Robert Wiedmaier’s Restaurant Brigade
311 Kentlands Blvd.
11am - 4pm
Sat-Sun: 10:30am - 4pm
5pm - 10pm
5pm - 11pm
11am - 1:30am
Sat & Sun:
10am - 1:30pm
Talk to Robert Wiedmaier for a few minutes and you might get the impression his training wasn’t only in some of the finest kitchens in the world, but also in Officer Training School. “You have to be a leader and the commander of the brigade,” Wiedmaier says confidently. “You have to know how to instruct and teach people.”
In Wiedmaier’s world, his brigade is the brigade de cuisine – a pecking order honed by restaurants and hotels with large staffs – as opposed to a military brigade ready for battle.
His finely tuned and orchestrated army includes multiple levels of management in his tightly-run kitchens, from the executive chef (Wiedmaier) down to the garcon de cuisine, the entry level grunt or kitchen boy who collates a meal’s ingredients.
Wiedmaier, 54, has parlayed his mastery of cooking and leadership style into a very successful restaurant group that includes seven establishments in the Washington, D.C., area, including three in Montgomery County: the Mussel Bar and Grill in Bethesda, Wildwood Kitchen in Bethesda and the new Brasserie Beck in The Kentlands.
Wiedmaier’s training in the kitchen started early in Germany where his Belgian father and American mother raised him to be curious about the world. He read foreign newspapers and took an early liking to stories about French chefs. But perhaps his biggest influence came every night at the dinner table.
“My mom and my grandmother were amazing cooks, especially my mom. They were always going to the market for fresh ingredients,” he recalls.
His mother’s fondness for French cuisine and his interest in famous French chefs took him to culinary school in The Netherlands. After Wiedmaier apprenticed in some quality restaurants in Holland and Brussels, he came to the U.S. in 1986 at age 26, taking a position as saucier (a top member of the kitchen brigade system) at Le Chardon D’Or in Alexandria, Virginia. From there, it was a quick climb to the top of the brigade as he tutored under notable chefs in prestigious restaurants.
By 1988, he was chef poissonnier at Le Pavillion before moving to one of the most coveted addresses in the city – the Four Seasons Hotel – where he served as sous chef for the hotel’s Aux Beaux Champs Restaurant. Wiedmaier’s European experience and knowledge of French cuisine blossomed under chef Douglass McNeill as his second in command.
Six years later, Wiedmaier, who lives in Kensington, with his wife Polly and sons Marcel and Beck, was ready to take his wealth of experience and express it in the form of the Cafe on M, a restaurant that he opened in the old Grand Hotel.
Perhaps the last rung on the brigade ladder allowed Wiedmaier to grab the brass ring when he replaced the renowned chef Jean-Louis Palladin as executive chef at the Watergate Hotel where he helped open Aquarelle.
Since then, Wiedmaier has been opening restaurants and experimenting with his passion for making a meal a unique culinary experience.
Marcel’s, named for his first-born son, opened in 1999 and is an example of his traditional, more formal side. It’s a heavy, white-linen restaurant with an elegant dining room that features French-Belgian cuisine that routinely ranks as one of the best restaurants in the D.C. area.
On the more casual side is the Mussel Bar, which was inspired by time Wiedmaier spent as a youth in Brussels. After a day of work in the kitchen, Wiedmaier would head to local inns to hang out with friends, eat mussels and French fries, drink beer and listen to live music.
While the Penn Cove mollusks from Quilcene Bay in Washington State cooked a half dozen different ways highlight the menu at the Mussel Bar, Wiedmaier also features casual dining fare that includes wood-fired pizza, a seafood bar with fresh oysters, meats and fish. Patrons can pair their meal with classic wines or one of 150 beers.
While Wiedmaier is proud of all his establishments, Marcel’s appears to be his favorite. Of course, there is the father-son connection, but the restaurant has achieved and retained annual national status as a top Zagat-rated restaurant. It is also there where Wiedmaier named the private dining room – the Palladin Room – in honor of his friend and mentor.
A man of boundless energy, Wiedmaier now has a new challenge – his Brasserie Beck in The Kentlands. The contemporary, European-style restaurant is a throw back to his Belgian culture of being able to enjoy a relaxed meal anytime between lunch and late night. The spacious bar area and outdoor patio, combined with live music on most weekend nights, attract locals who like to linger over a casual meal instead of a more rushed formal setting.
It was at Brasserie Beck that Wiedmaier explained his penchant for finding and using fresh ingredients, fish, meats and seafood, plus his always roving eye for detail – whether at one of his restaurants or one down the street – and his popular craft beer, Antigoon.
His connections to food distributors reach across the country and even to Alaska where he proudly notes that salmon cooked in his restaurants are delivered fresh in record time – about half of what other restaurants endure.
“Local doesn’t necessarily mean the freshest and the best. But we do try to get our ingredients locally when we can,” he says.
His eye for detail isn’t just restricted to the kitchen. When on premises, Wiedmaier says he is constantly scanning his restaurants for even the small defects – from a paint knick to a burned out light bulb to a wind blown piece of paper that happened by.
Even when he’s out with family or friends enjoying a meal at a restaurant not under his management, Wiedmaier can’t quite switch off his competitive drive.
“I’m a mistake finder,” he says. “All of us, from the executive chef on down, have to make a good first impression.”
While Brasserie Beck offers more than 120 different types of beer, Wiedmaier’s favorite is Antigoon, his exclusive pale ale brewed in Ursel, Belgium. The beer’s logo is the mythical giant who guarded a bridge outside of Antwerp and shook down travelers for tolls before being vanquished by a Roman soldier.
“It’s a very good, medium-bodied beer. But if you don’t like it for some reason, we can certainly find one that you will enjoy,” he says.
And knowing Robert Wiedmaier, you can bet he will. After all, he has a brigade waiting to help.