Table Talk

Meet the chef at Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar, plus a new hot pot restaurant and Bethesda’s gluten-free bakery



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Karen Hayes, chef of Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar in Potomac

Chef Chat

In January, chef Karen Hayes, 52, took the helm of Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar, restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier’s American brasserie in Potomac Village. Hayes’ cooking pedigree, spanning a 23-year career, includes stints at many of Washington, D.C.’s better- known eateries, among them the Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center and José Andrés’ Zaytinya. We checked in with her to find out what she has in store at her new gig.

What was your first job in a professional kitchen?

It was 1995. Chef Ris Lacoste was going to 1789 [in Washington] and she took me on without any kitchen experience. The two sous-chefs there, John Wabeck and Jeff Eng, were unbelievably caring and nice and unselfish with knowledge. They taught me every little thing—breaking down a salmon, fabricating [butchering] meats and fish, how to make a fast soup. They were fun, too.

Your path crossed with Robert Wiedmaier’s many times in your career.

Doug McNeil [who was the chef of the Four Seasons hotel in D.C. from 1979 to 2001] told me that if I was serious about cooking, I should work for Robert. I did briefly when he was at Aquarelle in the Watergate in 1998. Then at Marcel’s [in Washington] from 2000 to 2003 and Brabo [in Alexandria] from 2009 to 2011. He has always been very supportive and very generous. There has never been a time when I wasn’t working for him that he didn’t ask, ‘When are you coming back?’

How much of the menu at Lock 72 have you changed?

About 60 percent at lunch; more at dinner. 

In what direction are you trying to go?

A little bit more upscale. It seemed to me that the menu kind of mirrored one of our competitors and I wanted to make it different from that. But this is still a tavern and there are things people expect at a tavern. Like a burger. The bar menu has burgers, wings, fried calamari—that’s what people expect when they sit at a bar. 

What are some of your new dishes?

I put on a house-cured salmon with crème fraiche, cornichons and capers. A very nice bouillabaisse of mussels, shrimp, scallops, monkfish and salmon; a braised short rib that mimics bourguignonne, with deep red wine sauce and mushrooms; pan-seared Moroccan spiced salmon; and a crab dip. 

What’s coming up for spring?

I’m playing around with spring bounty salad with peas, asparagus, baby beets, cucumbers and radishes. Maybe an almond hummus to go with an asparagus salad. Lamb with house-made harissa [spicy red pepper sauce]. I’m bringing back an old dish of mine—halibut with Asian pesto of basil, Thai basil, cilantro and cashews, in kaffir broth. 

Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar, 10128 River Road, Potomac, 301-299-0481, lock72.com



Jaimie Mertz sells gluten-free fare, including cupcakes (below), at The Red Bandana Bakery.

Hold the Gluten

For 28-year-old Bethesda resident Jaimie Mertz, opening The Red Bandana Bakery, which specializes in gluten-free products, was a labor of love. When her younger brother was put on a gluten-free diet in 2011 for medical reasons, the pastry chef, who has a degree in pastry arts from now-closed L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, had an epiphany: She would focus her nascent baking career on gluten-free desserts. Putting her experience at Wagshal’s in Spring Valley and Just Cakes in Bethesda (now closed) to good use, she started developing gluten-free and low-in-casein (milk protein) recipes for baked goods. She created a website, started selling her treats at farmers markets, including the Bethesda Central Farm Market, and made plans to open a brick-and-mortar bakery.

“One thing I knew for sure from meeting so many people with celiac [disease] was that I had to have a dedicated kitchen,” Mertz explains, meaning one where gluten, which is most prevalent in wheat-based products, never enters the premises. She opened The Red Bandana Bakery in November. 

The cheery space has an open kitchen and is decorated with bright red tiles, red walls and artwork from local artists. There is seating for 25 people. Among the baked goods are mini apple pies, chunky chocolate chip cookies, garlic herb rolls, buttermilk biscuits and a variety of cupcakes. Vegan products include coconut macaroons, banana chocolate chip muffins and black bean brownies. Most baked goods are $2 or $3. Mertz also makes custom cakes.

The Red Bandana offers breakfast (such as avocado toast, an egg sandwich and an oatmeal bowl) and lunch (soups and build-your-own salads and sandwiches), but not dinner. “I like to have the evenings open to have special events, like artist openings, a local band, or to show someone’s ceramics,” Mertz says. “I want this to be a real community gathering place here.”

The Red Bandana Bakery, 8218 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 240-284-6523, theredbandanabakery.com

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