by Patricia Mack
Calling the chef “Sir”? Robert Wiedmaier’s staff had better get used to it, because on Aug. 31, as part of the annual celebration of Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels, the Washington, D.C. chef will be inducted into The Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff with all due pomp and circumstance.
“I’m more than a little nervous,” says Wiedmaier of this honorary knighthood. “The ceremony takes place with hundreds of people watching, every brewer in Belgium will be there — I’ll have to kneel and…oh, man, am I nervous!”
The Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff is the Belgium brewers’ guild, which keeps alive the traditions and nobility of the brewer’s trade as it has evolved through centuries, but that doesn’t preclude enjoying and celebrating of beer, especially Belgian beer which figures large in Wiedmaier’s restaurants. Although the menu at Wiedmaier’s flagship D.C. establishment, Marcel’s, is chiefly French in flavor, it features hints of the Belgian influence that is in full-force at his more casual Brasserie Beck also in Washington, Brabo in Alexandria, Va., and his Mussel Bar in Bethesda, Maryland, and Mussel Bar Revel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. These establishments offer the largest selection of Belgian beer around — one of which is the popular Antigoon, a double blonde ale, brewed exclusively for Wiedmaier. It is an unforgettable brew not only for its distinctive taste but for its label showing the gory aftermath of the legendary conflict between hero and giant in medieval Antwerp.
Wiedmaier’s connection to Belgium runs thicker than beer. He was born in Antwerp to a Belgian father and American mother. His popular Mussel Bars are modeled after Belgian road houses. They’re stylized rough and tumble-looking joints with wood plank tables and biker chic. Rock ‘n’ roll is played against the backdrop of a busy open kitchen that sends out big pans of creative mussel dishes and a bar that is chockablock with Belgian beer.
He came to the U.S. when he was a teen, then moved back to Europe, where he lived until his mid-20s. After attending the Culinary School of Horca in the Netherlands, Wiedmaier apprenticed at the Thermidor Restaurant in Hulst, Holland. From there, he worked with chef Eddie Van Maele in Brussels before coming back to America in 1986 to become saucier at Le Chardon D’Or at the Morrison House in Old Town Alexandria, VA. He would go on to work at Le Pavillion as chef poissonnier. He moved on to the Four Seasons Hotel, as become sous chef for its Aux Beaux Champs restaurant. In 1996, Wiedmaier replaced Jean-Louis Palladin, executive chef at the Watergate Hotel.
The radius of his current restaurants in and around Washington affirm his view that none of his establishments can be more than a few hours’ drive away from each other.
“I wouldn’t open a place if I couldn’t get to it within a day,” he said. “You don’t know what they’ll do when you are so far away that you have to fly to get there. This way, I can keep an eye on things.”
Wiedmaier’s knighting ceremony will take place in the Gothic Room of Brussels Town Hall. Also part of the Beer Weekend celebration is the honoring of St. Arnould, patron saint of brewers. The beer will be consecrated. And after the solemn inauguration of the beer stands, Beer Street and the Stock Exchange Building where food will be served, the festival is thrown open to the public.
“I’m nervous, it’s true,” the chef said. “But I just can’t wait.”
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