Spike Mendesohn is one celebrity chef with a lot on his plate. He currently has a reality show that takes a behind-the-scenes look at his family's restaurant business called Life After Top Chef on Bravo. He is a contestant on the latest season of The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network, and he has recently teamed up with Captain Morgan to create fall recipes with their latest formula, Black Spiced Rum.
I had the chance to speak with Spike about his many ongoing projects. Check out what he had to say about being on Top Chef versus The Next Iron Chef, and what it's like to work with Captain Morgan Rum below!
What can people expect to see on your new show, Life After Top Chef?
Well I think people will be really interested to see the team that’s behind me, and it’s family. So people that thought it was just Spike Mendelsohn making everything happen... I think they’ll be surprised that there’s a lot more components to the company and what we’re doing. And working with your family is always something that’s very challenging. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but working in a family can be really challenging and I think people will be really interested to see that. Most of the time, you have investors or backers, you have strangers that you partner up with. For me, I think I am fortunate enough to make it a family affair and this way, we all work together, we all know each other, we all trust each other. I think it comes off really cool.
What will we learn about you on Life After Top Chef that we didn’t get to see on Top Chef?
I think people watch you on a reality show and they judge you on your performance and they judge you on the role you play on the show. And at the end of the day, I really don’t think people know you at all because they can only judge you on what the TV shows. So I think the fact that this is a little bit more about my personal life, people will get to learn things about me that they would have never imagined.
First and foremost, how close of a family person I really am. Second, that cooking wasn’t really a choice for me, it was something I had to do, it’s something I grew up in. I have a hundred years of family in the restaurant business rooting from Montreal. I think they’ll get to see how and why I became a chef. And you always get people who go, ‘You went on the show to be famous,’ ‘You went on the show to do this or that,’ and I think they’ll see, ‘Hey listen, I was in a kitchen since I was 13-years-old doing that.’
The last three years of my life was something amazing for me to actually step out of the kitchen and do something different that the business offers, it was something that’s a great pleasure for me. Because before that, I was in the kitchen for nine years straight. So I think I’ve paid my dues and I think people will be able to see that. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy it.
What excites you most about being on the new season of The Next Iron Chef?
One thing that excites me the most is that it’s a different network, it’s a different competition show, so it’s less about the drama and more about the food. Although Top Chef is a lot about the food, but they put you in situations that are almost impossible. Whereas, in Iron Chef you only have to cook four dishes and that's for the judges. So you get a lot more time to perfect the food and people can get a lot better of a feel of what your cooking is because you have that time. I think people will get to see the type of food I like to cook a lot more on The Next Iron Chef.
You’ve also recently teamed up with Captain Morgan Rum. What can you tell us about that partnership?
Well I can tell you that it’s very exciting. I was very fortunate to partner with Captain Morgan and I have to tell you it’s been a great adventure for me because I really haven’t had the opportunity before to come up with drink recipes and pair them with food recipes. So for me, like I said, this has been a huge, huge adventure. But when I came up with these [recipes]... I was telling people, ‘Hey! I’m going to picture myself as a pirate on a pirate boat in the Caribbean.’ I just had a lot of fun with it.
And specifically with the fall recipes I came up with, I got to use this new black label Captain Morgan, which is a little bit bolder than the original. It’s something that was really fun to work with because it has some double charred blackened oak in it, it had premium cassia bark and rich clove spice essence. It was truly something unique to work it. It was fun, what can I say, I had a lot of fun with it.
I’m actually looking at a couple of your Captain Morgan recipes now, like the Black Apple Harvest and the Cream Soda Braised Ribs. How did you come up with these recipes and what makes them unique compared to other fall recipes?
Well, I’m a chef on the first hand so I am always thinking about seasons and aromas. So, for some reason when I tasted the Captain Morgan Black by itself, I instantly thought of apples and then cinnamon, and then I had applesauce in my refrigerator and I thought it would be really cool if I could come up with a cocktail that has applesauce in it with a little bit of a texture. Everybody thought I was insane. The more people think I’m insane, it motivates me more to prove them wrong.
So I think I came up with a really delicious drink -- it has some applesauce in it, some cinnamon, some allspice, some nutmeg, a little bit of crushed ginger, some lemon juice, I used apricot liqueur which you don’t have to use if you don’t have it, and obviously Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. I shook it up in a shaker with ice, poured it through the strainer on the shaker, not a fine one because I still wanted some of the applesauce texture in the drink. I poured it in a glass over ice and I think I came up with a really delicious original drink. I think it’s what this Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum is all about -- something original, making it an adventure and I think that drink is something really unique. I haven’t ever seen someone make a drink with applesauce before so I was kind of proud of myself on that one.
And then the Cream Soda Braised Ribs -- I think it’s just a great tailgating ingredient, whether you’re homegating or you’re actually out tailgating somewhere. I think it’s a really good recipe. I love the idea of braised ribs with Coca-Cola, but I wanted to do something a little bit different. I braised the ribs in cream soda, which imparted a really nice vanilla flavor in the ribs. And then I glazed them over the barbecue with a little bit of chipotle Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum barbecue sauce. So you have the vanilla tone, you have the sweetness, you have the spiciness from the chipotle, then you have the black spiced rum flavor it in also. So it made for really, really delicious tailgating food.
You can check out Spike's Black Harvest Apple and Cream Soda Braised Ribs recipes here.
What are some tips you can give to people who want use their favorite liqueurs in their holiday recipes?
I’d have to say to have a lot of fun with it. Be laid back, make it an adventure. I always like to have other people’s opinions, so I always tell people, ‘Invite your friends over.’ Make it an affair so you can bounce ideas off each other. And at the end of the day, don’t make it so intimidating. I feel like people are intimidated by recipes and cookbooks and they feel like they need to follow everything by the ‘T’. Listen, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can try something and it doesn’t work, you just adjust and it will work the next time. My biggest advice is don’t add so much pressure to yourself and make sure when you’re coming up with these recipes with the liqueurs, do everything in moderation.
How can people take a classic cocktail and turn it into something new, especially when entertaining and hoping to bring something new to the table?
I think you can just substitute ingredients. If there’s a recipe for a cocktail that has grapefruit juice or something like that in it and you’ve had it before with the grapefruit juice, well then maybe use apple juice or orange juice or apricot juice or ginger juice. Coming up with recipes is a trial. I think the most important thing people need to realize when they are making cocktails is that it’s really all about balance in a cocktail. So you don’t want it to be too sour, you don’t want it to be too spicy, you don’t want it to be too tangy. So you always want to adjust your recipe and come up with something that is well balanced. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a really good cocktail. And you don’t have to overcompensate. Just use a couple of ingredients, you don’t have to use too much. For example, in mine, you don’t see a whole lot of ingredients in it, there’s a couple different spices to complement the Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum, but at the end of the day, it’s lemon juice, applesauce and Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. You don’t have to do too much.
What’s your favorite food and drink trend for this fall and winter season?
For me, I’ve had the great opportunity to work with Captain Morgan right now, so I’d say try some cocktails with the Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. I think you’ll be very impressed. It’s bolder, it’s something very unique, the bottle is really sexy so it looks good on the counter. But again, when you’re trying out these cocktails, everything in moderation. So, take it easy.
As far as food, I think food trends are always evolving and there’s always different things. I think since it’s the fall season, coming up with cool new tailgating recipes is something people can have fun with and try to make it a little bit different than the same old things with wings. Just try to do what I was just talking about, instead of braising ribs with coca-cola try cream soda, do things to make things just a little bit different. Minor adjustments can make all the difference sometimes. I think we’re a generation of foodies, we love trying new things... and I think that’s what you should do during the tailgating season, just try different things.
Life after Top Chef airs Wednesdays on Bravo at 9 pm EST. The new season of The Next Iron Chef premiers this Sunday at 9 pm EST. For more from Spike, you can check him out on Twitter.