Top Chef: Healthy Cooking
Pizzas, burgers, burritos—kids adore these fast foods, and so does Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn. Here, he challenges himself to create healthy versions.
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.
One of the biggest influences on Mendelsohn's work with children has been Michelle Obama and her new healthy-eating initiative, Let's Move. The chef has spent a lot of time promoting better food programs in schools. In turn, the First Lady has called out Good Stuff as one of her favorite places to eat in DC. In her honor, Mendelsohn created the Michelle Melt, featuring a turkey burger flavored with sautéed apple and celery. "She has shown us a lot of love, and I felt bad for her having to order the Obama Burger"—a beef patty topped with bacon and blue cheese. Mendelsohn has also been inspired by tours of the White House garden, which now has a beehive on the grounds. He uses honey to sweeten his healthy cinnamon-oatmeal muffins.
© Pernille Pedersen
Since all kids love pizza, Mendelsohn makes a whole-wheat pie topped, nacho-style, with chili-spiced black-bean puree, lettuce, tomatoes and a little low-fat Jack cheese and sour cream. Some version of it will probably be on the menu at We, the Pizza, which he's about to open next door to Good Stuff Eatery. (It's a busy time for Mendelsohn; he also just published The Good Stuff Cookbook.) He hasn't named a pie for the President or First Lady yet, but he thinks the Obamas will still visit. "We're only a 15-minute drive from the White House. In a presidential motorcade, they can get here in two minutes. And if I put a helipad on the roof, they could get here even quicker.
3 More Fast and Healthy Recipes
1. Vegetable-Frittata Pie
Sauté carrots, potatoes, spinach, zucchini and garlic chives with fresh tomatoes and sliced basil. Add a mixture of beaten whole eggs and egg whites and bake in a skillet.
2. Turkey-and-Apple Sandwiches
Layer pieces of turkey breast ("I love the idea of roasting your own turkey," says Mendelsohn) with Granny Smith apple and cucumber slices on whole-wheat bread. Spread with low-fat mayonnaise mixed with mustard.
3. Herbed Chicken Fingers
Coat thick strips of chicken breast with panko bread crumbs mixed with finely chopped thyme and rosemary. Sauté in a little olive oil, then roast in the oven.