Spike Mendelsohn is well known to viewers of Top Chef, Bravo's hit reality cooking show, as the talented, often-provocative Season 4 contestant with a truly astounding collection of hats. Now that Top Chef Season 7 is set in Washington, DC, where Mendelsohn owns Good Stuff Eatery, he's imagining all kinds of local challenges for the rookie contestants. One is particularly close to his heart: to take over a public-school cafeteria and make healthy, inexpensive dishes that are delicious enough for kids to want to eat.
The menu at Good Stuff tends heavily toward burgers, fries and shakes; Mendelsohn famously had to run to the store for broccoli on the day President Obama first stopped by for lunch. But for the past eight months, he's been working on healthy-eating programs with the DC branch of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), a national network of public charter schools in underserved communities. At classes on Saturdays, he teaches students how to make things like yogurt. "I encourage, almost force, the parents to come too, so they can see what their kids are doing," Mendelsohn says. "And then I'll get e-mails from them saying, 'Oh my God, I made that yogurt and it's amazing.' " He is also in the process of revamping KIPP's school-lunch program, with the ultimate goal of creating a prototype for all of the 86 KIPP academies.