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Banished Cheftestant Should Have Kept His Hat On

The hats really were lucky.
The hats really were lucky.

Last night’s Top Chef determined which four cheftestants would make the journey to Puerto Rico for a two-part season finale. New Yorker Spike Mendelsohn took off his hat for once and, in spite of a Quickfire win, was sent home for his failed frozen scallops. New York’s Michael Alan Connelly spoke with Spike today about his “controversial” dismissal and why Richard is the contestant to beat.

Why weren’t you wearing any hats in the episode?
I wanted to show a more professional side of myself, since it was the last episode [before the finale]. I do wear hats in kitchens a lot, but I wanted to let the public know that I am a professional chef.

Were you criticized too much for using the frozen scallops?
It was a tricky thing. I had a very short amount of time to pick my proteins. I heard there were scallops in the walk-in and I wanted them. When I saw they were frozen and torn-up, my heart just sank. I overthought it. I spent way too much time soaking water out of the scallops. I didn’t concentrate on my garnish, flavors, textures for that dish. That dish was a mess. I wasn’t proud of it, and I would never serve it again.

What can a chef actually do with frozen scallops?
Throw them out. Dredged scallops should be banned, honestly. It was a wet scallop, but maybe I should have done a seviche, something with acid and liquid, rather than trying to sear them. It would have been really worth my time if I had just sat down for ten minutes and thought it out.

Given the odds, do you think Richard has chance of winning?
Richard is the strongest competitor and the best chef of the group. Stephanie is very, very talented; she’s a great chef herself. But Richard is on a different playing level: He’s 35 years old. Something that comes along with being a great chef is experience, and he has it. He’s the older generation. He’s worked at El Bulli, he’s worked for Thomas Keller, he’s worked for Daniel Boulud.

How’s your burger joint coming?
I’m about to launch Good Stuff Eatery in about three weeks. I found the location in D.C. and thought it was amazing. It’s right on the Hill, at Pennsylvania and C. I wanted to do something really simple to capitalize off the publicity of the show. I’m really young, 27, and I didn’t want to open my fine-dining restaurant yet. All the critics would have been really on top of me, and I would have driven myself crazy. I’m giving it the branding of Starbucks; it’s a very well-branded store.

What about the rumors you had been fired from Mai House?
You know, Eater sometimes gets a little impatient and posts whatever they want to post without fact-checking. If anything, I think they embarrass themselves more once everybody realizes what the truth is. I was not fired. Lisa did not just come in and take my job. I put my heart and soul into that restaurant. I lived in Vietnam for four months. I trained all over the country. I picked the design of the restaurant with the chef. I have three years invested in that restaurant. I opened it, and I got two stars for it. I got top ten best new restaurants in New York City. I have a great relationship with Drew [Nieporent], and he’s done so much for me, so that’s not the way I’m ending at Mai House. It was kind of disappointing to see that. I felt like I had just been kicked off Project Runway: “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.”

Banished Cheftestant Should Have Kept His Hat On