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…)

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If the number of visitors to Capital Spice who have been checking out our first look at We the Pizza is any indication, there will be lines for days as soon as they’re open.

There’s just one thing…that won’t be today.

We just heard from the Mendelsohns that they’ve had to push back their opening one more time.  Instead of opening today at lunchtime, as previously reported just about everywhere, they’re planning to open on Friday, July 23rd.

And if you thought the line was going to be long today, don’t forget to factor in the casual nature of most Congressional offices on Fridays in the summer.  Chances are there will be just a few more folks willing to brave the lines for a taste of Spike, Mike and Brian’s pizzas, wings and sandwiches.

We’ll keep you posted if we hear of any further developments.

Check out our map of sites associated with Top Chef DC, updated each week

This week, Top Chef DC approached Washington less like tourists and more like honeymooners.  Sure, they knew the sights were out there, but they were perfectly content to spend the day in the hotel.

Poor Season 7 cheftestants.  When Top Chef did a hotel dining challenge in Season 1, the chefs served professional poker players and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.  When they did a hotel dining challenge last season (in Las Vegas, where the hotels pretty much ARE the attractions), they served breakfast in bed to Padma and Nigella Lawson.

This time?  Breakfast lunch and dinner to DC area Top Chef alums and the chef/owner of the country’s first certified organic restaurant.

So that means we’re all about the personalities this week as we dig into the who’s, what’s and where’s of Top Chef DC.  After the jump, find out what Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn and Bryan Voltaggio have been up to since their appearances on Top Chef, meet celebrated chef Nora Pouillon and check out a local company that’s doing baby food even Padma and Tom would like. (more…)

<<EDIT #2 4:39 PM 7/8/10 –As reported elsewhere (including Tim Carman’s Young & Hungry post), the opening has been pushed back a week and is now slated for Monday, July 19th.  Stay hungry!>>

<<EDIT 11:29 AM 7/7/10 – Official word from We the Pizza is that they’re planning for a Monday opening. They’ve been working ’round the clock to finish everything up and, in Mike Colletti’s words, “Everything’s great…but I’m tired!”>>

Brace yourselves.

Better yet, Capitol Hill, break out your fat pants.

In just a few days, Spike Mendelsohn (along with his family and friends) will be opening We, the Pizza in the space that used to be Zack’s Taverna.  Consider it the polar opposite to the new SweetGreen – the menu consists of pizzas, wings, sandwiches and gelati all washed down with ice-cold beers and hand-flavored Italian fountain sodas.

The opening party is tonight, and they’ll be turning out pies to the public as early as Friday.

Can’t wait that long?  Check out the menu on their already-live website.

Better yet, check out the following photos to get a feel for the place.  We were lucky enough to get in for a first look yesterday, and it’s clear that Spike, Mike Colletti and Brian Lacayo are ready to have some fun with their new concept.

More photos 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…)

It’s hard to imagine Spike Mendelsohn deep in the weeds in a restaurant kitchen.  He’s a personality, a character – the smirk and the fedoras are too colorful to keep under wraps behind the scenes.  One of the things that guests at Good Stuff Eatery love is that they frequently find the former Top Chef contestant front and center when they stop in for the balanced meal that is a Blazin’ Barn burger and a Toasted Marshmallow milkshake.

As a result, it’s easy to forget that he and his cohorts at Good Stuff Eatery, Mike Colletti and Brian Lacayo, come from a sit-down restaurant background.  Working in popular New York restaurants like Mai House and Le Cirque, they’ve honed some pretty serious upscale dining chops.  Last month, they gave lucky guests at Alice Waters’ Sunday Night Sips event a tasty reminder.

On Sunday night, Spike and his team take on Michael Symon in the first episode of the new season of Iron Chef America.  In between publishing a Good Stuff Eatery cookbook and preparing to open We The Pizza next door, they found time to head up to Kitchen Stadium for what Spike described as “a kitchen brawl.” And you can bet the secret ingredient wasn’t burgers.

We caught up with Spike to ask about the experience and some of the interesting connections that show what a small world the restaurant business really is.

Capital Spice: Why Iron Chef?
Spike Mendelsohn: We’ve been doing Good Stuff Eatery for a year and a half now, and it’s been great.  But we’re not just about burgers.  Iron Chef was an opportunity for me, Colletti and Brian to put on chef coats and get our hands dirty again.

CS: What was it like to go head to head with Michael Symon?
SM: It’s funny…they always advertise the show as a one-on-one competition, but it’s really all about the team.  I didn’t feel like it was just me competing against Symon, it was the three of us working together against the three of them.  I really hope that comes across on television.

More on Kitchen Stadium, secret ingredients and a possible rematch after the jump. (more…)

PS7's Gina Chersevani with Alice Waters

If our math is correct, Alice Waters’ Sunday Night Suppers helped to raise more than $100,000 for the DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table for the second year in a row.  The 15 all-star dinner parties were limited to 20 guests each, and they featured some of Washington’s best and most established chefs.  But they weren’t the only way to help support these great causes this time around.

In an effort to engage the next generation of savvy and (hopefully) active foodies, Waters and company organized a pre-game called Sunday Night Sips.

Everything about this luxe cocktail reception was planned with a younger audience in mind, from the scaled-back price point to the collection of up-and-coming chefs whose dishes were featured to the high-end cocktails poured by three of DC’s finest craft bartenders.

We were invited to tag along and document the event, and we eagerly accepted.  What awaited us in hosts Greg Nelson and Jose Cunningham’s beautiful home was three floors of food and drink that were designed to impress.  Whether it was Will Artley’s BLT Gnocchi (a favorite we’ve ordered at Evening Star Cafe) or Owen Thompson’s Tequila Milk Punch, each taste packed a flavorful punch.

The evening in images (Who am I kidding? There are plenty of words, too) after the jump. (more…)