An Interview with James Beard Award Finalist Spike Gjerde
This is the first of two articles on the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic James Beard Award Finalists from Baltimore, Maryland. The Daily Meal Council’s Raymond Hook interviewed the two chefs in a tribute to the thriving food culture of Charm City.
On a recent trip to Baltimore I had the great fortune to meet and interview Chef Spike Gjerde, co-owner of Woodberry Kitchen, Artifact Coffee, Shoo-Fly, and his newest venture, Parts & Labor. The chef had just been announced as a finalist for the 2015 Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic James Beard Award and I relished the opportunity to meet a non-NYC-based rising star in the food world.
I met up with the chef — who I quickly learned goes by “Spike” rather than “Chef Gjerde” – at Artifact, his warm, welcoming coffee shop. I ordered a perfectly spicy chai hot chocolate and we sat down to talk. Spike’s path into the food world began in college: by day he studied philosophy and Chinese at Middlebury College, and by night he held down a job making pastries at Patisserie Poupon. When I told him of my fondness for great croissants, he insisted I try his black walnut version, filled with walnut butter and topped with chunks (delicious!). He uses walnuts instead of the traditional almond paste because “almonds don’t grow in this area, but we do have great walnuts.” This was my first encounter with Spike’s staunch and long-standing philosophy on local sourcing, an ethos he’s held since the opening of his first restaurant, Spike & Charlie’s, over 20 years ago.
After our initial introduction, I ventured up the road to the chef’s acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen, where the chef’s enthusiasm for innovative, locally sourced food was once again unmistakable. The restaurant boasts an extensive local wine and craft ale list as well as a surprisingly original cocktail list. I opted for A Morgan Road, a drink made with whey, honey gin, and house-made strawberry syrup: well-balanced yet indulgent. My meal then began with their still-warm stretched-to-order mozzarella — excellent comfort food on a brisk evening. Next: buttermilk tomato soup served with an “Adorable Grilled Cheese” perfect for dipping. My entrée was the excellent winter vegetable pot pie: flavorful local root vegetables engulfed in a blanket of rich cream and topped with a locally grown wheat lid. And for dessert: an espresso and a C.M.P., Woodberry Kitchen’s signature fresh-cream ice cream, toasted marshmallow, and peanut sundae.
I ambled back over to Artifact to give Spike my hearty compliments and found him in the kitchen with chef Michael Friedman of the D.C. restaurant The Red Hen. That evening they had teamed up for Bowl and a Beer, a bi-weekly event featuring an entrée paired with a beer of your choosing (such as Union Craft Brewing’s Duckpin Pale Ale, brewed right across the street). The best part? The price for both was $8 flat, which is the chef’s nod to workers who reside in the once-industrial neighborhood.
Artifact stayed warm and lively long into the evening. When Spike was finally able to take a break from the kitchen, we sat down to discuss his ideal restaurant environment: one that promotes a passion for food, celebrates those who produce it, and is committed to a sense of inclusion. As I looked around Artifact, I saw just that: filled to the rafters with house-made preserves and jars of pickles, with Outkast on the turntable and cool folks of all flavors making merry, Spike is already living the dream.