He may be based in Washington, D.C., but chef Spike Mendelsohn – whose Prez Obama burger just won Chicago Gourmet’s Hamburger Hop and Judge’s Choice award – has a history with the Windy City. After all, he finished in the top five of his season of Top Chef here. And later this month, after opening locations throughout the East Coast, he’ll bring his family’s Good Stuff Eatery to Chicago. That means plenty of spectacular burgers, shakes, and fries for all in the Loop. Before opening day, Mendelsohn talked about what it’s like to be joining the Chicago food community.
How would you describe the Chicago food scene?
The Chicago food scene has been amazing for a long time. The chefs and restaurants here are just awesome and so inspiring. I’m just excited to finally be a part of it and hope people really love Good Stuff as much as I do. We’ve tried to create a really hip and cool space that works for Chicago. A place where people can come, get a great burger and shake, but also leave thinking they had a really different experience from other Chicago restaurants.
If you had only one day to spend in the city, what would you spend the day doing?
The Married … with Children fountain is always my first stop when in Chicago. The whole city just has its own charming vibe. Chicago will always have a special place in my heart, since that is where my season (Season 4) of Top Chef took place. Then I would spend the day taking in Chicago – walking through Millennium Park, playing some beach volleyball at North Ave Beach during the summer, catching a sporting game (depending on the time of year), and of course, experiencing as many Chicago food destinations as I can.
If you weren’t eating at Good Stuff Eatery, where would you go for a date night dinner in Chicago?
When we were scouting out locations, I ate at MK – It was fantastic. Everything I had was phenomenal; the executive chef, Erick Williams, plated everything beautifully and is just a great guy. The space is outstanding, and the staff – flawless. I’m also a fan of The Violet Hour – great vibe and cocktails. And you can’t go wrong with deep dish pizza in Chicago – it’s a must. My go-to is Giordano’s.
How is opening a restaurant different from cooking in one?
Opening is brutal. There’s a million things happening, so you have to really have an eye on so many moving parts. It’s kind of like being in the kitchen, but at least in the kitchen you can focus on food. With the opening, you have to pay attention to not only training, but construction, design, decor – that’s why it’s so great that I have an amazing team around me. You can’t really do it without a great team.
What is one thing you learned about yourself and your cooking style during your time at Top Chef?
I learned that I have a lot to learn. Even when you think you are beginning to get to the top of your career, you find out that there is still so much more to learn.
What are your memories of Chicago from your time on Top Chef?
I have many memories of the people in Chicago – always friendly and overly funny. I just remembering really loving the city so much and I’m excited to come back and spend some significant time here.
What advice would you offer young people looking to follow in your career path?
Go and cook abroad for a year or two in a place where you like the food. After you’ve done that, evaluate how you are feeling and go from there. If you can’t get out of the country, go and get a job in a restaurant and start cooking before you make the decision to head to culinary school.