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LOCAL LEADERS/Robert Gelman - Gelman brings New Orleans flair to M&S at National Harbor

Posted on Oct 17,2008
Filed Under Local Leaders , Community,

Managing Editor

When Robert Gelman was a college student living in New Orleans, famed cajun chef Emeril Lagasse occupied the top floor of his apartment building in the city's Warehouse District.

"I would see him most afternoons, always cooking on that huge grill of his on the rooftop of our building," said Gelman, the new executive chef at the new McCormick & Schmick's Harborside at National Harbor. "You could smell his cooking a mile away. Always lots of garlic, cajun seasoning and butter. And shrimp ten different ways...I suppose I drew inspiration from that."

After graduating from Tulane University with degrees in finance and music, for several years Gelman sold airtime at a country music station in Atlanta. "I guess I got really tired of wearing a suit and uncomfortable shoes, so I became a chef," he recalled.

And a really good one at that.

After working the graveyard shift in the kitchens of Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, where he learned to prepare sprawling midnight and early-bird breakfast buffets for thousands of voracious gamblers ("Always order 5,000 shrimps at a time was the rule," he said), Gelman went on to a succession of top-flight eateries, starting at Mr. B's Bistro and the House of Blues in New Orleans.

"The locals were such connoisseurs," said Gelman, now 36. "They'd say things like, 'Boy, you really cooked that roux just right in the gumbo."

A New Jersey native, Gelman eventually got the call to return, to become top chef at P.J. Clark's in Manhattan and its new $14 million location at Lincoln Center. From there he was wooed away to the McCormick & Schmick's fold, which he said values the individuality and creative expression of its chefs.
"Robert is making the company proud, with his unique dishes and signature recipes," said Jill Collins, a spokesperson for McCormick and Schmick's. "This location is still a baby that we're building and developing, and Robert is really putting his stamp on it."
Collins said that each restaurant’s chef prepares his own menu based on what is fresh that day, prominent in the region or his own style. Gelman said he features many Louisiana-themed recipes, such as sauteed Northwest Salmon and Jumbalaya lunch. "At most restaurants chefs are called kitchen managers," he said. "This company does allow you to bring forth your culinary expertise."
Named for owner Bill McCormick, who started his first restaurant, Jake's Famous Crawfish, in Portland, Ore. in 1972 (where Doug Schmick was Bill’s bartender/manager-in-training),  the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore region is McCormick & Schmick’s largest market, Collins said. The company has about 80 locations around the country.

After cooking for several months at the Reston Town Center location of McCormick and Schmick's, in June Gelman got the nod to head up the kitchen at its massive new waterfront eatery at National Harbor. "When we first opened I was here 90 days straight," said Gelman, a self-professed workaholic who's single and said he manages to date "only occasionally."
The seafood group’s 300-seat location, with 120 seats outside overlooking the piers, is all rich mahogany wood and stuffed catches on the walls. On one, a 90-pound Albino Salmon peers down at diners.
On most nights, the restaurant and its patio are booked solid, with happy hour conventioneers, lobbyists, locals and often, Washington Redskins players after spending the afternoon butting heads at FedEx Field. On a recent Saturday, a young couple was married on the 700-foot pier protuding into the Potomac, then cascaded into the restaurant with 200 of their guests for their reception.
"It's been a much faster start than we anticipated," said Chipp Lewis, the general manager, who previously managed M&S locations in the midwest. "This area has never had anything like what we bring to the table."
Address: 145 National Plaza, National Harbor, MD 20745
Hours: 11am - 11pm, 7 days a week.
For reservations, call (301) 567-6224

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