Chef Spotlight: Spike Gjerde

Chef Spike Gjerde has been a prominent part of Baltimore’s restaurant community since he opened his first restaurant, Spike & Charlie’s, with his brother in 1991. After a number of restaurant concepts, Gjerde and his wife, Amy, opened Woodberry Kitchen in 2007 as a testament to their commitment to sustainable operations. The restaurant relies on long-standing relationships with the growers of the Chesapeake region to provide ingredients that nourish and delight guests, making it possible for diners to join in supporting sustainable agriculture that respects the abundance and traditions of the region while helping to ensure its future. Housed in a renovated 1870s foundry nestled in the historic Clipper Mill neighborhood, the restaurant offers a warm, rustic setting featuring an open kitchen.

The Gjerdes also oversee Artifact, a coffee-driven destination featuring fresh food and beverages, and Parts & Labor, a butcher shop and restaurant. Most recently they added, Grand Cru, a wine bar, bottle shop and neighborhood spot in Belvedere Square, to the mix of Baltimore offerings.

Gjerde’s hard work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Food Arts, Esquire, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and The Washington Post. In 2013 and 2014, Gjerde was named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic” award. In 2015, Spike became the first Baltimore chef to bring home the award.

Get to Know Spike Gjerde

Culinary contributor Amy Langrehr sat down with Chef Gjerde to chat about food, family and what’s great about Baltimore.

Was food a big part of your upbringing? Did you cook when you were a kid?
SG: Not really. My dad has always loved wine and, well, soup on the stove is definitely a good memory for me – that was a good Sunday. But, no, we weren't a big food house. So, I don't have any great stories about my Sicilian grandmother… (Smiles.) When I was in college at Middlebury, I got into cooking. I studied Chinese language and philosophy, but then I also worked – I guess now you'd call it staging – at a bakery. I'd ride my bike there at midnight and bake all night. Sometimes I was able to “bribe” my professors with baked goods. (Laughs.) That was fun.

You're a dad – and a chef. Are your kids really into food? What do they like to eat?
SG: Our kids aren't super-adventurous eaters. That said, they love the experience of going out to eat. Like, recently my son and I went down to DC to Rogue 24, and did their tasting menu. It's 24 little courses. RJ [Chef RJ Cooper] sent everything out, and I think my son tried most of it. That was a lot of fun.

 

Spike Gjerde talks about "His Baltimore"

 

How do you balance home and work? With a family that can't be easy. I guess days off are big.
SG: That's really hard right now. There aren't a whole lot of real days off. But it definitely goes in waves. You know, like back in the Spike & Charlie and Atlantic days, it was just different. But I know that quieter times will come back. Right now, I'm putting everything into these restaurants. Blue sky is coming. And, cooking helps a lot. I'm on the oven about twice a week at Woodberry, and I cook "Bowl & a Beer" some Wednesdays at Artifact.

What chefs do you admire? Any you'd like to work with?
SG: Well, the first chef I really encountered here in Baltimore was Joseph Poupon (of Patisserie Poupon). He's one of the hardest working chefs I know, and he's always been incredibly generous and embodies the qualities I strive to have. Also, Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground. He's going to do interesting things, and he's really serious about what he's doing, in a really good way. I also have to say that Opie Crooks (Woodberry's chef de cuisine) is an amazing person. The level of experience he has, and he's completely himself and so passionate. I really admire Opie. As far as chefs I would like to work with? I'd have to say Albert Adria or maybe Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy. Also, Cook It Raw is something I'm interested in. It's a gathering of chefs where they completely immerse themselves in a culture, cook together, and share skills, knowledge and ideas. Check it out, it's pretty cool.

What do you love about Baltimore?
SG: I love that there's so much going on, but there are still so many possibilities. Our food culture is coming into its own. And it's much broader that just fine dining. We're really well-suited for other forms of food and dining.

What do you love about food?
SG: Well, I certainly love to eat. And you know, that moment when the meal is coming. The expectation is really great. I'm a restaurant guy through and through.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the city? And, where in Baltimore would you take your wife for a date night? No kids…
SG: Thames Street Oyster House for sure. Eric Houseknecht is really talented. He executes great food. For date night, we really like Tooloulou at Belvedere Square. We went there for my birthday. Shawn is doing great things there.

OK, obligatory question – when you cook at home, what do you like to make? Do you cook with your kids? Do you have a favorite “go to” meal at home?
SG: We don't really have a “go to,” but we do like to do big platters of lots of different things like steak and salad, potatoes. Our daughter, Katie, especially likes steak, and our son, Finn, is a chicken guy. We like to share it all. We also really like tacos. We don't get to eat as a family as much as we'd like, but we definitely try. You do what you can.

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