top-chef<<EDIT 11/12 @ 10:30 AM:  Eager to find out more about Carla before the premiere tonight?  Check out this quick Q&A over at the Washington Post that appeared in today’s Food section.>> 

Tomorrow night, the first of seventeen cheftestants will be told to pack their knives and leave.  Top Chef is back, and they’ve brought their biggest cast ever for Season Five.  This time, DC and Baltimore are both represented: Carla Hall, chef and owner of Alchemy Caterers, is our hometown favorite, and Jill Snyder of Red Maple hails from Charm City.

Eager to learn more about our local competitor, I reached out to Carla through Alchemy.  She was really sweet and eager to talk to local writers, so we scheduled an interview through Bravo’s publicity folks (a necessity to ensure that candidates don’t give away anything TOO juicy).

carlaIf you’re like us and can’t wait for Wednesday night to come, this chat with Carla Hall should help to tide you over.

We started out talking about Carla’s approach to cooking – something she’s probably discussed dozens of times since the show started taping.  But she was gracious, taking the time to explain that her approach can be best described as “elegant comfort food.”  Her biography on the Top Chef website talks about her introduction of classic French techniques (honed at Bethesda’s L’Academie de Cuisine) to traditional Southern recipes, and her description seems to sum that up perfectly. 

Carla and the folks at Alchemy Caterers take it even further than that: it’s about changing the way people experience food.  They source much of their produce and heritage-breed meats from local producers like Tuscarora Farms and South Mountain.  And Carla works with her clients to get an understanding of who they are, then she uses that to inspire her dishes – she will completely rework a dish or just make a few small tweaks to better suit a person based on their interactions.

More insights into DC’s next Top Chef – including some of her favorite dishes around town and former cheftestant Spike Mendelsohn’s take on Carla – after the jump. (more…)

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In the world of dining, even the most loyal local foodies would agree that DC is a small pond with a couple of killer whales. Starting this June, DC can add another bold name when Bravo’s Top Cheftestant Evangelos “Spike” Mendelsohn opens his Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday night, Mike and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Spike and his partner-in-food Mike Colletti at Dr. Granville Moore’s on H St NE.

 

Say what you will about his performance on Top Chef: Spike brought this season’s most engaging and controversial character. Doubt us? Take a look at Television Without Pity’s Top Chef forum: On the night before the season finale Spike’s thread comments still vastly outnumber the three finalists, even gripetastic Lisa Fernandes.  So how does this food personality stack up in real life?

 

Look, I’ll be honest. If Tom Colicchio himself granted me the power to choose any Top Chef participant to start up in DC, I’d probably opt for Harold “Top Chef Saint” Dieterle or Sam Talbot. (Do I need to explain the latter?). Spike, though a serious contestant who came damn near the final three, always had an onscreen persona that put me a little on edge. Part experienced chef (his resume includes culinary school plus due diligence at the openings of Le Cirque and Mai House), part aggressive competitor and part-time schemer, it was hard to tell if he belonged in the good or evil column of reality show contestants. I was worried which version of Spike we might get – would “part-time slickster politician” make an appearance? (more…)