Visitors who walk into the kitchen of Polly and Robert Wiedmaier’s home in Kensington, Maryland, are generally surprised, says Robert. He is the Michelin-star chef behind nine restaurants in the DMV, Baltimore and Atlantic City, including his flagship, Marcel’s—one of the most elegant French-Belgian restaurants in the region. By contrast, the kitchen in the couple’s 1932 Cape is a humble affair with a slate floor and wood cabinets that have remained unchanged since the family moved in 17 years ago. “I think the kitchen [space] might be original,” Polly observes, noting that their only contribution was painting the walls.
“It’s not the huge kitchen that you’d think I would have as a chef,” muses Robert.
“It’s not fancy and modern,” Polly adds.
“That’s all,” Robert concludes, during a long conversation in which each spouse finishes the other’s sentences.
The Wiedmaiers enjoy all the accoutrements of a big kitchen for entertaining at their sprawling weekend retreat on the Chesapeake Bay, where they host most of their get-togethers and holiday meals (see the September/October 2014 issue of Home & Design online). They furnished their Kensington home, on the other hand, to be warm and intimate for time spent with sons Marcel and Beck (whose names each grace an RW restaurant) and close friends.
“It’s a perfect size for us,” says Robert. “When you come in, it’s country-feeling and very comfortable.”
Though the couple has done little to the home’s original layout, they’ve repurposed its main spaces to revolve around cooking and dining. A former family room attached to the kitchen is now a large dining area, where a 12-foot farm table takes center stage underneath framed family photographs—and a signed print of the makings of an apple tarte tatin created by the late chef Michel Richard.
The home’s former dining room, meanwhile, is a rich, chocolate-brown lounge that Robert and Polly call the “cookbook room,” since it contains more than 150 volumes, many signed by prominent chef friends. Robert’s favorite is a 1973 tome called The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. “It’s a story of two sisters who live up in the Alps and what they cook every day,” explains Robert, who identifies with the quotidian comforts of simple cuisine described in the book because of his own upbringing in Belgium and Germany with his Francophile mother. “I was with her in the kitchen all the time and I got into cooking because of her. There’s nothing more nurturing than cooking for people and making them happy,” the chef reflects.
“Home is a special place,” adds Polly. “It’s where you get together and talk and eat. It’s important for us to sit down and spend time together.” Polly, who works from home as RW Restaurant Group’s chief marketing officer, usually helms the kitchen because Robert works most nights. She prepares family staples like chicken tarragon and potatoes au gratin; when Marcel, 21, is home from college, chicken tortilla soup is on the menu. But since she switched to a mostly plant-based diet last year, Polly admits to ordering “meat and potatoes” from a meal-kit delivery service several times a week for 16-year-old Beck while she makes a separate dinner for herself and Robert.
“There’s a big push on eating no meat,” says the health-conscious chef, who at press time had gone meat- and egg-free for three weeks. He notes that his wife’s new diet has also inspired more vegetarian and vegan entries on his restaurant menus,
like the Modern Lunch salads and grains at Mussel Bar locations in Arlington and Bethesda.
The past year brought other changes to their restaurant group: After closing the Michelin-rated Siren in DC’s Darcy Hotel, Robert continues to look for a new location for its revival. And last April, he opened the popular Keystone Korner jazz and dinner club with jazz master Todd Barkan in the former Mussel Bar space in Baltimore. “Keystone Korner is the most exciting thing we’ve done,” Polly affirms. And sure enough, along with hearty entrées offered at the critically acclaimed restaurant and music venue, the menu includes vegan tacos.