Chef Spike Mendelsohn Shares Kitchen Secrets and His Vegan Chili Recipe
Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn is disrupting the plant-based culinary world with his newest New York City fast-food restaurant, PLNT Burger, which offers classic tasting burgers, nuggets, and more, made from Beyond Meat and chicken. We sat down with the popular chef and restaurateur, who shared his favorite recipe for vegan chili, his secrets to success, and big plans for PLNT Burger and other endeavors. Read this before you make dinner plans.
Mendelsohn has a history of opening and operating different eateries in the Washington D.C. area. His portfolio includes cleverly named spots like Good Stuff Eatery, Santa Rosa Taqueria, and "We, The Pizza." He has built a reputation for creating indulgent comfort food and businesses that succeed. Now Mendelsohn is leaning into the plant-based movement serving up the dish he's best known for, burgers, made with sustainable meat alternatives.
The start of Mendelsohn's new plant-based venture dates back three years when he was speaking at a food conference in Washington D.C., where founders and investors were on the panel, including entrepreneur Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, and at the time, the executive chairman of Beyond Meat.
Goldman, sitting near Mendelsohn, had a secret weapon under his chair: a pack of Beyond Meat burgers, and he told the chef to go home and cook these and let him know what he thought. At the time the company was preparing for its IPO. When Mendelsohn got the meat alternative home, he was impressed at the texture and how similarly it cooked and tasted just like real meat "It just so happened to be that Spike's wife was vegan," Goldman recalls. He has since nicknamed Mendelsohn "the burger king."
Mendelsohn recalls being in shock at how delicious the Beyond burgers tasted, and with his wife's support, he got involved with Beyond Meat, helping launch the brand's vegan sausage in Whole Foods and pitching new products and placements.
In the conversations that followed, the two decided to partner on a fast-food chain to bring this sustainable meat alternative to the world and launched it in Whole Foods in the Silver Springs, MD area just outside DC. Since then 9 other PLNTs have opened, but the first stand-alone brick-and-mortar storefront is in New York City, just south of Union Square.
The Beet: How was the transition to plant-based chef?
Chef Spike Mendelsohn: I've been cooking vegetables my whole entire life as a chef. As you know, vegetables make up about three-fourths of the plate but I never considered them as the center of the plate, as I do now. There was a ton of ingredients I have never worked with in the past like Beyond Meat which really opened me up to this new world then before you know it people were sending me all kinds of products like vegan butter, vegan whipped cream, all sorts of stuff.
I've been cooking for a while so I compare it to an artist who paints with the same set of colors for their entire life and imagines someone came in and swapped their color palette with a bunch of new colors, that's kind of how I looked at the plant-based movement. There are all these ingredients I've never worked with before, like sorghum.
Chef Spike Mendelsohn: I'm a serial entrepreneur so when I got a taste of my first ever Beyond Meat burger I was like hey, we have to open a fast-food burger and Seth didn't really know me too well at that point. But, he knew about my experience such as helping launch the first Beyond Meat sausage to Whole Foods when it came to market. I was always that guy pitching new products to the market. I started doing content for Beyond so we all became familiar with each other.
After the IPO of Beyond, Seth had more time to think about how he wanted to go back into start-up mode. I think that's something he missed since he started and grew Honest Tea and sold it to Coca-Cola. Seth reached out to me and said ' have this opportunity to test within Whole Foods we had become really good friends by that point so I agreed to test it out. We were the first-ever company to bring an entire team and concept into Whole Foods, which became PLNT Burger. We launched three months before the pandemic with lots of success, we were generating around $6,000 a square foot and the concept was a hit right off the bat.
The Beet: Tell me more about PLNT Burger
Chef Spike Mendelsohn: The idea was could we create something indulgent, delicious, and greasy – American burgers that happened to be plant-based. If we set out to just cater to vegans and vegetarians, we wouldn't have a business at all. It's part of the better burger movement: better for the planet, better for you. We're all in support of figuring out climate change and as a chef, I looked at how we can contribute to helping the planet by looking at our food system and changing the way we eat.
We looked at PLNT through the lens of climate change. if you compare our burger to an animal burger, we use 98 percent less land, 92 percent fewer emissions, 93 percent less water, so it's a very different burger when it comes to the environmental impacts. If you multiple these stats then we can have a real, effective change. We also found out from a consumer point of view that the pandemic created this ego-anxiety and people are anxious about making a change.
But, there not really sure how they can make a difference in their daily lives. So, what we preach is to take matters into your own hands and eat the change you want to see in the world. Every day you can vote with your own appetite. We have plans to take over New York City and we're opening our second location soon – stay tuned.
PLNT- Beyond Chili
Yields 4 people
- 2 lb Beyond Meat Ground
- 1 each Yellow Onion, diced
- 2 cups BBQ Sauce
- 2 cups Diced Canned Tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Cumin Seed, ground
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 1 tablespoon Cinnamon, ground
- ¼ cup Sunflower Oil
- TT Kosher Salt
- 1 tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
- 2 cups Water
- 8 oz can Black Beans
- In a large heavy-duty pot heat up half of the sunflower oil until smoking hot, add the Beyond Meat and brown. break up the meat with a whisk and spatula so there are no large chunks.
- Take the meat off and strain out the access oil.
- In the same pot heat up the other half of sunflower oil add the onions, and season with salt.
- Cook for 8-10 minutes until onions are soft and translucent.
- Add the meat back into the pan, add the cumin, cinnamon and the rest of the spices.
- Stir and add in the beans, tomatoes, and bbq sauce.
- Stir and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring continuously. season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add a little bit of water if the chili starts to get too thick.
- Serve with your favorite vegan toppings.
For more on delicious fast food that is plant-based, check out our taste test of the KFC Beyond chicken nuggets, sold nationwide.