the greatest thing about DC and Capitol Hill especially is the sense
of community I've developed over the last 2 and half years.
[Inaudible] You know, I owe most of my success obviously to my customers
and the people that support me on the Hill and it's just--
it's been an amazing ride and, you know,
we came out with the idea doing The Good Stuff Cookbook because,
you know, at Good Stuff Eatery it's very family focused, it's very farm
to table focused and it's just like a great feeling and great vibe
when you go to the restaurant.
And I kind of just want to share that with everybody
that didn't have a chance to come to DC and come to the restaurant,
and that's why we came up with the Good Stuff Cookbook.
So, you know, it's the whole entire menu
at Good Stuff plus another 150 recipes.
The great thing about the book is I draw, you know, our inspiration
from a lot of my friends and you see that because a lot of recipes there
that [audio cut] to it and I think that's the greatest thing
about the book.
And, you know, it's also-- it's very--
you know, the cookbook that we came out with was very easy to shop for.
So, any of you can find any of these ingredients
at any local supermarket and, you know, at a minimal price
and just come up with a great fun meal.
And, you know, the most important thing about the book is
to get people involved and invite friends over
and for everyone's hands to get dirty.
So we're really happy with the Good Stuff Cookbook and now I'm an author
so I could check that one off on my list.
You know, are there any questions out there?
I mean, I'd like to keep this open to questions and-- yes.
[ Inaudible Remark ]
>> It turns into soup.
I'm so happy you asked me that question.
[ Inaudible Remark ]
>> Okay, I was told to direct to the microphone where there's two
on each side for questions.
Although the question was--
she's saying that my recipe
for my toasted marshmallow milkshake does not work in the cookbook.
But-- no, no, I was just kidding.
You know the funny thing is that it's kind of--
if you're using a Vita-Prep at home, you're creating friction and heat
because it's not really made to kind of spin milkshakes.
At the restaurant we use the old school Hamilton Beach
that has a prong that doesn't kind of create friction.
You know, the best thing I could tell you is probably leave
out the milk and just work it just with the ice cream,
like melted ice cream and then the toasted marshmallows
and then just blend that together and then it won't get it soupy.
Yeah, okay.
>> I enjoy cooking but my interests and my creativity waxes and wanes.
How do you maintain your creativity and interest?
>> That's a great question.
You know, I maintain my creativity and interest and I just keep it--
and for me, for myself, I keep it really, really seasonal
and I get inspired by many different things.
You know, I was in Europe for the last week and I got
to go eat around everywhere.
And everywhere I kind of went I got inspired by a certain type
of ingredients or flavor, so I was like, "Oh, maybe I could--
you know, maybe I can do that at Good Stuff Eatery, or maybe I can do
that with a pizza or apply that."
But you know, I also-- you know, I'm standing here alone but, you know,
I have a huge support group in the restaurant and it composes
of my parents, my sister and a couple of my best friends
that I kind of forced to move from New York City
to come open my restaurants with me.
And you know, it's just kind of--
sitting around the table shooting ideas out,
and I think we mostly relate on our experiences of travel.
You know, when we're coming out with new menus and we're trying
to be creative, we always kind of look back on, you know,
first like where we've worked, what molded us to be that type of chef
and then through, you know, our travels through Europe or Asia
or even New York for instance and kind
of what we've picked up along the way.
So, you know, for me it's just like life is just an inspiration everyday
and I kind of apply that towards food and what I do, so thank you.
>> Where is the hat?
>> The hat, the hat.
I have to ditch the hat.
I'm trying to grow out my hair a little bit.
[Laughter] I hope it looks good.
I don't know.
You know it's-- I've been wearing a hat straight for maybe about 2
and a half years and I just went on the all star show and I kind
of wanted to move myself out of the hat
because I do get that question a lot.
But I still have plenty of fedoras
and I will be wearing throughout my life but I just feel
like I need my head to breathe a little bit this day,
so I got a lot going on [inaudible].
>> I'm embarrassed I haven't been to your restaurant yet
but I've read all about it, and can you talk a little bit
about the meat that you use--
>> Sure.
>> Do you get it locally and [inaudible]--
>> Yeah, absolutely.
So, you know, we get everything at Good Stuff within a hundred miles.
You know, our meat is out of the farm in Virginia, it's grass fed.
You know, I have a-- you know, that's the greatest thing here also
for me and I think I owe a lot of my success to it is
that I have really great relationship with all my farmers
and my purveyors and the people that supply me the food.
And, you know, we're not buying cheap things,
so you know they really allow me to work on the prices of the food
that I get from them and then
so I can offer something reasonably priced for the clientele.
So-- yeah, and my meat's my own blend.
You know, I spent maybe about 3 months traveling to different farms,
visiting different butchers and kind of creating my own meat.
It's a little bit of short rib chuck and sirloin.
It's about 75 percent to 25 percent fat.
And it's uniquely ours so-- you know, I really enjoy it.
I think it's tasty.
I think it's got great flavor.
The most important thing to me about our meat is
that you can just really apply salt and pepper to it,
give it a really nice sear,
proper cooking technique and it's just delicious.
I'm not one of the guys who like, you know, folding shallots or butter
or blue cheese into the meat or any kind of that, you know,
sauteing onions, just a personal preference,
but our meat comes from Virginia.
Which way am I going here?
>> Hi, I actually work at the Library of Congress and we go
to Good Stuff and my co-worker go to Good Stuff and We,
the Pizza almost everyday or twice a week--
>> We, The Pizza, have you guys heard about We, The Pizza?
Yeah? No? Okay.
>> And my question is when we walk in there, it's blaring.
I love your music selection, and it's like blaring Jay-Z and--
>> And We, The Pizza?
>> And so-- and We, The Pizza, yeah.
>> Sure.
>> And then Good Stuff has bought R and B. What was the inspiration
or why did you choose to use that music in?
>> Well, the probably blazing Jay-Z 'cause I haven't been there
for a couple of weeks but--
[ Laughter ]
>> Oh, I just told him that, I'm sorry.
>> No, I'm kidding.
I just went to the Jay-Z concert.
I love him.
But, you know, the idea of-- well, for those who don't know,
we just opened-- I recently opened a new restaurant called We,
The Pizza about a month ago.
It's focusing on New York style pizza, homemade gelato,
homemade sodas, again encompassing like really fresh ingredients,
and we do sell by the slice which people seem
to be really excited about on the Hill.
But the great question about the music is that, you know,
at Good Stuff we actually started with a rock and roll.
We play a little bit of reggae and, yeah, we play some R
and B sometimes too but I really think it's important to kind
of set the ambiance of a restaurant so when people walk in,
they're getting an experience.
>> Sometimes again trouble for how loud our music is
if I don't control it, but I just feel like it just uplifts people
and makes it interesting and there's a great environment.
We chose a different style of music for We,
The Pizza because it was my business partner, Michael Colletti and I
and he's really into hip hop and we really wanted the store
to be a little bit hipper than Good Stuff here,
like Good Stuff here was a contemporary farmhouse,
so it's very homey, it's very family oriented.
We, The Pizza is the same thing.
It's really actually inspired a lot more by our charities
and the work we do around the community, but we just wanted a kind
of a different feeling like, you know,
we just thought pizzas a little bit hipper than burgers and--
>> Yeah, I love it.
It's so much better.
>> Do you love it, yeah?
>> Yeah I love it, yeah.
>> Do you get down with the rocking, you like--
>> Yeah, I actually do, I actually do.
>> Cool.
>> So, thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> I'm a student at American University here in DC,
and I'm taking an agriculture course, so I have kind
of an academic question for you.
Why is it important to eat locally and know where your food comes from?
'Cause we're talking a lot about how we buy food in grocery stores
and we don't necessarily know where it's from
and that's a major component of your restaurant.
So why is that important I guess?
>> Well see, I mean first off, I think we've come a long way,
you know, from where we were maybe like 20 years ago.
We seem to be like a very food germ society and people really kind
of wanna know where their food comes from.
They kind of wanna build that relationship.
I think first and foremost, you have to support your local farmers
and the people that grow these locally grown healthy foods.
You know, the thing about buying food from supermarkets is not bad
and it's never gonna go away obviously, but I mean a lot
of the stuff is really not seasonal,
a lot of the stuff is sprayed with pesticides.
I mean for instance, you know,
I much rather buy locally grown tomatoes that have full flavor
than the ones that they pick in California that are green,
they spray with ethanol, they go in a truck, they ripen all the way
down here and it's really not done in like-- in a natural process.
And I'll tell you, you know, a tomato that's locally grown,
that's organic, the flavor is not even comparable to a tomato
that gets, you know, picked green and sprayed with ethanol
and then traveled, and bruised and, you know,
I just feel like people are, you know, kind of really wanna form
that relationship and it's definitely better
for the local farmers here and supporting the local businesses.
So I think that's why you wanna try--
not that you'll be able to shop everything locally but you kind
of wanna try do as much as possible.
So, does that answer the question, yeah?
>> Yes, thank you.
>> Cool. There's no one there.
>> Oh--
>> I begin to--
>> There should be but there's no one there yet.
>> I'd be interested to know what does influence the CIA had
on your career.
>> Sure, huge influence.
You know, I was a little-- I was kind of lucky.
I was a kid growing up in the restaurant business.
I come from a long line of restaurateurs from Montreal.
You know, we even-- my parents moved to Spain when I was 13
and had 16 restaurants in the World's Fair there and I truly grew
up in a restaurant family.
You know, I was dishwashing at 13 years old, I was a fry cook at 14,
I worked all around the kitchen and it came to a point in my life
that I kinda-- just kinda want to refine my skills
and see what I had compared to people that really wanted to be
in the business and that's why I applied at the CIA and I went there.
You know what the CIA did for me just kind of brought it together
and it really inspired me the most because before I went to school,
I had just grown up in the business and you watch your parents growing
up in the business and they work all the holidays, all the weekends,
they have very limited time off.
It's kind of like a scary career choice as a child.
You kind of want to do everything but be in the restaurant business.
When I went to the CIAA, it kind of really solidified
that I had a natural talent.
You know, I was not better than anybody but I was
so much more experienced in the kitchen than a lot of the students
that were in my class and you kind of just reflect on yourself
and you're like whoa, wow.
You know, I do-- I do have one talent that I'm good at
and I'm a little bit ahead of the game so that really inspired me.
The CIA really inspired me to go after the, you know--
to work for the best places, work for the best chefs.
After my experience in the CIA, I went to work
for Thomas Keller in Napa.
I went to work in Vietnam for a year for a very famous Vietnamese chef.
I went to work for Sirio Maccioni,
which is a famous Italian restaurateur in New York City.
So it kind of just really motivated me.
And, you know, you go to school to get a degree but most
of your training and your experience
and the way your career is gonna develop is working in restaurants
and it just gave me a really great base
and it gave me a huge networking pool.
There's not a day that goes by that I don't run into somebody that went
to the CIA or I don't get a call from someone that went to the CIA
and that's kind of really what it brought to the table for me.
>> I'd like to know where you stand on if you have to make the choice
between local and organic, because you can't always be sure
that you're getting both.
>> Right.
>> I'm leading towards wanting to buy organic
because I don't want the pesticides, but if you shop locally at markets,
at local farm markets, I am not quite sure how you find out for sure
that they're pesticide-free?
I don't know how to ask that question.
>> No, sure.
I'm not quite sure I know how to answer that one.
But no, it's just-- you know, it's funny this--
the organic way that we're on, it's--
there's a purpose for it and it's for--
I feel that you can apply that to proteins and you know a lot
of obviously vegetables and stuff.
But, you know, if you had that--
like I don't think you necessarily have to kind
of pick one or the other.
I think locally grown product is grown properly,
you know what I mean.
It's healthy, it's fresh, it's seasonal, there's nothing wrong
with that product and apply to--
I think they're two completely different things
and you can apply organic foods, you know, most of the time
but you don't really necessarily have to buy it all the time.
Buying stuff that's really farm fresh
and locally grown is really great
and you're really supporting the community by doing that too.
>> Okay, thanks.
>> That's it.
You guys are done?
Come on.
>> No, I have another question?
>> Top Chef all star questions?
No one?
>> I have a Top Chef question?
Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
>> Sure.
>> You know, was that horrible?
>> It was so horrible.
You know the-- actually the top chef experience--
it was funny, I was working in New York City for about 3 or 4 years.
You know, I had traveled across the world for my career,
I learned all sorts of different cuisines and, you know,
all of a sudden this reality TV show comes out and a lot of my friends
and family are telling me like oh my god, you have to do this show.
I wasn't really quite confident 100 percent with the show
in its first couple of seasons.
I kind of waited till the 4th season until it started growing some legs
and I saw it being really recognized and appreciated by my peers
and the chefs that I respect.
But I mean I could sit up here and tell you that,
that show completely changed my life.
It's funny that it took a reality show to kind of super launch me
into like my career but it did and it's a great venue
for any young aspiring chef that really want to [inaudible],
you know, make a name for himself.
The funny thing about the business is that there are
so many young chefs these days
that are getting recognized prematurely like myself.
You know, it used to be you had to pay your dues for at least like 20,
15 years in the kitchen before you even start getting recognized
or appreciated as a chef.
I mean you look at Thomas Keller, like one of my favorite chefs,
a gentleman that I worked for and I look up to, you know,
really didn't start making a name for himself
until he was 40 years old, you know, with the French Laundry
and he had worked, you know-- broken his back for many,
many years to get to that point.
So, I feel very fortunate that I kind of got that jump start
in my career, you know, on a show.
Also, it was just a smart way to do business.
You know, if I wanted to kind of market my restaurant and get a lot
of publicity, I-- you know, I just kind of "branding" myself
with the Top Chef, open up a fast casual restaurant on the Hill and,
you know, a little bit of luck and you have success.
So, I owe everything to that show.
Oh, 10 minutes.
>> How long is the day at Top Chef, like when you're competing--
>> How long is the day?
>> Yeah, like one of the days when you're
like have the final competitions, when they had you
and you had judges table and stuff, I mean how--
what time you wake up and what time you're just finally over?
>> Well, you wake up at like 6--
6:30 in the morning and usually don't get to bed till
about 2 or 3 in the morning.
It's a full day-- it's I mean.
You know, the greatest thing about the show that it's, you know,
I get a lot of question is it real?
Are you coached?
It's 100 percent reality.
We're not coached at all, but what they do is they give us a really
tough schedule and sleep deprivation.
So it's-- you know, once you get started and you're
in the competition, you're going out at--
you know, for as long as you last.
The show itself probably takes about a month and a week to film
and that's before the finals.
They stop short of the final 4 or 5 depending on, you know,
what they're deciding on doing and then they cut and edit the show
and then maybe within a week left
of the show they get everybody back together and they film the final.
You know, just for the sake of it, there's a lot of-- you know pe--
the bloggers out there and a lot of spoilers out there
and they don't wanna kinda ruin the results, so.
>> Okay, it's on.
I'm sitting here thinking you must have started
when you were 12 years old.
>> Yes.
>> So, what do you have-- what do you think you'll do in the future?
Because you're so young now and you've got a long life ahead.
>> I'd like to get to the moon at some point or so--
>> Would you-- okay.
And open a restaurant?
>> Right.
>> Yeah.
>> You know it's a-- I think that's a great thing about, you know,
that I'm lucky about my business that I could kind of keep it fresh
and I can kind of take on new projects and keep it interesting.
You know, I have Good Stuff Eatery and We,
The Pizza now on Capitol Hill, I'd be really happy to see a couple more
of Good Stuff Eateries open up across the United States
so I'm working on that and eventually I really--
you know, I'm enjoying the fast casual concepts.
You know, I kind of plucked my way out of the kitchen working
from morning to night and it kind of, you know,
all of a sudden I'm becoming a restaurateur
and I'm designing restaurants, I'm designing menus,
I'm paying attention to branding, so it's been a huge learning experience
for me in the past 2 and a half years,
something I never really did before.
Usually I just cook food
and let everyone else take care of that stuff.
Now, I'm getting to build my brands and build a whole restaurant
from the ground up which is really interesting to me.
What I would like to do is I would like to get back at some point back
in the kitchen with an apron on and working the line everyday and kind
of being creative, that's kind of what I love to do.
It's kind of what I miss about the business,
not that I'm looking back in any way.
I feel very fortunate I've gone to travel all across United States
and I'm having a lot of fun with my contest.
But I kinda wanna open up like a nice cute 40-seat restaurant
when it's appropriately time, so that's probably what I'll do.
And for the meantime, I'm trying to work a lot with the charities.
I'm trying to really support Michelle Obama's Let's
Move Campaign.
You know, we're planning rooftop gardens
at KIPP Academies everywhere in DC.
I get to go do demos with kids and teach them about healthy food
and how to cook and I really am enjoying
that part of my life right now.
So I want to do a little bit more of that
and then probably open another restaurant soon.
>> With Top Chef, how different is what we see on TV compared
to your experience both with the other contestants
and between you and the judges?
>> Well, you know, they only use maybe--
I think it's like 5 percent of the filming that they take.

It's pretty accurate.
I have to admit.
It's a-- they do a really great job of capturing the story
but sometimes you miss some things like for instance if, you know,
maybe-- you know, say there's a lot of great constructive criticism
on one of your dishes or you know--
but they only air the part that Tom Colicchio said, well,
this dish was flavorless, you know I--
it's just, sometimes it takes some of the judge's words out of context
and they use them and then it just doesn't look too great about you.
They're like, "Whoa, Spike cooked a flavorless dish, he should go home."
You know, so it's-- you don't get to hear the whole entire story
because sometimes there are things that happen in the kitchen
that the camera just misses and-- the [inaudible] oh my god.
The saga continues.
You know, I think you took it.
I think you took the [inaudible] it's, you know, it's a-- it just--
I didn't get a chance to watch the reunion show.
I think I'm sure you got asked a couple of questions.
I'd be interested to watch and see what he said
but he looks pretty guilty to me.
>> Hi, I just wanna know your favorite dish and do you plan
on expanding into Virginia at all?
>> Yes, I would definitely be very happy to expand to Virginia.
I'm just looking for a great location.
You know, I have heard the Shake Shack is coming to Dupont
and I hope none of you go there by the way.
If I see any of you there-- and my favorite dish?
Can I go with cuisine probably?
My favorite dish is kind of hard.
You know, my favorite cuisine is probably Vietnamese cuisine.
I got to live in Vietnam for about a year and study the cuisine.
I had also opened up a restaurant in New York City
that was Vietnamese-French fusion.
But I'm a simple eater.
When it comes to the-- the kind of food that I like to eat,
it's very minimal, very simple ingredients
and that's pretty much it.
I mean I like-- you know, if I could pick one, I love [inaudible].
You know, it's a spicy broth beef soup.
I just think it's great, it's got lots of herbs in it, green sprouts.
A lot of different textures, it's got a lot of great aroma to it
and it's like a great meal so--
>> And one last question related to Top Chef.
Do contestants really listen to their--
to the judges' criticism or does it just go
in one ear and out the other?
>> I think most of the time, with me it goes
through one ear and out the other.
You know, I respect all the judges
on the panel especially the guest chefs.
And I'm just joking with you, there's--
the thing is that it's such an intense show
and sometimes the odds are so against you and it's so difficult
that it's just like, you know, you can just mess up just a little bit
and they're gonna make it a huge deal
on television because they have to.
>> Yeah, it is very subjective but as an audience, a lot of the times
or most of the time from my perspective, I tend to hear comments
from the panel and I just roll my eyes like whatever.
>> Yeah, exactly.
Well, yeah, when Padma says anything I'm like whatever.
[ Laughter ]
>> It's like you took like a half a bite.
No, I'm kidding.
I love Padma and she's come a long way.
You know-- you know, when she first started the show,
it was a little iffy.
I think she's really educated herself and worked hard to kind
of talk food and know about food but sometimes like it's just--
it's really, really weird what comes out of her mouth.
>> Thanks.
>> Sure. I think we've got time for two more questions.
We're in overtime.
Do we have time for two more questions?
One more question.
Okay, you're gonna have to pick the person [inaudible].
Come on, just two more questions, there's just two people.
>> Real fast.
>> Real fast.
>> I've been watching Just Desserts
and it's got a totally different flavor or feel to it.
>> Yes, that's good.
>> Are pastry chefs really that much--
>> Crazy.
>> Okay.
>> Pastry chefs are crazy.
I think that's gonna be a hit show because they are nuts
and I think we'll be able to see that soon.
>> I actually have three questions so I'm gonna say them all
and you pick the one you wanna answer.
>> Okay.
>> The first one was what was the hardest thing you had
to do on Top Chef or endure?
What was the funniest thing you encountered?
And how-- since you've been both a contestant and a judge
in this season, how do the chefs compare between the two seasons
that you were on and you judged?
>> Oh, I think I like the last question the most.
You know, it's-- I guess it's a school yard pick mentality.
I mean it's-- some seasons you're gonna end up with a bunch
of great chefs that are gonna really make a great show and mold
and then sometimes you're gonna end
up with a season that's just a little slightly flat.
Do you know what I mean with that?
I mean they're still-- I love the show.
I love watching it but sometimes I think the New York season was maybe
the flattest season of all for me.
I don't know if you guys remember it, it was Hosea that won.
I just didn't think there was much to it.
I think they could have done a lot better job with New York
and they have with the all-star show, so.
>> Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.
>> It should be good.
>> Thanks.
>> And so I just want to finish off by thanking everybody for coming,
I really appreciate it, for the support and everything.
[ Applause ]
>> It's been an honor to be here,
thank you very much [inaudible] for having me.
And for those who haven't come to We, The Pizza or Good Stuff Eatery,
literally just follow these people right
up the block and you'll end up there.
Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress.
Visit us at loc.gov.