Belgian Eats with Chef Robert Wiedmaier
July 2, 2016 @ 12:00am
Belgian National Day is just around the corner, and Chef Robert Wiedmaier is ready to celebrate with a five-day lineup of Belgian-inspired dishes and drinks at four of his area restaurants. The RW Restaurant Group owner, who has been shaping the DC area food scene since opening his flagship fine dining establishment Marcel’s 18 years ago, is known for his authentic Belgian cuisine and expansive selection of Belgian beer. And from July 17-21, locals can get a taste of Belgium at Brasserie Beck downtown and all three Mussel Bar & Grille lo×cations (Arlington, Bethesda and Baltimore).
All week long, Wiedmaier’s eateries will serve a marinated turkey doner kebab sandwich complete with pickled onions, feta cheese, lettuce, cabbage and tzatziki sauce, plus waffle fries on the side. A traditionally Turkish dish, he says doner kabobs are wildly popular in Belgium, especially as a late-night option after a successful pub crawl.
The chef’s custom “hoptail,” Antigoon’s Revenge – half cocktail, half double blonde ale – will also be available at participating restaurants. Brasserie Beck’s Beer Director, Dean Myers, walked On Tap through the hoptail’s ingredients – sweet ginger and elderflower liqueurs and a splash of lemon juice topped with the chef’s own Antigoon beer. Wiedmaier says Antigoon isn’t too heavy, and folks can easily knock back a few of them. Citrus, honeysuckle and coriander are among the flavors you’ll find in Antigoon, available at all RW restaurants and at retail stores such as Total Wine.
Belgian Restaurant Week kicks off on Sunday, July 17 with a chocolate fountain, followed by a “hoppy hour” with Belgian brews and boudin blanc sliders on Monday, a shrimp feast on Tuesday, and mini Belgian waffles on Wednesday. The weeklong celebration wraps up on Thursday, July 21, which also happens to be Belgian National Day, with all-you-can-eat mussels.
Wiedmaier’s favorite Restaurant Week item is undoubtedly the Belgian waffle. His father, who was born and raised in Belgium and immigrated to the U.S. at 18, was a “waffle nut,” hence the chef’s soft spot for the classic Belgian dish. The chef plans to stuff the waffles with strawberry or cherry jam, and drizzle them with caramelized sugar and a special sauce made from Belgian speculoos cookies.
Aside from the ongoing celebration at his restaurants, Wiedmaier says his own Belgian National Day plans are pretty
low-key and most likely involve tapping a keg of Stella. He was one of the first restaurateurs to introduce Stella on tap (at Marcel’s), and even named his English lab after the pilsner. He aspires to one day own a French bulldog to keep Stella company that will be aptly named Artois.
A Day in the Life
When it comes to his professional life, Wiedmaier says each day starts the same way. He wakes up and his wife Polly says, “Let me tell you what’s on your calendar.” And each day, Polly remains the only one privy to his schedule.
“I don’t tell anybody where I’m going,” he says. “With this many restaurants [10 total], I like to just walk in. They never know where I’m going to be.”
A self-described mistake finder, the chef says he’s all about quality control. And with such a large team, he’s constantly in meetings at different restaurants to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Luckily, his core team at Marcel’s in Foggy Bottom has been with him since the very beginning – nearly 20 years.
“It’s very nice to have people who have been so loyal and understand what I want with that restaurant all the time. It’s given me more time where I can go around and do other things and have fun, and then always swing back [to Marcel’s].”
A True Music Lover
Fun comes in many forms for Wiedmaier, but chief among them is music. Whenever he’s in his car, he’s listening to tunes – on Sirius though, never Top 40. And “it’s gotta be loud.” He catches local shows whenever he can at venues like 9:30 Club, Warner Theatre, DAR Constitution Hall and The Birchmere. But outdoor festivals are where he truly feels at home.
When sitting down with On Tap, he shared stories about his recent adventures at Mountain Jam in Hunter Mountain, N.Y. The chef talked about being blown away by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Beck and Thievery Corporation. He geeked out about Thievery’s performance in a way that only a true music lover would, describing their 1:30 a.m. set as unbelievable and going into vivid detail about a little sitar-playing, goggle-wearing man who, with an array of singers including a gorgeous French woman, performed “psychedelic, hypnotic, global rock” songs.
And music runs in the family. Wiedmaier’s 17-year-old son, Marcel, has been playing bass guitar for eight years. The chef recalls one of Marcel’s recent gigs at the family’s house on the Chesapeake (complete with a stage and fire pit for such occasions). The proud dad describes his son’s band transitioning seamlessly from John Mayer and Grateful Dead to Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and Rare Earth’s “Get Ready.” His favorite moment, though, was when Marcel played the “Star-Spangled Banner” in its entirety while lying down. The chef notes gleefully that Chef David Guas’s teenage son Spencer was rocking out on the drums that night, and says the budding musician really wants to join Marcel’s band.
Wiedmaier’s stories are fascinating and endless, from bumping into Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend at the Four Seasons in the mid-90s to greeting the guys from America at The Birchmere, and reminding them of a show they played at the military base in Germany in 1973 where his family was stationed.
His palpable joy when discussing all things music translates directly to his enthusiasm in booking an eclectic lineup of bands and DJs at his rock ‘n’ roll-inspired restaurant and live music venue Villain & Saint in Bethesda.
A Man of Many Interests
But Wiedmaier’s interests don’t stop at music, with a short list of favorite activities that includes hunting, fishing, motorcycles and of course, cooking. The Bethesda resident is especially fond of hobbies that take his full concentration, allowing him to completely unplug from the day-to-day responsibilities of his career in the restaurant industry.
“I can forget about the restaurant scene for a bit when I’m riding my motorcycle,” he says. “I’ve got to think about what I’m doing on the road. I can’t be thinking, ‘Oh, did we order enough veal racks yesterday?’ or ‘Are they reducing that sauce down perfectly?’”
And when it comes to dining out, he’s all about staying under the radar. Black Market Bistro in Garrett Park, Passion Fish in Bethesda, and Guas’s Bayou Bakery (downtown and in Arlington) are among his favorite spots, and if he’s in the mood to eat oysters and drink beer, Old Ebbitt Grill is a must. But as much as he loves his own restaurants, the chef says he can’t sit down and enjoy a meal in them.
“I can’t have a good time,” he says. “I can’t relax. I just go nuts. I’m watching every table.”
While Wiedmaier may not be dining at one of his locations during Belgian Restaurant Week, he’ll be behind the scenes making sure everyone has an authentic Belgian culinary experience.
Learn more about Chef Robert Wiedmaier and his RW Restaurant Group at www.rwrestaurantgroup.com.
Photos : Alanna Sheppard