Everyone knows that Washington DC is the political epicenter of the United States, but what those outside the Beltway don’t know is that the city’s foodie reputation is growing. With hundreds of restaurants flourishing in the land of lawyers and lobbyists, Food Safety News was able to sit down with gourmet Chef Spike Mendelsohn in his busy Capitol Hill restaurant Good Stuff.
Though he gained noteriety as a contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef Chicago, Chef Mendelsohn is just a regular guy trying to promote what he believes in–simply, Good Stuff.
“Everything we serve here at Good Stuff comes to us from farms within 100 miles,” said Mendelsohn. “I take trips to visit the farmers in Maryland and Virginia, I know them and we have a good working relationship. When you trust your farmers, you can trust your food.”
Mendelsohn gave examples of sourcing meat from Capitol Meats out of Winchester, Va and dairy products for his famous gelato and hand-spun shakes from a local Maryland dairy farm. “My farmers produce super fresh products and we’ve developed great relationships that allow both of our operations to charge reasonable prices.”
On the subject of food safety, “It’s not hard, it’s actually the easiest thing we do here” Mendelsohn said. “When I was training in France I was amazed to learn that an entire dinner can be composed of products found within three to fifteen miles or less.” He emphasized the importance of sourcing through local farmers in order to support the local economy as well as keep the food he provides for customers safe.
“Local families take pride in producing wholesome ingredients,” he said. “We as an industry need to go back to relying on local farmers for fresh produce, meat, dairy, etc. We need to offer fresh, better tasting food and battle the large companies by demanding delicious, safe, nutritious food.”
Mendelsohn is passionate about sustainability. He believes that chefs need to set the trend of local and fresh. For example, at family-run Good Stuff, Mendelsohn said they took “classic American fare like handmade burgers, hand-cut fries, and handspun ice cream and made it real.”
He discussed the problems that mass-produced food has contributed to, including adult and childhood obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. “Just go watch Food, Inc. or Supersize Me. Mass produced food, I think, is the biggest problem we have today in America.”
Restaurants like Good Stuff seem to be setting the trend for local and sustainable food. “It’s a matter of setting the precident,” he said. “If more restaurants like Good Stuff open, we can show the big companies that they’re the problem.” Mendelsohn emphasized the importance of awareness–knowing where your food comes from.
“In the last ten to fifteen years the American pallate has grown. We’re starting to see consumers more aware than ever before of where their food comes from. They actually care, and that’s really cool,” he said.
Inspired by his passion for delicious, healthy food, as well as the Capitol Hill setting of his restaurant, Mendelsohn has added lobbyist to his resume as of late. This month, he will join tens of thousands of citizens in calling for legislators to invest in healthier food, strengthen nutrition standards, and link schools to local farms when Congress updates the Child Nutrition Act this year. “We’re focused on school lunches and serving kids quality over quantity,” he said.
Mendelsohn encourages everyone to get involved in the healthy lunch program. More information on lobbying for healthy school lunches can be found here.
When he’s not serving up American Classics at Good Stuff Eatery, Chef Mendelsohn is participating in cooking demonstrations and speaking venues around the country and can be seen on the Top Chef Tour Bus. He also participates in special events most recently with the culinary iconoclast Paul Liebrandt at the James Beard Foundation.