Chefs’ Tests – When the experts dine out, critical thinking is the order of the day

There’s nothing wild about the kitchen at Bethesda’s Wildwood Kitchen during the lunchtime rush. Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier presides over the quietly energetic operation like a conductor wearing an apron instead of a tuxedo.

As each dish comes to him, he studies it for a moment. He might add a drizzle of harissa oil or wipe a smidge of something off the plate’s edge. Sometimes he just gives a satisfied nod. Once he’s sure that every element is right, he sends the food out to the waiting diner.

“I’m a mistake finder,” he admits later, after he has stepped away from the kitchen. “I’m trained to look for problems.”

If you think you’re a picky diner, you should see a restaurant through chefs’ eyes. They’re always looking for imperfections from every possible angle. And they go out a lot to see what the competition is doing and to catch up with their industry friends.

“I study everything from the moment that I walk in,” says Wiedmaier, who dines out three times a week in between working in his six restaurants. “Are the windows clean? Are the lights working? Did somebody welcome me? Were they smiling?”

That initial impression is key, as well, for chef Joe Goetze of MoCo’s Founding Farmers in Potomac. “It’s all about the first 30 seconds for me,” he says. “I want a restaurant to stimulate my brain and be creative about it.”

Once they sit down, chefs survey their surroundings again. “I don’t like flowers on the table,” says Bryan Voltaggio, chef-owner of Range in Friendship Heights. “If their scent is too strong, it can overcome the aroma of the food.”

Finish reading this article on the Bethesda Magazine website now.

Photo courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

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Chefs du Tour: Where Bethesda’s top chefs go for R&R and what they eat when they get there

Being a chef might look like fun and games on the Food Network, but it’s a grueling gig. The hours are long, it’s hot as hell in the kitchen and you’re on your feet all day. Plus, you’ve got to deal with the occasional mouthy waitperson, oil fires and complaining customers. By the time vacation rolls around, most chefs can’t wait to trade their aprons and Crocs for sunglasses and flip-flops.

No matter where in the world they go, good eats play a role in their travels. Chefs might not be offering to cook anyone dinner—who wants to work on holiday—but they’re more than ready to enjoy childhood favorites, discover regional specialties or dig into comfort food classics.

We checked in with some traveling toques to find out about their itineraries and best bites as they get that much-needed break from the burners.

Destination: Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Robert Wiedmaier
Mussel Bar, Bethesda

When the 52-year-old chef-restaurateur touches down in California for vacation with his family, they make a beeline for the nearest In-N-Out Burger. He gets his hamburger “Animal Style,” topped with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, extra pickles and special sauce. To commemorate this stop at the patty palace, he picks up a T-shirt. “They’re always changing the design,” he says. “So now I have a huge collection.”

These summer trips to the West Coast are often booked around family reunions, which sometimes take place on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Since part of his family lives in Alaska, they feast on salmon, chili and elk brought in fresh from the last frontier. “I stay out of the kitchen unless I’m asked to taste something,” Wiedmaier says. “I usually tell whoever’s cooking to add more heat.”

Destination: Puerto Rico

José Andrés
Jaleo, Bethesda

The 43-year-old chef-restaurateur was seeking middle ground when he found his ideal vacation destination. “Puerto Rico is the perfect meeting point between the country I come from—Spain—and the country that adopted me,” he says. “I love the island, the cooking and the beautiful, small frogs that sing all night long.”

He enjoys golfing, sailing and scuba diving in this tropical paradise. During one deep-sea expedition 100 feet below the surface to a reef wall, Andrés saw his first sea turtle. “It changed my life,” he says. “It’s very astonishing to see how much life is under the water.”

Back on dry land, he makes time to eat at José Enrique Restaurante in San Juan. “I’ve eaten some of the best lobster dishes there,” Andrés says. “Puerto Rican chefs are becoming some of the best in the world.” That’s high praise from a James Beard-award winner, and yet another reason to book a ticket to the Island of Enchantment pronto.

Find out where all the other chefs go by clicking over to the Bethesda Magazine website now.

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Top (Local) Chefs – Five of Bethesda’s biggest stars share their thoughts on foodie fame

The Bethesda area’s restaurant scene has plenty of television personalities, empire builders and multiple-award winners. We checked in with five of the biggest stars around to get their thoughts on foodie fame and learn about their next big plans.

José Andrés

The 42-year-old James Beard Award-winner and owner of Bethesda’s Jaleo, as well as several highly regarded restaurants in the District and around the country, realized he was famous when he returned to his homeland of Spain after his Televisión Española cooking series, Vamos a cocinar, aired there in 2005. Standing in the airport, he noticed people peering toward him.

“I kept looking around and wondering who was coming,” he says. “And then I realized that they were looking at me.”

The Bethesda resident considers himself fortunate that fame came slowly, giving him a chance to develop.

“It began with people knowing me on my street,” says Andrés, who moved to the States in 1990. “Then I started getting recognized in my neighborhood, then my city, and then my state. It happened very gradually.”

Besides promoting his forthcoming restaurants in Miami and Puerto Rico, as well as Pepe, his Spanish sandwich food truck now roaming the streets of D.C., Andrés is busy talking about causes he’s passionate about, including ending world hunger.

“I spoke about the issues I cared about 20 years ago and I’m still talking about them now,” he says. “The only difference is that no one was listening to me in the beginning, and now Rush Limbaugh comments on what I say.”

Finish reading about the next four chefs on the Bethesda magazine website now.

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Chef-driven: Local toques have a taste for custom wheels

Pulling into a restaurant parking lot these days can feel like arriving at a vintage car show or a motorcycle rally. Front-and-center parking spaces often showcase eye-catching, customized rides. These wheeled wonders don’t belong to VIP diners though. They’re how the chefs got to work.

Mike Isabella drives a pimped-out purple-and-black Honda Ruckus with chrome rims, an ostrich leather seat, racing tires and Graffiato logos emblazoned on it. Former BLT Steak executive chef Victor Albisu roars around in a restored black 1971 Mercedes 280SL convertible, while Cork Market chef Kristin Hutter favors an apple-red 1970 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Husband-wife team Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac of Birch & Barley/ChurchKey prefer modern conveyances, so they each drive a MINI Cooper.

Motorcycles are particularly popular with toques. Cliff Wharton, executive chef at Matchbox in Chinatown, has a 2006 Harley Davidson Night Train. He hits the road regularly with a group of culinary colleagues known as Chefs on Bikes, which has included Brasserie Beck’s chef-owner Robert WiedmaierBayou Bakery’s chef-owner David GuasRogue 24’s chef-owner R.J. CooperOld Ebbitt Grill’s executive chef Robert McGowan, Passion Food Hospitality partner David Wizenberg and “whoever else wants to ride,” according to Wharton.

Finish reading this story on the Washington Post‘s All You Can Eat blog now.

Photo of Victor Albisu courtesy of Victor Albisu.

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