Transcripts

Belgian Restaurant Week Brings Mussels To The Masses

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Now, the guy we'll meet next definitely feels D.C.'s food scene has progressed by leaps and bounds.

CHEF ROBERT WIEDMAIER

00:00:07
If you would have asked me 10 years ago to name you five great restaurants in this city, I'd have a hard time.

SHEIR

00:00:12
Just 10 years ago?

WIEDMAIER

00:00:13
Just 10 years ago.

SHEIR

00:00:14
But now, says Chef Robert Wiedmaier, who's been cooking in D.C. for decades…

WIEDMAIER

00:00:18
Oh, I'd say now, for sure, you know, there's a lot. There's a lot.

SHEIR

00:00:22
These days Wiedmaier owns a lot of restaurants himself, including Marcel's, BRABO, Wildwood Kitchen, Brasserie Beck, and Mussel Bar & Grille.

WIEDMAIER

00:00:29
So anyway, I tell people I own the Mussel Bar. I have to say it's mussels that you eat, not like, you know, muscles from lifting weights.

SHEIR

00:00:34
We're in the kitchen of Brasserie Beck right now, which, like Mussel Bar, serves up a bounty of those edible bi-valves.

WIEDMAIER

00:00:40
I go through about 7,500 pounds of mussels, like, every two weeks or something like that.

SHEIR

00:00:45
I thought you might say every few months.

WIEDMAIER

00:00:46
No.

SHEIR

00:00:47
Every two weeks?

WIEDMAIER

00:00:47
Yeah, it's a lot of mussels.

SHEIR

00:00:49
And Wiedmaier's been showing off those mussels all week long, as part of Belgian Restaurant Week. The annual cultural and culinary affair commemorates July 21, 1831, now known as Belgian National Day, when Leopold the First became Belgium's very first king. Now, while Robert Wiedmaier wasn't born in Belgium, he does feel an intense connection with the country.

WIEDMAIER

00:01:10
Absolutely. My father was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium. I went to culinary school in the Netherlands and then I worked in Belgium. So I always had a passion for Belgian food, and of course Belgian beer.

SHEIR

00:01:20
And this week's been all about Belgian food and beer, as Brasserie Beck, Mussel Bar and a half-dozen other Belgian-influenced restaurants have been presenting prix-fixe menus and special happenings, like Waffle Wednesday and Belgian Happy Hour. But the Grand Pere of all Belgian Restaurant Week events, says Robert Wiedmaier, is this weekend's Mussel Throw Down.

WIEDMAIER

00:01:40
I've got two of my chefs that compete. My chef from here and my chef from Marcel's, Paul Stearman.

SHEIR

00:01:45
How are they training for it?

WIEDMAIER

00:01:46
Oh, they're training real hard. They're training really hard.

SHEIR

00:01:50
Daily workouts?

WIEDMAIER

00:01:50
Daily workouts.

SHEIR

00:01:52
Indeed, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Eastern Market. Chefs will cook in 15-minute intervals, in hopes of winning the judges' hearts, and taste buds, with the best mussel dish. To find out what makes a mussel dish the best, I headed to D.C.'s 14th Street corridor and swung by B Too.

SHEIR

00:02:09
Hi, I’m Rebecca.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:02:10
Hello.

CHEF BART VANDAELE

00:02:10
Rebecca.

SHEIR

00:02:10
Nice to meet you.

SHEIR

00:02:12
The new Belgian restaurant owned and operated by Belgian-born Chef Bart Vandaele.

VANDAELE

00:02:16
Vandaele they call it in the U.S.

SHEIR

00:02:18
Vandaele also owns Belga Cafe on Barracks Row. He was a contestant on "Top Chef Seattle." And as the Mussel Throw Down's m.c., he'll assist the judges in selecting a winner.

SHEIR

00:02:28
How will the judges decide what makes the best mussel?

VANDAELE

00:02:30
Key component, it has to be cooked with beer. Flavor is about half the amount of points that you can get. Originality, creativity, and if you don't cook it in time, you can lose five points also. So after being on "Top Chef," I know a little bit about competitions, so I was like I have to throw that game in there for them also. Let's see how they're going to do.

SHEIR

00:02:54
Vandaele prepares a bunch of original, creative mussel dishes of his own at B Too, like his signature B Too Mussels, cooked with shitake mushrooms, spring onion, celery root, thyme, and what Vandaele calls the Three Bs.

VANDAELE

00:03:07
Everything with a B is better. So we start with a little bit of butter in the beginning, have to have some bacon, and then we add in beer.

SHEIR

00:03:15
But he wants people to know that Belgian cuisine is about more than just beer and mussels, even those famous waffles, which, incidentally, Belgians never refer to as Belgian waffles.

VANDAELE

00:03:26
We have Brussels waffles, Liege waffles, vanilla waffles, stroopwafels, coffee waffles. We have a boatload of different waffles, but we don't have Belgian waffles in Belgium.

SHEIR

00:03:34
What they do have, he says, is hands-down, the finest cuisine in the world.

VANDAELE

00:03:40
I always say in a joking manner, if the French want to eat well, they come to Belgium. But if they then ask why is Belgian food so popular and so good, it's because we've been conquered so many times, we kept their ideas or their good foods and kicked them back out.

SHEIR

00:03:58
Back at Brasserie Beck, as Robert Wiedmaier cooks up a pot of his classic white wine mussels with butter, parsley and cream…

WIEDMAIER

00:04:04
Then we also put these half-roasted garlic heads in there. So we roast these garlic heads and we stick these in here, too.

SHEIR

00:04:10
The Chef says he agrees with Bart Vandaele about the quality of Belgian cuisine.

WIEDMAIER

00:04:15
I would encourage everybody, if people say they're foodies, if you're a true foodie out there, you must go to Belgium and eat. Because if you tell me you're a foodie and I say, "Have you been to Belgium to eat?" And you say no, then you're not a foodie. Because you will find the best food in Belgium, by far.

SHEIR

00:04:31
But if you're looking for Belgian food a bit closer to home right about now, Belgian Restaurant Week runs through Sunday night. You can find more information about Belgian Restaurant Week on our website, metroconnection.org. And again, the Mussel Throw Down takes place Saturday from 11:00 to 3:00 at Eastern Market, followed by a blindfolded beer challenge.
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