- The Magazine
Spike Mendelsohn’s concept for his plant-based, vegan fast food chain PLNT Burger came from relatively simple origins: his household culinary dynamics. “My wife is vegan and actually inspired me to go more vegan,” says Mendelsohn. “At any point, I’m probably 80-percent vegan right now.”
The reality TV-minted celebrity chef, who also chairs the DC Food Policy Council, opened PLNT Burger last March within Whole Foods in Silver Spring. Despite launching right before the pandemic hit, PLNT Burger has continued to grow, opening outlets in six other Whole Foods, including the large, gleaming new location in Shaw. A national expansion is planned for later in the year.
But that’s not the only success Mendelsohn has had amid COVID-19. The man behind the popular burger joint Good Stuff Eatery as well as the hip, community-driven pie shop We, The Pizza has also embarked on a completely new endeavor, one that sees him adding Culinary Lifestyle Expert and Kitchen Design Consultant to a mix of titles. Both stem from his partnership with Van Metre Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in Northern Virginia.
The partnership, Van Metre x Spike, amounts to “a dream opportunity of designing chef-inspired kitchens,” Mendelsohn says. “They’ve really allowed me to use everything that I know about restaurant kitchens and service and prepping and cooking and entertaining [and] apply all that knowledge to the home kitchen.
“[It’s] a completely new avenue for me,” he continues. “I’ve never done this before. In my own kitchens, over the course of my years, moving around and living in different places, I’d often think, ‘Oh, I want to do this,’ or ‘How cool would it be to do that?’ I’ve been keeping these things in my memory for quite some time. As a chef, what could be more exciting than to design home kitchens?”
The core feature of the partnership is four, customizable design models for high-quality, state-of-the-art, spacious kitchens that Mendelsohn developed with Van Metre’s in-house design team. “I based them off the elements — earth, wind, water, and fire — because, as a chef, that’s kind of what we always use as inspiration.”
In this case, each element informs “the color palettes and the kind of tile and marble that I recommend.” The goal is “to excite the home kitchen a little bit more, and to give people options. It’s not an all or nothing: You work with great design and build experts at Van Metre, and can use Spike’s tips and designs to inspire your own kitchen.” The partnership also serves to improve the utility of any outdoor space you might have near your kitchen: “Dining not only happens in your kitchen, or cooking, it also goes out to the patio. So we’ve also done some cool stuff and designs to open that thought process up a little bit more as well.”
As a collection, Mendelsohn’s models focus on enhancing the kitchen pantry, general shelving, and overall style, including upgrading the kitchen island concept. Drawing inspiration from his work in commercial restaurant kitchens, Mendelsohn aims to help make it less stressful to entertain guests — when that becomes possible again, post-pandemic.
“How many times have you wanted to hide stuff before having people over, for instance? Or just wanted a designated prep kitchen?” That’s where his ideas for the pantry come into play, built from “the idea of just turning your pantry into something beautiful [including by adding] a window in there, so you get some daylight. And there’s counter space and refrigeration and a sink and a dishwasher. You could do a little bit of everything in there and get ready for your party, and then just bring everything out into [what becomes] your show kitchen and kind of enjoy the evening.”
When it comes to storage, Mendelsohn seeks to “maximize and lighten up the shelving” in ways that downplay, or even do away with, traditional cabinetry in favor of strategically placed and decorative open-faced shelving. (“Being able to see a lot of the stuff that you have allows you to get inspired by your spice rack or by your favorite tool.”) When Mendelsohn is in his kitchen working on building recipes, inspiration often strikes just as it does for others most everywhere else, springing from what’s “in your surroundings, what’s available, what’s there, what’s catching your eye.” Bolstering that point, his designs tend to put small appliances on display “because if you don’t see your appliances you’re much less likely to use them.”
Mendelsohn is inspired by the trend toward the L-shaped kitchen island. “I’ve always loved the kitchen island, but a lot of times they’re a little bit too oversized,” he says. The L-shape allows “you to have a little bit of a prep area, but you can also have a little kitchen nook to sit, eat, or work in.” In many home kitchens, the island can or at least should function as “the chef’s table.” And why have only one when you can have two? One model breaks up the kitchen further by installing “a dual island with dual purpose: So you can have a prep chef island, and then you can have an accoutrement island for appetizers or even a buffet, or having a wine or a cocktail [bar].”
Once the pandemic has ended, the partnership will entail Mendelsohn participating in culinary events and demonstrations with lucky members of Van Metre Homes communities. For the rest of us, “I’m constantly pumping out content on the website — recipes for the holidays or for the Super Bowl.” He’s also posted a few how-to videos offering tips and “chef’s hacks,” everything from peeling ginger to trimming kale and chopping onions.
With the official launch delayed for many months due to the pandemic, Mendelsohn is eager to get to work on this new endeavor. “It’s nice that, after a year and a half’s worth of work with Van Metre’s team to develop this, we’re finally able to market and showcase it. I’m so excited about that.”
To see the models and learn more about the Van Metre x Spike partnership, including how to enlist their services regardless of where you live, call 703-348-5800 or visit www.vanmetrehomes.com/spiked-kitchens.
Learn more about Chef Spike Mendelsohn at www.chefspike.com.
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