Each month, Evan Caplan speaks with a chef of a local eatery. In April, he chatted with Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s — as well as Brasserie Beck, three Mussel Bar & Grille restaurants, Wildwood Kitchen, live-music venue Villain & Saint and his newest, Siren. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s 2009 Chef of the Year, Wiedmaier was inducted into the Knighthood of the Brewer’s Mash Staff, a Belgian guild. Most recently, RW Restaurant Group’s Foggy Bottom flagship, Marcel’s, known for its Old World, haute French cooking, underwent a brilliant upgrade while maintaining its traditional elegance.
Tell us about yourself and your family in Washington.
Robert Wiedmaier: I have been cooking in D.C. for over 30 years. My two landmark restaurants, Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck, are named after my two sons, who are now 19 and 15 years old. My wife, Polly, works with the RW Restaurant Group as the CMO. And I can’t forget Stella, our English lab, who loves to fish with me on the Chesapeake.
How does your Belgian American identity set your inspiration apart?
RW:I was born and raised in Europe, primarily in Germany and Belgium. Outside of school, I worked part-time on farms and I always enjoyed exploring various markets with my mom. Together, we would go shopping at fish markets, meat markets and bakeries, searching for the best ingredients. My father was born and raised in Antwerp, and I naturally gravitated toward my heritage when it came to cooking. I was lucky enough to have spent time working in Michelin-star restaurants like Eddie Van Maele in Brussels.
What’s the best part about your job?
RW:I get to do what I love every day, and I feel privileged to have the freedom to do it on my terms, with the help of my incredibly loyal and talented staff. Each one of my restaurants offers a range of experiences, so every day is different. This is from my music venue, Villain & Saint, to my flagship fine-dining spot, Marcel’s.
What does it mean to you to cook and serve in Washington, D.C.?
RW:I love working and living in an international city like Washington, D.C. Many of Marcel’s patrons have eaten all over the world, and I like hearing their feedback on the places they’ve been and how it compares to their experience at Marcel’s. I feel really connected to this area, having raised my family and grown my business in this community.
Any celebrities you’ve served?
RW:As a music lover, many of my favorite “celebs” to serve are musicians — talents like Quincy Jones, Pat Metheny, Derek Trucks, Lou Rawls and Bryan Ferry, among others.
Marcel’s got all wet this year and was recently renovated. Give us the history of Marcel’s. How has its refresh affected your cooking?
RW:The flood in January of this year shut Marcel’s down for a month, allowing us to repair water damage to the interior of the restaurant. We remain so grateful and were truly invigorated by the outpouring of support we received. Last fall, we also added a baby grand piano and we now offer live music on Friday and Saturday evenings. Oftentimes, the pianist is accompanied by a bass player. Marcel’s will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.
What does your cuisine concept involve? How do you see American food evolving?
RW:The biggest thing for me, as a chef, is continually sourcing the best ingredients from around the world. For example, we source sole from Denmark, sea urchins from Japan and truffles from Périgord in France. We source items like our bass and oysters locally. For me, “American food” is a hybrid of many foods. I have noticed the trend of more fast-casual eateries that specialize in one ingredient. It’s fast and affordable, and, if done correctly, it’s delicious.
Siren has been a sweet song for seafood fanatics.
RW:Siren is my third D.C. restaurant. It had been 10 years since I last opened a D.C. location, and it felt like it was time. I’m a passionate fisherman and love to cook with seafood from around the world. It seemed like the natural next step. Siren is a celebration of our global waterways and is committed to serving truly unique seafood.
We hear you have a boat and love fishing, so opening Siren made sense. Tell us more about your life on the water.
RW:Anytime I can, I will fish! Right now, I’m counting down the days to rockfish season — April 21. There’s nothing better than taking out my boat on a beautiful day with my dog Stella and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay.
What’s in store for you?
RW:Right now, I’m focusing on keeping my restaurants healthy. I’m also growing my restaurant-hospitality consulting business, Primal Cut Consulting. And RW Restaurant Group will also be opening Villain & Saint at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City.