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Networking: Robert Wiedmaier

Chef-owner, Mussel Bar by RW, Bethesda, Md.

By James Wright
December 01, 2010

"I’m sauce-driven, and to extract flavors from anything you have to have the carcass, the bones — the pieces that you couldn’t use — to caramelize and make the sauce. That goes for everything — all animals."

 

Seafood professionals who've attended the European Seafood Exposition (ESE) would feel as if they've been transported back to Belgium just by setting foot in Chef Robert Wiedmaier's newest spot in Bethesda, Md. Mussel Bar has the "din of a Brussels drinking hall," the chef proudly claims, and that's no accident. The gastro-pub pays homage to Wiedmaier's Belgian heritage and the hearty foods and beverages he grew up enjoying.

Mussel Bar, which opened in June, is only one restaurant in Wiedmaier's greater-District of Columbia empire. 
Other establishments include Marcel's, Brasserie Beck, Brabo and The Tasting Room. All of them share one very simple philosophy: To butcher whole animals and let nothing go to waste.

 

WRIGHT: How is Mussel Bar doing 
after its first four months?

WEIDMAIER: We're selling mussels like you wouldn't believe here; 700 pounds a day. That's a lot of mussels.

 

Where are your mussels from?

They're from [Prince Edward Island], but I'm actually flying out soon to Seattle to check out Penn Cove Shellfish. I try to go to the source, whenever possible, to check them out and meet the people and see what they're doing. It's important.

 

Why create a restaurant that pays tribute to the underappreciated mussel?

One of the reasons is my father's Belgian and in Belgium we eat a lot of mussels; they've always been a staple there. A lot of restaurants here dabble in them, but no one's ever said, "I'm going to open up a mussel restaurant."

I wanted it to be like La Poubelle in Brussels, which is a real rock 'n roll place, a real dive but a lot of fun, with loud music. I'd stay there until 2 in the morning, drinking Belgian beers and eating frites. La Poubelle means "trash can" in French, so we have little trash cans on the tables here to throw your mussel shells in.

 

Is the food you serve at 
Mussel Bar your personal favorite?

No, it's just another style I like to do. I've always wanted a place that plays loud rock music with concrete floors.

 

Why is it so important to you to butcher whole fish and animals?

I'm sauce-driven, and to extract flavors from anything you have to 
have the carcass, the bones - the pieces that you couldn't use - to caramelize and make the sauce. That goes for everything - all animals. Wild salmon from Alaska, we fillet 
it and make a sauce with the bones. I'm an extractor. It pays respect to that animal. If you kill something 
you should use everything.

 

Does hunting influence your cooking?

As a chef, for me to hunt and kill an animal, because I use only whole animals for my restaurants, for me it's like a ritual. If I pull a trigger on a deer, I'm going to pay respect to that animal. I'm going to utilize all of it. ( Editor's Note: Wiedmaier's restaurants do not serve any animals he hunts himself. )

 

Your menu lists eight preparations 
for mussels (nine including a soup). How many dishes do you think you could make featuring mussels?

There's so many. The thing about mussels is they go with all types of flavors. We have a dish, mussels with veal bolognaise over pasta with fried capers - it sells like crazy at Brasserie Beck. It looks disgusting but when you eat it it's, "Oh my god is it delicious!"

 

What goes better 
with mussels, frites or beer?

Gotta have both, man. It's like 
a threesome.

 

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