Today’s Feature – October 28-29: Chef Spike

October 30, 2008 at 1:58 am (Today's Feature)

If I’m not mistaken (and someone will definitely tell me if I am), it’s our 289th feature… and our first one with a chef. But what a debut it is! You’ve seen Chef Spike on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Chicago,” the young guy with the stylish head gear who has been a part of the restaurant business since he could walk. This guy isn’t just a TV personality who was lucky enough to be on a TV Show – Spike has the chops (and the charisma) to take on any kitchen, anywhere. Just look at this resume:

– Educated at the Culinary Institute of America, and upon graduation, received the highest award offered at the Culinary school, the Francis Roth Leadership Award.

– Worked under Chef Gerard Boyer and Chef Thierry Voisin at Les Crayeres in Reims, France.

– The guy has worked at Le Cirque in New York City, and even helped open Mai House in Tribeca (leading his own team there).

The best part about Chef Spike (for us PEV guys anyway), is that he opened “Good Stuff Eatery” right in our neighbors yard in Washington, DC. Good Stuff Eatery has produced some of the best burgers, fries and shakes you’ve ever had (The Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake is unbelievable!).  If you want to catch Spike, stop by Good Stuff Eatery. Now I need to get some eats myself. Check out www.Goodstuffeatery.com and get into the XXQ’s for a whole lot more.

XXQs: Spike

Richie: The restaurant looks great, Spike. So, are you from DC?

Spike: No, I’m originally from Montreal… I traveled around the world basically, I lived everywhere. I had been living in New York City for the past three years. I was in the restaurant scene there. And of course, I did the Top Chef TV show. I wanted to launch my brand as a restauranteur and chef, not just a chef and that’s what you expect from a chef, so launching it in New York, it is so saturated and I didn’t want the critics jumping all over me because of being on the show. I felt like this was an amazing location – I have my restaurant group on the third floor and the main restaurant right here. I couldn’t be happier. All the stars just lined up kind of perfect. Plus my family is here as well.

Richie: So your family lives in DC now too?

Spike: Yeah. My sister has been here for about six years and my parents moved here a little while ago to be by her. And now I’m here.

Richie: How are you liking DC so far?

Spike: I love DC. The nightlife is a little – it lacks some (laughs). Well, compared to New York. I mean it’s good to have in my life right now. DC lets you relax and take it easy too. The food scene is here and getting better.

Richie: From the show, people obviously notice you. Have you been stopped a lot here?

Spike: Oh yeah, I have a really nice fan base, or now they hate me because I run a burger place. But it’s nice when people recognize you. They feel like they know you, from being on the show. It’s interesting about how they approach you sometimes. I mean, sometimes it’s like real nonchalant, like ‘Hey Spike, how are you?’

Even a the airport yesterday, the guy was checking my bag and he was like, ‘Man, you got kicked off way too early.’ It’s surreal – an amazing opportunity. I wasn’t really trying to win $100,000 more so, I was trying to brand myself as a chef and that’s what I’m doing right now.

Richie: When you are not working or traveling, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

Spike: Well, I actually have very little spare time right now. My girlfriend will tell you she hates that (laughs). I mean, just today, I was on a 5:30 AM flight this morning, back from Wisconsin for a private dinner for a charity event. My group keeps me very busy on events. I went to Burger Bash in Chicago and stuff like that. Whenever I have free time it’s about marketing myself and my restaurant group. It’s always work, work, work, work or doing an event that is helping me out in the industry. That and flipping burgers.

Richie: So what’s a normal day like for you? Wake up to sleep.

Spike: An average day here in DC would be I get here early. Have a cup a coffee, get the juices going. Just make sure everything is working well. My whole crew is a family. If they’re not family, they’re friends I met from New York. There are four of them that have all moved here from New York to launch the group with me. Also my parents, my sister, they are all involved. We have ventures like The Obama Burger. I’m coming out with the Bailout Burger soon… there’s all sorts of stuffs.

And the thing is we called it Good Stuff Eatery and not Good Stuff Burgers because I want to open more variety. I want to bring more variety to the masses. I want to bring things like soups, pizza… just trying to build the brand every day.

Richie: Was becoming a chef and owning a restaurant something you always aspired to do?

Spike: Yeah, well…um, it was going to happen whether or not I wanted it to. I come from a long line of family members in the restaurant business. My grandfather was in the business, his grandfather, my mother was a chef. I tried everything when I was a younger to get out of the business, like film school, marine biology (laughs) but something about it kept pulling me back in. It’s great though because I really love what I do. You can’t complain too much if you wake up everyday and get to do what you love.

Richie: I’ve heard a lot of war stories about the back kitchens, like chefs when they are first coming into the business, getting picked on. What was it like for you? Any war stories?

Spike: Well, first of all, I grew up in the restaurant business, so at like 14 I was washing dishes or whatever. And it’s a sub cultural we live in here and the people around us tend to be a little off or a little crazy. So growing up, I’d get a beat up and stuff like that. I mean the line cooks didn’t treat me like an owner’s son, they treated me like anyone else.

The best thing I could have done for my career was go to France. And this one restaurant was filled with like 60 pompous chefs and I was the only American – and that’s where the war stories begin. Whether it was purposely burning me with chicken stock or throwing a sauté pan at me because I had a hard time with the language… The one instance that sticks out the most was when I did a pastry stunt at that same restaurant and I did that for a couple of months. There was this Parisian chef that you could never understand and told me to make a soufflé order – he told me to make half an order. In Paris they are very waste conscious there and everything is the bottom line there and I ended up making a whole order. He comes to me with two plates and I had it ready for four. Then he starts yelling at me in French and how I was a stupid American and stuff like that. He then stripped me of my chef’s jacket and I was wearing nothing but a tank top. Then he had all his chefs duct tape me the pole and they all proceeded to pipe out the rest of the soufflé that I made on the top of my head (laughs). I was there for 45 minutes and they just pelted me with anything else they could find – eggs, glucose, flour…

Richie: Man Spike, that is a bad war story!

Spike: It’s a true story though and it’s… I mean that’s what they do in France they make an example out of you. I mean listen, I never made a whole order again. I definitely listened to the chef from then on. I look back at those events and really enjoy them. At the time I was mad that I was naked and had stuff all over me – well not completely naked but you know, you can never get away with that in the States. There would have been a million lawsuits. But that’s why I went there – to get that training. Now I can go to any kitchen and hang with them. Nothing intimidates me anymore.

Richie: Well something like that, I mean, you are in Paris, all alone and something like that happens – did you ever think that this wasn’t for you?

Spike: Never because I was always a go-getter and I knew what I wanted to do. When I was 18 years old and committed myself to the culinary world, I knew it was going to be a tough battle – especially where I wanted to go work. But you just do your work, keep your head down, stay out of trouble and just learn because it’s just, I mean it’s about paying your dues. You don’t just graduate culinary school and become the best chef. You may graduate law school and you become a good lawyer after that but in the culinary world it’s a long process. And after doing Top Chef, that really ran you through the mill, so I can do anything after that.

Richie: Becca, you have some questions?

Becca Lestner (PEV staff writer): I wanted to bring up some of your background that we had a chance to see on Top Chef, one thing was the Vietnamese influence. So why did you open a burger place? And is there any influence in the food we’ll taste tonight?

Spike: Well the whole reason I got into Vietnamese foods was that I did French cooking for so long. There is only so many times you can use butter or reheat vegetables with cream and that kind of stuff, so as a chef when you plateau you need to find something new to do. I got introduced Vietnamese food by a Vietnamese chef and he took me there, where I lived for about four or five months – traveled north to south and cooked my way through the whole entire region. It was just like a whole new bag of toys for me. The ingredients like lemon grass, herbs and all kinds of ingredients I’d never used before. Then I opened a French/Vietnamese restaurant in New York, I did that for about two years, which I didn’t own. I did Top Chef and people always looked at chefs as bad business people and I always looked at myself as a good businessman. I mean, you have to think; there are three million people that watch an episode and I wanted to open a restaurant that appealed to them – the masses.

I didn’t want to open a restaurant that was like a fine dining restaurant with like 45 seats that may appeal to like 20% of the people that watch. Especially with the economy, people don’t want to spend much. So, to open this was just a business decision. You look at the market you see the economy, the demographics of the area and you look at the fact you just went on a television show so why not try to appeal to everyone from the “foody” to the person that just likes burgers. I opened a restaurant that everyone could come to. We have burgers, chili, we make our own custard, we make milkshakes out of that, French fries, onion rings – just food you like to eat. There is a little bit of Vietnamese here with one of our burgers. So there is a little bit of Vietnamese flair in the burgers.

Becca: Obviously Good Stuff Eatery has been open for four months, and I hate to ask but what are you thinking next?

Spike: No it’s good. We are expanding the brand – The Good Stuff brand. It’s kind of a diamond in the rough, we spend a lot of money on the branding, the design, the feel. At first you are doing that and spending like over a million dollars for a restaurant on Capital Hill it can be a little intimidating. But after hearing the responses and seeing how well it’s done, it couldn’t have been a better move. Now I’m opening one in Union Station, one in Virginia, one in New York, so I’m building the brand. But I am getting back to my cooking roots. I’m very versatile. I have a crew that is very versatile and we can do anything from an Italian eatery, to a Greek eatery, to a French eatery… I think the thing that I want to do most is to do a Vietnamese tapas, by taking the cuisines of Vietnam and turning it into small plates. I think that’s a couple of years down the road. It’s all about getting the group together and seeing what our next project is. We’re not in a rush – we’re still young.

Richie: PensEyeView.com is an arts and music magazine, so what kind of music do you listen to?

Spike: I listen to everything, like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, all sorts of stuff. I have XM Radio here, which I think really helps build that brand. I mean you are sitting down having a burger and the Beatles or Led Zeppelin comes on or Reggae, it just feels good.

Becca: What was the last concert you went to?

Spike:  The last concert I went to was Coldplay. My girlfriend was ecstatic, she loves Coldplay. We saw them at The MCI Center.

Richie: So, what’s next for you?

Spike: The obvious is the restaurant group but I really want to do more television. I have a couple of shows and networks that are willing to take me on as their talent and launch it. I can’t really talk about them and nothing is set in stone but you’ll be seeing me on more television. And that is really why I did Top Chef. I knew I wanted to do my own cooking show and see how well I did on television. I think I did quite well.

Becca: Looking back at the show do you think you portrayed yourself as you liked?

Spike: I think unfortunately the editing was right on (laughs). No, no, I think I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do on Top Chef and I think they branded me the way I wanted. I branded myself that way – kind of spunky, kind of hipster, who likes to entertain. Which sometimes I focused on that more than the food (laughs). A lot of people think about what the show can do for you after it is over they just think in the now… I just think that is so… well, listen, I’m not going to talk shit about anyone (laughs). But you know people are going to see you after the show and people don’t realize, why come off so mean and rough. No one’s going to want to do business with you after that.

Richie: Is there anyone you still keep in touch with from the show?

Spike: Oh yeah. I keep in touch with Andrew a lot.

Richie: I thought he was hilarious!

Spike: I know! How could you not love that guy? The things he came up with to say on national television – I have no clue! The most energy that you’ve ever seen in your lives. And that’s why they (Top Chef/Bravo) put us together to do so many events together. I see Mark too, although he has his own restaurant and he’s married, so his life has taken a bit of a twist. I’m going to see Stephanie for the Common Threads charity event. Antonia I see. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I call Lisa every morning (laughs). I mean, not everyone is going to like each other. It’s good because Top Chef is like a little fraternity in a way and they bring us all back together for things all the time.

Richie: Well thanks Spike this has been great and I can’t wait to try some burgers and a milkshake.

For more information on Spike and Good Stuff Eatery, check out: www.goodstuffeatery.com

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