Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Robert Wiedmaier, chef/owner of Marcel's and Brasserie Beck, guest hosts today's chat.

Weidmaier is the chef/owner of Marcel's, the French-Belgian dining room in Foggy Bottom, and the soon-to-open Brasserie Beck at 11th and K sts., which will be more casual and relaxed and have lots of mussels and Belgian beer (click here for a preview on our Best Bites Blog).

He grew up in Germany, and worked in restaurants in the Netherlands and Belgium before coming to the DC area in the mid-eighties. Weidmaier started his career here at the Morrison House in Old Town, then went to Le Pavillion and the Four Seasons. He was Jean-Louis Palladin's replacement at the Watergate, and in 1999 he opened Marcel's (named after his young son), where he's been ever since.

Robert is a great chef and personality, and is just as passionate about his Harley Davidson as he is about foie gras. Here’s your chance to ask him anything–about where he likes to eat, how he cooks at home, why he thinks Nova Scotia mussels are the best around, what he likes to read (he's a cookbook fanatic), why lots of upscale chefs are opening casual second restaurants, whether he feels like he’s competing against them…

Welcome everybody! We're doing today's chat from Brasserie Beck, where the kitchen staff is in the midst of training, and finishing touches are being attended to. To the questions…

That wraps up our chat today–thanks for reading!

Leesburg, VA
Question for Chef Wiedmaier, Can you tell us a bit about the design of the new place and why you chose it's location? An obvious question: what are your thoughts on this new trend of "casual-fine dining" in the D.C. area? (i.e., Richard's "Central", etc.). Is there a need at a personal level, or does it seem like a good venture? I personally appreciate it, because alot of casual dining places have to learn that good quality food should not be available only at the fine dining level.

I wanted to give a feeling of an old-world, circa the 1950s to 60s, train station feeling. A mix of old-world and new- world because it's in a brand new spanking building, and too old-world wouldn't fit. So we've got a good mix of both.

Do I feel there's a need for more casual dining? Absolutely. I already have a fine-dining restaurant named after my one son so it's pretty obvious that I would open a more casual restaurant named after another son. And there aren't going to be anymore children. 

Silver Spring
Chef Wiedmaier–I'm a big fan of Marcel's and your cooking. Obviously you're very talented, so maybe you won't mind this question. In your early years of cooking in restaurants did you have any kitchen disaster stories?
Yeah–I was cooking with Albert Roux from Le Gavroche in London and I forgot about my foie gras souffles in the oven. When he asked me for them, they were completely burnt, so I had to cut their tops off. It wasn't a pretty sight after that. 
Dupont Circle DC
What kind of cooking did you grow up with? Did your parents teach you to cook or did you learn on your own?
My mother was a great cook, she cooked very French, always going to the markets and buying fresh produce, meats and fish. And always looking for the best products–the best butter, the best berries. I learned most of my cooking from her. I did go to cooking school in the Netherlands. 
Can you tell us about the food at Brasserie Beck? What are you most looking forward to eating there? What are the dishes you're most excited for?
It's going to  be very traditional French but my takes on traditional French, with Flemish influences. Lots of shellfish, stews. I'm excited for it all. The skate wing, the seafood stations with all the different oysters and cured salmons,  the choucroute en croute, the rabbit with kriek beer
Do you hang out with any local chefs? What do you do on your time off?
Most of my close friends are chefs or culinarians. And on my days off I spend time with my kids. 
What do you like to do besides cook?
I'm an avid fisherman, and I love fishing on the Bay. I like to travel–to France, Belgium and California. And I like to spend time with my family, my two boys. 
Chevy Chase, MD
Hi, Robert! Have you visited Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia? It's a legendary place for mussels and beer, one of my all-time favorite spots.
Yes, I've been there. The owner Michael is a very nice guy. 
Washington, DC
I've wanted to take my boyfriend to Marcel's for a while now, but we're recent college grads so waiting for a special occasion to splurge. Is there a way to dine there without breaking the bank? A bar menu or anything?
The pre-theater menu, which is three courses for $48 a person, is considered pretty inexpensive these days. And yes, there's a bar menu, which features a Flemish tartine with caramelized onions, bacon, and gruyere, plus mussels with fries, and a charcuterie plate. And there's also a tasting menu for $58, which is four courses. 
Washington, DC
Hey Robert, what are your favorite places to dine around DC? Where do you take your kids?
I take my kids to Rio Grande, I take them to Houston's, I take them to the top restaurants in DC. And I go to all my friends' restaurants–and that's a long list. My kids eat everywhere and everything. Marcel loves sushi. 
bethesda, md
why are there so many french restaurants and so few german restaurants in washington? the biggest ethnic group in america are germans but it's like germans don't know how to cook.
You answered your own question! No, I lived in Germany for 15 years–I was born there, and German cuisine is pretty good. 
Columbia Heights, DC
Much has been made of the mussels and BB, but what are the other big items that we can expect on the menu?
I think the mussels thing has gotten out of whack. Yes, I'm going to have mussels, but it's not going to be just a mussels and frites place. There will be all kinds of other foods, from chicken waterzooi to duck Congolese, which has apricots and golden raisins and almonds. 
Dupont Circle
As a chef, what's the weirdest customer request you've ever gotten?
A welldone cheeseburger with osetra caviar on top. I said I wouldn't do it, but I had to–because I didn't own my own restaurant. It was for some prince, at the Four Seasons hotel. 
Hi Chef Wiedmaier– Do you read what's written about you on local food blogs? What do you think of the growing trend of online criticism? How do you feel about restaurant reviews in general?
No, I don't read any food blogs. As we know, everybody's a critic and the internet is very powerful. This is the first time I'm doing something like this, and I know it'll go out to a lot of people. And I do know I want to please all my guests in the restaurant, because one bad experience, with the internet and blogging, can now reach thousands and thousands of people. 
Ashburn, VA
Since spring is taking so long to get here, what spring fruit or vegetable are you most looking forward to? How will you prepare it?
Peas, asparagus, and morels. 
do you ever plan on writing a cookbook? what would it be like?
Yes, I do. But it's going to be a book on the psychology, morals, and ethics of being a professional chef/owner. 
washington dc
According to "Kitchen Confidential" one should never order mussels in a restaurant because they aren't stored properly. Is this true? How can a diner know where to eat mussels and where not to? How should they be stored optimally. What do your children like to eat? Do they like mussels? What's the secret of a great Belgian waffle? Will you have sauteed skate on the menu, or has that become too pedestrian?

First question–If you listen to that then you wouldn't eat anything in a restaurant. Fish, meat, vegetables, they all have to be stored and handled properly. The more important question is the buying–the quality. But that holds true for every food item, not just mussels.

The reputation of a restaurant, or the chef. I'm not going to eat steak tartare unless it's a really reputable restaurant. I'm not going to go to any restaurant that's not doing things right.  

Do my kids like mussels? My boys love mussels. And skate will be on the menu, named after a dear friend of mine, Jacqueline Rodier. Skate Jacqueline–it was her favorite dish at Marcel's. 

washington dc
who is doug macneill?
Doug MacNeill was the executive chef at the Four Seasons hotel for 24 years, and a dear friend of mine. I worked for him for eight years. He's probably one of the most knowledgeable people that I know on food and wine. He mentored most of the top chefs in Washington. When we went on trips to France, he was the only one everyone called Chef. Jean-Louis called him Chef. I believe he's living in Paris now.
Kensington, MD
Please ask Chef if he likes to squeeze the spinach before making omlettes?
Absolutely–I love to squeeze the spinach.
did you know jean-louis palladin? what was he like to work with? or as a friend?
Jean-Louis was a friend of mine, but I never worked for him. He's greatly missed.
I'm thinking I want to become a chef. Do you think culinary school is necessary? Or would you tell someone to learn in a restaurant instead?
Depending on your age, to start young and go to culinary school is great. But of course restaurant experience is the best. 
Arlington, VA
When will your new restaurant, Brasserie Beck, be open? And where will you be spending most of your time these days–Marcel's or Beck's?
Brasserie Beck will be open April 24th or 25th. In the beginning, I'll obviously be there working with my chef David Ashwell, who has worked with me for seven years. Paul Sternmen, who has been with me for almost eight years, will be holding things down at Marcel's. But I will be at Beck's for lunch, then posted at Marcel's for dinner, and then back to Beck's late night. That's the plan.
Arlington, VA
I read with excitement that your restaurant will offer up to 50 Belgian beers! What number of these will be on tap as opposed to bottled? I have no doubt that your beer selection will be handled well, as I fondly remember the days of shopping at the Whole Foods in Clarendon and getting expert advice from Bill. Your restaurant sounds like a great addition to the city!
I'm going to have nine beers on tap and over 50 in bottles on top of that. Bill is great to have on my team. He's a very knowledgeable beer specialist. That's all he'll be doing at Beck's is handling beer. 
Foggy Bottom
Will there be dinners where you will be cooking at Brasserie Beck?
Yeah, of course I'll be popping in and out. I'm very fortunate to have two chef de cuisines who've been with me for a long time. 
Wash, DC
Being someone who helped make the DC dining scene what it is today, how do you feel about these "hot shot" NY chefs opening shop here?
The more top chefs the better. 
Robert, Since you seemed to be close Todd, let's invite him to chef's club meeting!!!! Kaz
Kaz you're a really funny guy. I never go to the chef meetings and only because I haven't had time to. If you want to invite Todd, that's up to you. And if you want to give me a call and talk about it, you have my number.