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…)

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…)

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)!

2344992953_37734fb072_oWith just over 18 hours to go until we announce the results of our highly scientific Valentine’s survey, it looks like Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s is out to a COMMANDING lead over his four opponents.

But is it enough to hold on for the win?  Could Barton Seaver stage a dramatic comeback?  Will Katsuya Fukushima suddenly catch fire?

othersAnd where are all the Johnny Monis and Spike Mendelsohn fans out there?  Talk about surprises!

Got a favorite?  You’ve got until midnight tonight to cast your votes (and to rally the troops behind your choice).

On Valentine’s Day eve, I’d like to pause to give thanks to certain chefs in DC. As a woman who spends a decent amount of time in restaurants around town, I find that some places are just a bit more enjoyable based on who is running the kitchen. Let’s face it: knowing there is a little eye candy working behind-the-scenes on those dishes can make dinner that much sweeter.

So to celebrate Valentine’s Day and give a little back, I’d like to kick off a poll for DC’s Most Crushable Chef. Please read on, cast your vote and be sure to use the comments to lobby for your favorite (this is DC after all).  We’ll post the results in a week, so make sure to get your vote in early!

Johnny Monis, Komi. Oh, dreamy Johnny Monis. The brooding eyes. The attention to detail in the kitchen. The really kick ass roast pork with cracklins that I crave fortnightly. What’s not to love? “Johnny Monis is not only one of DC’s most creative and consistent chefs,” Itty Bitty Bitter Betty gushed, “he is handsome and makes a mean house-cured olive.”

Barton Seaver, formerly of Hook. Ever since he burst onto the DC dining scene with Hook, a modern seafood restaurant in Georgetown with a focus on sustainable fish, Barton Seaver has taken home the title of DC Chef pretty boy. I think I heard swoons about the “hot chef at that M street place” long before anyone talked to me about his fresh, unfussy recipes. Diners (especially of the female variety) are waiting with baited breath to hear about his next move in DC.

Teddy Folkman, Dr. Granville Moore’s. It may have been the mussels and frites that led Teddy to victory in the Bobby Flay Throwdown, but his disarming smile and easy humor have been charming patrons long before the episode aired (is that a dimple I spy under that 2-day scruff?). He’s also a remarkably generous person. One night at Granville’s Teddy overheard my admiring his Hoegaarden tshirt and wishing for one of my own. A few minutes later he reappeared (wearing anothers shirt) with his Hoegaarden garb nicely folded for me – right off his back. Teddy’s laid back personality and easy access to guilty pleasure frites (some of the best in the city, in my opinion) may give him a leg up on the competition although a straw poll of foodie friends indicates  Teddy may still be the Joey McIntyre to Barton’s Jordan Knight. Shares Stefanie Gans of Endless Simmer: “Although he’s left Hook, Barton’s definitely still in the running for the hottest chef in town. but without any food to back up his looks, I may have to go for the man that can serve me french fries with truffle aioli: Teddy.” Coffeeshopgirl agrees, “I think Barton Seaver wins on looks alone but if Teddy Folkman were to ply me with mussels and Belgian beer, I might switch over and vote him most crushable.”

Spike Mendelsohn, Good Stuff Eatery. The Top Chef season 4 contestant that everyone loved to hate (or just loved to love) and recent DC resident can still fire up a hot-or-not debate among a table of women. Anthony Bourdain once mused that Spike would do well in DC as he’s a natural politician. We think its really because he’s just a natural flirt. Spike’s biggest admirers have been with him since day 1. “The first time I saw him on Top Chef I thought he was the ‘hot one.’ But then he opened his mouth and I heard that easy combination of smart-ass, jerk, comedian and confident swagger, and I was in full swoon,” shared Alex of BrightestYoungThings.

Katsuya Fukushima, MiniBar and ThinkFoodGroup. I’m going to throw one out for the dark horse here.  Katsuya has been on his fair share of food shows (most recently spotted on No Reservations with Bourdain and backing Jose Andres on Iron Chef a few years back) but he comfortably takes the role of behind-the-scenes guy. Maybe its because of his (self-admitted but not apparent) fear of public speaking. Last summer he stepped down from his role leading Minibar to work on a range of concepts at the ThinkFoodGroup. Regardless, Katsuya’s Hawaii-rocker meets pirate-chef vibe is not to be overlooked. You may not expect a guy rocking hoop earrings and tats to be the master of salt foams and cirque-du-soliel culinary delights (although if you work in a kitchen, this wouldn’t look out of place either), but his presence at any meal adds to the presentation. And mostly he’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.