On Thursday, Canadian-born chef Spike Mendelsohn will be cooking for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and about 250 guests at a State Department lunch being hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Mendelsohn, 35, grew up in Montreal and Florida, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, has cooked at New York City's Le Cirque and appeared on Top Chef and Iron Chef. The Obamas won't be at his lunch on Thursday (which is part of the PM's official visit), but they've already eaten his food at Good Stuff Eatery and We, The Pizza.
Mendelsohn was also recently named chairman of D.C.'s Food Policy Council and speaks passionately on issues ranging from urban agriculture to small farm-holder co-ops. The Globe and Mail spoke to him on Sunday, as he tweaked his menu for this week's lunch.
Perhaps I've seen too many political thrillers, but does a lunch for a visiting dignitary involve someone from the security detail tasting your food first? Will they be in the kitchen observing how it gets prepared?
They'll do a whole sweep at some point. I remember when I was cooking at the Cirque in New York and the prime minister of Israel walked in and a bunch of guys with Uzis were hanging out in the kitchen while we were cooking. You're reaching for the salt, hoping they don't think it's something else.
How did it come about that you were asked to prepare this luncheon?
I've been in D.C. since 2008 and my restaurants are on Capitol Hill, where we get a lot of senators and other politicians. I cook a lot for the State Department and do some chef advocacy work. And I'm a D.C. chef who happens to be Canadian.
Can you share your menu?
My first course has been decided on. Profish, a sustainable seafood place in D.C., carries this amazing salmon candy that's cured with maple – think of smoked salmon but on the sweeter side and smokier and a bit chunkier. It will have a potato with black-pepper ranch dressing and candy striped beets.
[For the main] I think I'm going to be working with boneless short ribs. I'd do a nice braise. In D.C., we're almost getting into spring weather but it's still kind of cold. So, I'll lighten up that dish with a maple carrot purée and some great garnishes. Cooking for over 200 people, I want to keep it moist and something I'll be able to execute without the quality suffering. It will be paired with spring vegetables that are not too heavy or buttery.
You want to make sure you have a bit of acid to combat the maple so it's not overly sweet.
And for dessert?
Chef Santosh Tiptur will be making the dessert. He's from Co Co. Sala, D.C. chocolate confectioners. He hasn't told me what he's doing.
Does preparing a lunch for a sitting prime minister touch on your Canadian pride?
This dinner is more special than all the other ones to me because I get to represent my country and be a Canadian chef for the day. Trudeau is very popular. It really reminds me of when the Obama administration took over D.C. and would get involved in fashion and television and these awesome initiatives, and they kind of revived it in a really hip way. I feel like that's what's happening.
What are some of the challenges that are on your mind for the luncheon?
God forbid we get delayed for 20 minutes and my food is sitting with acidic vinaigrette on the table. For dinners like this, you have to think about the things you can't control and how you have to adjust and rethink.
Will you get to speak to the Prime Minister?
Maybe for a selfie? He likes selfies, I like selfies; let's get together and do a big old selfie.