Posted June 4, 2015

Q&A: Chef Harper McClure of BRABO Restaurant

Eat + Drink ALX

Chef Harper McClure

Chef Harper McClure of BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier restaurant has been nominated as a rising star in the Washington, D.C., area dining scene.

Every spring, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) hosts an event that some Washingtonians refer to as the “prom” of the industry — the RAMMYs. Tuxes, gowns, nervous attendees, and a celebratory spirit? Check, check, check, check. There’s one major difference, though. The 33rd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala, which will be held June 7, showcases culinary delights prepared by some of the city’s most revered talents.

And Kimpton is in on the RAMMY action, thanks to a nomination honoring our own Chef Harper McClure of BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier in Alexandria, VA. Harper’s talent has drawn loyal fans since he landed in Old Town, and we’re elated that he’s up for the Rising Culinary Star of the Year — a category that applauds a chef who demonstrates “exemplary talent, shows leadership and promise for the future.”

BRABO Restaurant

Historic Old Town Alexandria is the picturesque setting for BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier.

We recently caught up with this talented chef whose career has taken him from a New York farm to a popular reality show.

Q: How would you describe your culinary style in one sentence?
A: Our style is a refined, elegant interpretation of European cuisine, influenced by American ingredients and global accents.

Q: How did your upbringing outside Syracuse, NY, influence your career?
A: Growing up in Upstate New York gave me an understanding of where food comes from. I was raised in a very small farm town and actually spent some time working on an organic farm before I relocated to D.C. While the dining scene in upstate was lacking in diversity while I was there, there were a few restaurants that focused on creating the best food possible. I was fortunate enough to land with a very motivated chef at Kettle Lakes named Brian Shore. He taught me the importance of team building, responsibility and caring for your employees.

Chefs Robert Wiedmaier and Harper McClure

Executive Chef Robert Wiedmaier, left, with his Chef de Cuisine Harper McClure.

Q: What has been your most significant takeaway from working with Robert Wiedmaier?
A: Robert has been very integral to my growth as a chef. He has such a sense of quality and dedication to fine dining. The most important thing he has shown me is preserving the integrity of the ingredients and allowing their flavors to shine through in unique ways.

Q: Who else has greatly influenced you along the way?
A: I learn something from every position I hold. Thinking back now, I can find something that I took away from every kitchen I have been in. To name a couple of influential chefs, Jeff Buben and RJ Cooper were really the most influential in growing me from a cook to chef. Anne Quatrano and Andy Carson at Bacchanalia changed my perspective on ingredients and how to manipulate them and still stay true to the food.

Chef Harper McClure

Q: What did you find most surprising about appearing on Iron Chef America?
A: Iron Chef was awesome! What an experience. I have never done anything like it since. The most surprising thing was almost tripping on camera wires and bumping into cameramen every move you make. Throughout the whole battle Alton Brown’s commentary is piped into the studio so you can actually hear him talking about the food you’re cooking as it’s happening.

Q: What’s one of your favorite go-to recipes at this time of year?
A: This time of year it’s all about onions and mushrooms. I just cooked a dinner on Sunday for a good friend where we did rib-eye steaks on the grill with a ragout of ramps, bulb onions and morel mushrooms. Killer.

BRABO Restaurant

Q: What can BRABO diners expect for the upcoming summer season?
A: Tomatoes, watermelon, corn, chanterelles, lobster. Peaches like crazy. Summertime is a great time to be a chef.

Q: How would you ideally spend your perfect day off in the D.C. area?
A: These days it’s about being able to spend time with my family. Any time spent with my wife and son is so valuable. We start with Champagne and breakfast in our kitchen (my son Tristan loves fried eggs) and then pack up a lunch and head to Gravelly Point on the Potomac River. Have a bottle of wine and some charcuterie in the grass and then hang out in our backyard and watch the kid chase bubbles.

Photos: Scott Suchman, Len DePas, Fred Licht

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