Q&A with Michael Harr

Meet the Gaylord's top chef.

Interviewed by Jordan Wright | February 24th, 2010 |
Chef Michael Harr
Gaylord National Hotel
Chef Michael Harr

Chef Michael Harr’s return to the D.C. area has landed him at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center to helm both the Old Hickory Steakhouse and Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine. Thrilled to have a chef with such star quality, the hotel takes a decidedly different turn in offering diners a more innovative and chef-driven dining opportunity.

Locals know the Gaithersburg-raised Harr from turns at the Watergate’s Jean-Louis, where the cooking bug bit him, Butterfield 9, the greatly adored and sadly missed D.C. restaurant where he made his mark with his beautifully created and unique offerings, and at the former five-diamond Maestro Restaurant, where he worked alongside famed chef Fabio Trabocchi.

Harr has held stages in France at a number of prestigious restaurants, working with other noted chefs Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy. In Las Vegas he was sous chef to Jacques Vanstaden at the famed London Club, and later worked in Montreal, New York and Miami as executive chef at Zodiac.

Old Hickory, which I reviewed last year, is a sophisticated steakhouse. It has an après-dinner cigar deck, their very own artisanal cheese cave and one of the most beautiful dining rooms ever designed — a stunning Charleston-inspired setting with gorgeous views of the Potomac River.

Moon Bay, also reviewed here last year, feels like a coastal retreat, with a babbling brook flowing beside its deck. It, too, overlooks the Potomac. Surrounded by a lush tropical forest, it features creative seafood dishes. Harr’s French-trained background is an impressive new direction for these two top-drawer destinations.

In an exclusive first-time interview with The Georgetowner, Harr shares his vision for his latest adventure.

As an iconoclastic chef with classical traditions, how will your style translate to accommodate two distinctly different restaurants: Old Hickory Steakhouse and Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine?

As a culinary professional, it is important to appreciate many aspects of cuisine and the use of products available to us with every season. In this case, we have seafood and meats as the main focus. This amazing opportunity will allow me to focus on foods that I am passionate about, such as local East Coast seafood, as well as sourcing seafood items that wouldn’t normally be found on a general seafood restaurant menu.

For Moonbay, I envision it as being an adventurous outlet with the freshest of seafood as its main focus. My objective with the food is sustainably sourced, seasonality and driving personality — and keeping it simple and approachable.

For Old Hickory, I plan to incorporate classic approaches as well as “new-age” items with a modern twist. We hope to share our concepts to a clientele that can be adventurous and enjoy creativity within a steakhouse setting. Old Hickory is a gorgeous restaurant with an outstanding service. I've dined in many steakhouses and Old Hickory stands out as an attractive destination that sets itself apart from the rest.

I would like to introduce seasonally inspired food items with creative choices for our composed plates. We are a steakhouse so our focus will be to offer great quality steak dishes, but I’m looking forward to incorporating some very interesting twists like “Chocolate Elk” (a dish that became my signature and gained notoriety at one of my previous restaurants), among others. My vision for Old Hickory is to make it one of the Capitol region’s newly appointed destination restaurants that everyone must experience.

How will you interpret your training in haute cuisine for the both restaurants?

I have a very ambitious approach to our cuisine at the Gaylord National, with important goals to accomplish along with our executive leadership. My initial focus will be to bring the best local ingredients to our clients while enhancing overall food quality.

We currently have corporate contracts and, once they are approved for local sourcing, I will be able to develop a seasonal program that allows me to design creative and fun menus with local products. I believe “haute” is about quality, passion and foundation. In this way I am able to be successful in my mission to create the best for the clientele.

What menu changes and local sourcing do you have in mind? When will the menu reflect these changes?

I believe that all menus should be seasonal. Local sourcing can be significant with the amount of business that we produce. If we support the local farmers, we demonstrate our support for agriculture, renewable resources and local community.

In regards to menu changes, that’s a good question. We have to consider that we are in a corporate environment, so there are many processes that must be followed. We will gradually implement the changes as we provide comprehensive training to our staff.

Will you be using only sustainable seafood and from what sources?

Yes, I would like to obtain sustainable resources as much as possible. As a local D.C. chef, I have many sources that I have used throughout the years. I will continue to use my vendors to source amazing seafood products.

Who have you brought with you to execute your vision?

We are currently evaluating our organizational structure, and we will strategically allocate our talent to improve operations.

*D.C. residents can get to National Harbor by taking the Metro (blue line) to King Street, where a Gaylord Hotel shuttle at the entrance to the station runs every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. direct to National Harbor, $5 each way.

Ferry service from the Georgetown dock and Old Town Alexandria to National Harbor resumes in March. For more information visit: www.potomacriverboatco.com or www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-national/ and click on “Transportation.”

For questions or comments about this article contact jordan@whiskandquill.com.*

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