You might know Spike Mendelsohn because of Bravo's immensely popular cooking-reality show Top Chef. In season 4 of the show, Spike made it to the final 5 before being eliminated. He settled in the Washington DC area and opened two highly successful restaurants— We, the Pizza and Good Stuff Eatery.
Since he first opened his restaurants a couple of years ago, the people of DC have enthusiastically embraced Mendelsohn. Michelle Obama has become a frequent patron of the restaurants (some people think the pair are the Obama clan's favorite restaurants in the city). Mendelsohn himself has done some work with the First Lady at the White House and has seen his national profile grow tremendously.
So, he granted an interview with a local DC blog, "People's District." In the interview, Mendelsohn described his personal history and his struggles to grow. Then, the chef began to discuss the differences between New York City and Washington DC (always dangerous territory):
Here, I opened one restaurant, Good Stuff, that developed my entire career. It is nice to be in a second-tier city where you can be a big fish in a small pond.
Those words "second-tier city" immediately set off a firestorm of negative reactions across the city. True, the chef was referring to the underdeveloped food culture in DC when compared to New York City, but that did not come across in his comments. Another local blog, The Hill is Home, responded:
I’m sorry, but you, sir, are not a Big Fish in the DC culinary scene. That would elevate you to the status of Jose Andrés, Johnny Monis, Cathal Armstrong, Nicholas Stefanelli or Vikram Sunderam, among many others. Plastering pictures of yourself all over your restaurants and appearing on reality shows may make you a big personality, but that’s about it.
DCist tempered its comments, but seemed to agree.
Mendelsohn is certainly not the reason for resurgence in the District's dining scene, though he's been a bit player in it... What does a burger joint proprietor possibly have to gain by dishing out back-handed compliments to the city that's done little but embrace him?
Mendelsohn himself rushed into damage mode and issued a statement to Eater: DC.
This is my home and I have nothing but love and admiration for all of the people who have supported my family and restaurants here. There is nothing secondary about DC in my mind, if anyone thinks differently of me come down to restaurants for a hug. I'm here all night.
What do you think of the chef's comments and his statement about them?
Photo by: TheGirlsNY