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Spike Mendelsohn on Military School and We The Pizza

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Spike Mendelsohn. [Photo: Chef Spike]

Spike Mendelsohn was recently in town to promote his new cookbook, The Good Stuff Cookbook. He wore a pork pie hat, obviously, and seemed tired but relentlessly on message. Welcome to the new breed of media-savvy chef who exploits the system as the system exploits him. One small step for Spike, one giant step for symbiosis.

The biggest surprise for me reading your cookbook is how entrenched the Mendelsohns are in the restaurant industry.

Yeah I think that's going to be the biggest surprise for everyone; I come from a long line of restaurateurs. It goes way back from Montreal; my whole (Greek) family has been in it for centuries. I grew up in kitchens, worked all the time. My mother was a chef. My grandfather was a butcher and chef and a famous restaurateur in Montreal and he had some really high-class restaurants. When I was young, I tried everything but going into the business. I studied a little bit of Marine Biology, I was way into it. I took a 6 months hiatus to the Caribbean, lived on a sailboat, studied and learned shit and all that kind of stuff.

You also did a stint in military school. Were you a bad kid?

I went to Melbourne Florida Air Academy for a summer session and then I went to Admiral Farragut. There's was a lot of hazing going on in military school. It was interesting. Everything you probably imagined you don't want your kid to get involved with in the real life, you do in military school. But my parents worked very hard to put me through the school. It was an expensive school. A lot of other kids there where like the owner of Coca-Cola Latino's son just got sent there and his father doesn't want anything to do with him. That guy owns Amoco Gas's, son. [NB: Now the infamous BP!] A lot of rich kids that were just bad bad kids.

Do you keep in touch with anyone?

Its funny you ask that, in the past year, you know, even after the show, your name is out there. People call you here and there a little bit. "Hey, I used to beat you with hangers, man. Remember me? Let's go grab a beer!"

Is there still any Mendelsohn presence in the Montreal restaurant scene

No, but my Greek family still has a lot of restaurants in Montreal that they still own there — and strip clubs.

Even though you didn't win your season of Top Chef, it seems like you've been one of the most successful contestants.

A lot of people who go on the show aren't fortunate enough to have a family connection and extensive experience in the restaurant business. It's a completely different thing being a cook at a restaurant working for somebody as a chef then going on a show and trying to open up your own restaurant. There are a million other things as far as backers and permits and this and that. It's an intense thing. For me, I had the experience my whole entire life with my family, and I still have that to lean on if I some help or I need some advice. They did it; they did it big with restaurants. It's good thing to be around.

After Top Chef, I wanted to do something that wasn't really ego driven. You know, you got to try and be a great business guy at the same time when you're doing restaurants. Like, none of that made sense after a reality show.

Well, presumably, your fame isn't going to be sustainable. Did you feel like whatever reputation you had leaving the show was deserved?

I did come off a little cocky and stuff on the show, and I did get myself a miniature bad rap. But I think the portrayal was spot on. Different types of human beings take differently to human beings on the television. Some people love me, some people hate me, some people were curious to find out about me, but I think my portrayal was right on.

Do you keep in touch with any other contestants?

I hung out with Andrew [D'Ambrosi] the past couple days. We hang out. He's the only one I really get to hang out with. I get to see other people when I go to other cities, when I go to LA or Chicago. I get to see Richard Blais; we're at the same events all the time.

What is next in the pipeline for you? You had mentioned that you're going to open another Good Stuff Eatery.

Yes, I don't know where yet. I'm opening up We The Pizza next, right next door to Good Stuff. It's New York style pizza, homemade soda, bringing back the homemade soda drip, homemade gelato, Italian sandwiches and salads. It's also very high on branding and design. There are meant to be multiple We the Pizzas. After that gets up and running then I'm going to start on Good Stuff expansion. I'm not sure if I first want to go first to big cities, which doesn't make the most sense, or if I want to develop the market in the DC area.

Did being on Top Chef make you understand how important branding is?

I knew that going into it. I was watching the show grow with every episode, I was happy I went on when I went on. I didn't realize how huge Top Chef was going to become. I liked what I did on Reality Top Chef stuff TV. I might try to venture off into my type of show because I did enjoy it. And, you know, that's part of the business.

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