Behind the Stove

10 Dishes with Celebrity Chef Spike Mendelsohn

The former “Top Chef” competitor and restaurateur tackles our speed round of questions.

Amy Sussman/AP

What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “I listen to a lot of reggae. Jack Johnson. Chill stuff. Feel good music.”

Is there a cuisine that still intimidates you? “I don’t think so. I’m usually down to throwdown on any style of cooking. I’ve traveled quite a bit. But I don’t think I’m that proficient in the art of sushi.”

Did you grow up cooking as a child? “I come from the restaurant industry. So, I was very much born in a prep kitchen. My mother was a chef. My father was in the restaurant business. My grandfather and his brothers…I come from a long line of restaurateurs and chefs in Montreal. I grew up in a restaurant family. Cooking was second nature to me.”

What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “I’m into all these classic books, like Marco Pierre White’s book, White Heat, the original Le Bernardin book, Patrick O’Connell’s original book. I worked for Thomas Keller, so the Bouchon book has been something I always go to. I love bistro food. I have the Roux brothers’ cookbook, which is really cool. It’s classic French cuisine. Those are my go-to books for inspiration.”

After all these years working in restaurants do you still enjoy cooking? “I don’t love cooking. There is nothing to love about this business. It’s a shit business. Let’s be for real. So, there’s that. But I love culture. I love traveling. I love oceans. I love opportunities. And cooking gets me all that stuff. Those are byproducts of cooking, so I enjoy that. Cooking for me is therapeutic. If I’m in a kitchen cooking service, it’s a feel good, nostalgic moment for me.”

After a shift what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “I grew up on poutine and smoked meat and those are definitely my guilty pleasures. My family owns Schwartz’s in Montreal.”

Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “I had a chance to cook with Massimo [Bottura] in Milan and something happened with my schedule and I couldn’t do it. I would love to cook with him. I think he’s wild. I think he’s a disruptor. I think he’s super smart. I love the stuff he’s doing.”

Name the all-time best cooking show. “My favorite cooking show is Kitchen Nightmares. Come on, I live vicariously through Gordon Ramsay. There’s a lot of restaurants that aren’t operated properly out there, it’s nice to see him try to set the level.”

What city’s food scene has impressed you recently? “I’m from D.C., so I’d be biased if I said D.C., although I am impressed with the level of talent that has bred over there. A lot of new neighborhoods. A lot of good stuff. Montreal is one of my favorite food cities.”

What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I don’t bring any tools. No tools. I shut down JFK airport once by bringing knives to the airport. So, I’m a little scared by that whole experience.”

Spike Mendelsohn is a former Top Chef competitor and hosts the Food Network show The Kitchen Sink. He also owns Good Stuff Eatery, Santa Rosa taqueria and We, The Pizza.

We got caught up with Mendelsohn at the recent South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

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Interview has been condensed and edited.