Photo credit: Bravo

We have to give credit where credit is due.  The chefs who came back for this All-Star season of Top Chef have given us lots of reasons to root for them.  And the quality of this season has done a lot to wash the bad taste of Season 7 (filmed here in Washington) out of fans’ mouths.

By the end of tonight’s episode, we’ll be down to four remaining chefs.  And if bringing an extra chef along to the finale in the Bahamas means we get one additional week of sunny skies and killer cooking, we’re all for that.

Yesterday, we shared our interview with Mike Isabella as we head into the finals.  Today, we’ve got our pick for fan favorite, Carla Hall.  There’s something about the way Carla seems to root for everyone to succeed that is endearing and rare on competition shows like Top Chef.  Watching her fall short of her own expectations – especially when working with “her flavors” and cuisines – is heartbreaking.  But we’re not telling you anything you haven’t already seen for yourself.

We talked to Carla about her deceptively strong performance so far, her involvement with local causes, and some of the things she’s got in the works:

Capital Spice: You’ve really come out swinging this season!  Three Elimination Challenge wins, three big prizes.  How does it feel so far?
Carla Hall: It’s great, but I really don’t know when Matthew [her husband] and I are going to get a chance to take all those trips.

CS: Beyond the trips, you seemed really excited to win Jimmy Fallon’s challenge.  Are you that big a fan of his?
CH: There were two things going on there.  I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s, and it was so much fun to be on his show.  He really is just like you’d expect him to be.  But I’ve got a personal connection to chicken pot pie as well: that’s the first thing I ever tried to cook for myself back when I was modeling and going back and forth to Paris.

CS: So this was a recipe you’ve made before?
CH: It was, though I’ve never tried to make the upper crust by forming them around cookware like I did.  I’m glad it worked out!

More of Carla’s projects in the works after the jump.


If you’ve had a chance to check out the first two weeks of the new Top Chef season, then you know that the producers have chosen to bring back competitors from each of the first seven seasons who came *this* close to winning it all.  This “All-Star” season, set in New York City, pits some fan favorites (and some favorite villains) against each other in a rematch to see who has grown the most since their initial Top Chef appearance.

Here in Washington, we’re lucky enough to have THREE local competitors vying for our slavish loyalty.  In order of original appearance, they are:

  • Spike Mendelsohn (Season 4 – Chicago), chef/owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza.  In his first season, Spike came across as…arrogant.  Has wisdom come with age?
  • Carla Hall (Season 5 – New York), owner of Alchemy by Carla Hall.  She’s transitioning from catering to gourmet sweets and savories.  Hootie hoo!
  • Mike Isabella (Season 6 – Vegas), who has moved on from his position at Zaytinya and is in the process of opening his own place, Graffiato.  He had trouble with leeks last time around (what…that’s NOT what you remember about him?).

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had a chance to chat with each of them.  We asked about what they’re doing professionally, the differences between their first appearances and this season, and what made them decide to subject themselves to the pressure cooker competition again.  Sure, a victory would be big for any of them, but each brought a sense of perspective to the show that they may not have had at first.

Check out some of our conversations with the cheftestants – including big news from each about the directions their projects are heading – after the jump. (more…)

At 9PM tonight, the wait is over.  All that speculating about the challenges; all the sightings of Tom, Padma and Gail; all the shopping, chopping and cooking were completed more than a month ago.   Now it’s time to sit back and “watch what happens.”

Yesterday, we presented our interview with DC native and current Baltimore chef Timothy Dean.  Today, we’ve got our conversation with the only Cheftestant from this season who didn’t leave town when the cameras stopped rolling: the Oval Room’s Tamesha Warren.

Image courtesy of Bravo

Warren is a sous chef at the celebrated downtown power spot and previously cooked in the kitchen of Jean-Georges so you know her technique is SOLID.  As the youngest contestant in the field and the hometown favorite, she’s got a lot of pressure on her to do well.  Fortunately, it sounds like she’s up to the challenge:

Capital Spice: Good morning, chef.  How have you been since taping ended?
Tamesha Warren: It’s been crazy already.  The producers warned us to be ready, but I really didn’t expect it to blow up the way it has.  Just the other night there was a party in the restaurant asking for “the lady who’s going to be on Top Chef!”

CS: You’re the sous chef at the Oval Room, one of Ashok Bajaj’s restaurants.  How did he react to you going on the show?
TW: Bajaj is a great person to work for – anything he can do for you, he will.  He was very supportive of my participation.

Age as an asset or liability, DC dining favorites and how YOU may have helped Tamesha prepare after the jump. (more…)

Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

Today’s the day.  Top Chef season six (Sous-Vide-a Las Vegas?) debuts tonight at 9, an hour earlier than usual and supersized with an extra 15 minutes of footage.  By this time tomorrow, we’ll see the field of 17 cheftestants thinned by at least one – two, if they follow the format in last season’s premiere.

We’ve already introduced you to Bryan Voltaggio of VOLT and Mike Isabella of Zaytinya, two chefs representing the DC metro area.  Skilled chefs with impressive resumes, they’ve both got the chops to go far in the competition.  Voltaggio’s sibling rivalry storyline should guarantee some good face-time for him (and his brother, Michael) – always a positive on competition shows.  And Isabella is the head chef at one of Jose Andres’ busiest restaurants here in DC, which means he knows how to handle pressure and turn out good food for large numbers with ease.

That brings us to our third (somewhat) local competitor – Jesse Sandlin.  Chef Sandlin will be representing Charm City this year, following in Jill Snyder’s footsteps (but hopefully sticking around a bit longer).  She’s the Executive Chef of Jerry Pelegrino’s Abacrombie Fine Foods & Dining.  Over the course of her career, she’s cooked her way from Maryland to Los Angeles and all the way to Australia before returning to Baltimore.  Check out her Top Chef bio, and you’ll learn that she considers bacon AND duck fat to be kitchen must-haves…sounds like we need to make a trip to Abacrombie soon!

We had a chance to chat with Chef Sandlin last week, and we quickly learned that she’s not one to hold anything back, either in the kitchen or in an interview:

Capital Spice: Congratulations on making Top Chef.  What drew you to the show in the first place?
Jesse Sandlin: I’ve been a fan for a while.  I hope my appearance on Top Chef encourages people to check out new places and try new things.

Photo Credit: Bravo

Photo Credit: Bravo

CS: And what was your approach to the competition?
JS: Honesty is the best policy when it comes to reality shows like Top Chef.  Sure, there’s a lot of footage that they have to edit down and those editorial choices can have an impact on how you come across, but if you’re being yourself the whole time it’s going to show through.

CS: You’ve cooked all over the world.  What brought you to Baltimore?
JS: I’m originally from Baltimore, and my family is still in the area.  I came back to be “Aunt Jess” to my brother’s kids and to be a part of the restaurant scene here.

Chef Sandlin’s approach to cooking and keeping secrets – and her take on a Baltimore institution making its way to DC – after the jump. (more…)

Resident mixologist and cocktail nerd Derek Brown guest posts on Young & Hungry, explaining how he stays in the loop of new cocktail trends and educated on vintage ingredients.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Lyons

Photo courtesy of Matthew Lyons

Carla Hall fans should stop by the Banana Republic at 13th and F NW. The store’s display features professional photographs of Chef Hall wearing clothes from the new fall season. . 
Is the famed New Jersey diner scene in danger?  

All We Can Eat has a recap of the American Cheese Society’s annual competition. Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, that stinky beast of a cheese, took second place. You can find Red Hawk at Cowgirl Creamery downtown and Cheesetique in Del Ray.

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse makes some changes to adjust to the economy.  

Brunch and the City checks out Argonaut brunch
Tips on making your own condiments.
Three DC farmers markets have been named the best small markets in the country based on a new poll by the American Farmland Trust. You’ll never guess which three.  

Rouge My Knees found some fantastic olds ads from late 60s Playboy issues, including this Henessy ad.

Have an abundance of peaches from the market? Try The Bitten Word’s peach-cardamom pie with cardamom-vanilla ice cream.   
Frank Bruni of the New York Times hands out a 4-star review to Eleven Madison Park, before stepping down from his post. 
No plans this weekend? Check out Café Atlantico’s Caribbean rum tasting events.

dc-tv-chefs<<EDIT 5/5 11:06 PM:  As it turns out, Rock Harper has some big news to share this week, as well.  Tom Sietsema was the first to announce that Harper will be taking over as the chef at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria later this week.>>

When it comes to DC chefs and television, the hits just keep on coming.  Top Chef Spike and his family have some big news for their fans, and he and Carla Hall are both in the news this week (literally, in Carla’s case).  There’s all kinds of buzz surrounding Teddy Folkman’s upcoming appearance on the Next Food Network Star.  And – as if that weren’t enough celebrity for one town – we’ve got an inside scoop to further feed the Top Chef Season 6 rumor mill.

The details:

  • Spike Mendelsohn, who rocked the fedoras all the way to the #5 spot in Top Chef Season 4, can be seen in a new series: “Kelsey & Spike Cook.”  Part of the new Food2 website launched by the Food Network, the show pairs Kelsey Nixon, the fan favorite of last season’s “Next Food Network Star,” with Spike – the “Top Chef loose cannon.”  In each episode, Kelsey offers straightforward, upscale presentations of dishes like grilled steak and French toast.  Spike takes things in more creative directions with bold flavors and unique pairings.  Guess which ones we’re more excited to try at home…
  • In addition to Spike’s new show, fans of Good Stuff Eatery should keep an eye on the space next door.  Spike and his family have purchased Zack’s Taverna (aka Taverna the Greek Islands), and their plan is to completely renovate and upgrade before opening an Italian restaurant in the space.  No word on how much longer Taverna will remain open (the Mendelsohns just signed for the place on Friday night), but we suspect they’re aiming for a quick turnaround.  Pair this news with the pizza plans Spike shared with New York’s Grub Street (thanks for the heads-up to Tim Carman), and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s in store next door.  We love the shout-outs to all the great local spots – Peregrine Espresso, Bower’s Fancy Dairy Products, Crepes at Market, Taylor Gourmet…
  • Carla Hall, whose Alchemy Caterers have recently catered gigs for Mayor Adrian Fenty and Members of Congress, joins the mayor as one of five local celebrities whose workout routines are chronicled in this Sunday’s “Fit for Fame” feature in the Washington Post Magazine.  Print copies of the magazine featured the Top Chef finalist front and center on the cover in an impressive-looking yoga pose.  A highlight: “My body wants to be vegetarian,” she laughs, “but my mind wants a hamburger.”  The mind has my vote…
  • Could Teddy Folkman really be the big winner of the upcoming season of “Next Food Network Star?”  A post in the forums over at Food TV Fans claims to have it on good authority that “Teddy is currently in New York City filming the first 6 episodes of his new Food Network program, possibly to be 12 episode due to his expected popularity.”  Sure, we’re ready to believe you…but we’re hardly impartial when it comes to Granville Moore’s crushable chef.  Anyone noticed Teddy AWOL lately who could lend some credence to this rumor?
  • Finally, we’re hardly the first to mention Mike Isabella as a likely contender on the not-even-filming-yet next season of Top Chef (Eater still gets credit for that), but we’re here to fuel the rumors with a little bit of inside gossip from a little birdie.  Apparently the Zaytinya chef’s boss, Jose Andres – himself no stranger to the cheflebrity limelight – has been talking about how Top Chef could impact his top talent.  That little tidbit of info, coupled with Andres’ response to Tim Carman’s post on the subject last week, all but confirms that Isabella will be following in Spike and Carla’s footsteps on the show.  Fifth place in Season Four, third place in Season Five…can you say first place in Season Six?  Sounds like DC is due for another winner (we can’t forget Hell’s Kitchen champion Rock Harper, who’s helming the heavenly kitchen at Ben’s Next Door these days)!

shareWhen it comes to dining out in DC, we’re pretty damn lucky, and I’m not talking about the level of talent in the kitchens throughout the metro area.  Anecdotal evidence has shown that even in these tougher economic times, Washingtonians are still going out to eat on a pretty regular basis.  We may be skipping dessert, or making it a point to show up in time for a happy hour special, but most of us aren’t in any danger of canceling an OpenTable reservation – let alone missing a meal – anytime soon.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation is a great way to acknowledge our good fortune while helping to support local charitable organizations who work to fight hunger in our area.  This year, the annual foodie-fest takes place on Monday, March 30th, and proceeds from the event benefit the Capital Area Food Bank, DC Hunger Solutions, and Mary’s Center.

For $85 (or $150 if you’d rather attend as a VIP), you’ll get the opportunity to sample food and beverages from more than 40 of the top local restaurants in the swanky Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue.  The event runs from 7 to 10 PM, giving you plenty of time to taste your way from Acadiana to the Westend Bistro and back again.  They’ve also added a Wine Bar that will feature wines from more than 20 vineyards.  VIPs get to start the party an hour early, mingle and enjoy cocktails made by top local and national mixologists, and indulge their sweet teeth at the VIP dessert den.

tixWhile you’re wining and dining your way around the room, you may also be tempted to bid on a few silent (and public) auction items, including a private mixology class with Tony Abou-Ganim and a multi-course traveling dinner for you and 10 friends on a DC50 party bus.

This year’s event will feature a handful of honored local chefs whose support for Share Our Strength and whose top-notch culinary skills have made them standouts on the DC dining scene for years.  Honorees include Jeffrey Buben, Bob Kinkead, Ris Lacoste, Jeff Tunks, Kaz Okochi, Robert Weidmaier, Roberto Donna, and Michel Richard.  All of them (with the exception of Richard) are expected to attend, and you can be sure they’ll be there to have a good time.

At the beginning of the month, organizers were able to reveal an extra draw to sweeten the deal further: Carla Hall, Top Chef finalist and owner of Alchemy Caterers, will also be participating in the evening’s festivities.  If you’re looking for a chance to tell Carla what a great job she did representing DC, this is a prime opportunity!

“But wait a minute,” you may be saying at this point.  “Even though I’m still going out to eat frequently, I am looking for ways to curb my spending a bit.  This seems a bit extravagant for a Monday night.”

When you think about the fact that you can enjoy tastes from 40 of the top-rated restauants in the area – including some from as far away as VOLT in Frederick – along with wine and an evening of entertainment for less than you’d spend at some of these participating restaurants for a meal, you realize just what a deal this represents.

And the chance to help end hunger in our own backyard certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

For tickets to the event or more information, visit the website.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation
Monday, March 3oth, 2009
7-10 PM
Mellon Auditorium
1301 Constitution Ave., NW

<<SPOILER ALERT:  This post contains information about the outcome of tonight’s episode of Top Chef, along with pictures and video of Carla Hall and Spike Mendelsohn from tonight’s watch party at Good Stuff Eatery.  Check them out after the jump!>>

super-bowl-tix     tcny_cast_photo (more…)


We just received this email from Top Chef Spike Mendelsohn and his family at Good Stuff Eatery.  In honor of Spike’s guest spot as one of the “Top Chef All-Stars” in tonight’s episode, Spike is inviting everyone to come out and join him at Good Stuff to watch the show.

carlaSpike (with an occasional assist from Andrew, the other half of the original Top Chef Bromance) has been offering up live commentary throughout the season via Twitter (@BravoTopChef).  Tonight you can bet he’ll be dishing not just about the current contestants, but also about his experience filming the episode and some other Top Chef related dirt he’s got in the works.  We’re counting on a lot of love in the room for local girl Carla Hall – here’s hoping she can rally from last week’s performance to place back in the top ranks this time around!

Since we were already planning to watch tonight’s episode (and take part in the weekly Top Chef Live Blog over at Endless Simmer), you can expect to find Capital Spice reporting live from Good Stuff Eatery tonight.  Come chat with us over at Endless Simmer or look for us on Twitter (@capitalspice) – we’ll be feeding you the choicest quotes from Spike and everyone else watching over burgers and shakes.

 Snowflake cookies from Whats Cooking America

Snowflake cookies from What's Cooking America

Whether you’re getting ready to celebrate Christmas with a feast of seven fishes (a tradition in my Italian-American family that Dean Gold recreates at Dino), already celebrating Hannukah with latkes like the ones made by Good Stuff Eatery’s Spike Mendelsohn and his mother at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue this past weekend, or preparing to celebrate the sixth night of Kwanzaa with a Karuma meal like the one Top Chef contestant Carla Hall discussed in Vegetarian Times back in 2003, we here at Capital Spice want to wish you a tasty and festive holiday. 

Thanks for reading!