Executive Chef Brian McBride on Three Years Strong at the RW Restaurant Group
Their friendship was forged in the back of other people’s kitchens while cooking at charity dinners, and over drinks after work. Their partnership was cemented with a handshake, the culmination of years as friendly competitors in the same city. Three years later, Executive Chef and partner Brian McBride has solidified his position in the RW Restaurant Group as advisor, mentor, confidant—and, always, friend.
“Robert likes to say the reason we are so alike is because we are never happy,” says McBride, grinning. “There’s always room for improvement, and we constantly try to impart that into our company peers. There is always a better way to cook something; there is always more we could do with a product; there is always a better tableside manner with the guests.”
A perfectionist and a hard worker, McBride prefers long, hard days multitasking in the kitchen. There’s no denying his work ethic. He is at his happiest—if he can be happy—traveling from one location to the next to work with the staff. And it’s not just on recipes. “Given my extensive experience with forecasting and P&L statements, I work with each restaurant on all aspects of the business—financials, hiring, and menu. One of our long-term goals is to make this a financially sound company. Educating our GMs and chefs on how to not only bring in top-line revenue but also manage it by going through and analyzing all their costs together teaches them how to run a better restaurant.
After all, you can be the best chef in the world, but if you don’t know how to make money, you will eventually go broke.”
For 28 years, McBride worked for the Park Hyatt. There, he ran several highly successful and profitable restaurants, including Melrose and the Blue Duck Tavern, where he spent the last seven years before joining Wiedmaier. He traveled extensively, opening restaurants for the company. And when he had accomplished all his goals, McBride decided it was time to strike out on his own. “But after a long conversation with Robert, who was about to expand his own business, we agreed it might be advantageous to join forces.” And so they did.
There had to be a marriage in the kitchen as well, a shared vision about ingredients and methods. Wiedmaier’s decidedly Belgian take on food and use of local, fresh ingredients had to also be a part of McBride’s cooking repertoire—and luckily it was, instilled in him from many years past. He points to a period of time before opening the Blue Duck Tavern, when he went to work at Parkhuus, a restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland, to practice the type of dishes he wanted to prepare for the Blue Duck menu. “There was a wood-burning stove at one end of the kitchen and a wood-burning grill on the other. In the middle, everything was induction. All their ingredients came to them from local farms. We would sort through what we got in that morning, see which ingredients worked together, and put together a menu for the next couple of days based on that.” That experience not only set up the foundations for his Blue Duck Tavern operation, but also stays with him today. “Working there was a huge influence for the later part of my career. It was very minimalistic and simple, focusing on ingredients as opposed to gadgetry and fanciness. In the RW Restaurant Group, we focus on teaching the cooks these same time- honored techniques: how to braise properly, preserve properly, and roast properly. We work with local farms to not only bring in their product but use every part of it: from a cow’s tongue to its kidneys.”
With 30 years of experience in the D.C. market, McBride takes close note of the changes in the local dining scene. “We have come to a stage where restaurateurs now understand that the D.C. customer—well travelled and well educated— wants real experiences: real Thai food, not dumbed down for an American market. And so we have come to see an explosion of real, honest restaurants. Now you can get the best sashimi or authentic Greek cuisine, when before you couldn’t. D.C. is living up to the expectations of the major city consumer.” And the RW Restaurants all fit in pretty well, if McBride can say so himself.
“Each of our restaurants offers unique experiences. The Mussel Bar & Grille is certainly different and allows us to do a lot with fresh seafood within that concept. Brasserie Beck is not fine dining but it’s also not middle of the road, and there is a demand for that type of a restaurant. We can really utilize all those cooking techniques and ingredients that make French cooking so good—stews and braises, all those country- style dishes, in an upscale atmosphere. Being able to open Wildwood Kitchen in a community that didn’t have that kind of option before makes us feel good. We can apply our craft in a very small and focused style of restaurant. And Brabo in Alexandria and Marcel’s in D.C. allows us to keep pushing the envelope in the fine-dining world. For the international traveler and the experienced gourmand, that’s important.”
In some ways, finding himself working with Robert Wiedmaier is a full-circle experience for this chef who has certainly proven he’s worth his salt in the kitchen time and time again. “Robert strives for perfection and camaraderie among chefs. He has a great persona and exudes that leadership quality. I believe in the same things, so sometimes it’s difficult for us to both be in the same room! But we have learned to defer to each other and each other’s strengths.” Spoken like a true professional and a true friend!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH BRIAN MCBRIDE
FAVORITE FOOD DESTINATION: Tokyo. The restaurants are so focused and unique. I would love to take Robert there to see that style of cooking.
FAVORITE PREPARATION OF EGGS: Shirred eggs, poached in an individual cup with butter.
MUST HAVE KITCHEN TOOL: A pacojet— which micro-purees deep-frozen foods into ultra-fine textures (mousses, sauces, etc.) without thawing first.
PET PEEVE IN THE KITCHEN: Talking.
STRANGEST THING YOU HAVE EVER EATEN? Raw chicken. It was during a trip to Tokyo. I thought we were going to eat raw fish, but two bus trips and lots of walking later, I found myself at a restaurant that served only raw chicken. Small portions in multiple courses. During the avian flu scare!
LATEST FOOD OBSESSION: Crudo.
THREE STAPLES IN YOUR KITCHEN: Fruit, yogurt, and a whole roasted chicken.
BIGGEST INSPIRATION IN YOUR LIFE? My two daughters—now I get to learn everything all over again from a different perspective.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING PEOPLE NEED TO EXPERIENCE IN YOUR CITY? History.
WHICH WORK TRAIT DO YOU WISH YOU POSSESSED MORE OF? Focus. I do tend to walk away from one project in the kitchen to start another…