NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s face lights up when asked to tell the story behind his “Yes, Chef” cocktail, made with pineapple juice, ginger beer and vodka and served at his restaurant, Marcus, inside the new MGM National Harbor resort and casino.
In 2009, Samuelsson explains, he oversaw the Obamas’ first state dinner at the White House. Afterward, President Barack Obama greeted Samuelsson’s culinary team.
“He was so kind to wait around, him and the first lady,” he says, “and he talked to all my cooks. Chef Michael [one of Samuelsson’s cooks], was so nervous… so the President shook his hand and Michael just screamed out, ‘Yes, chef!’ I knew right then, that’s something we have to use.”
That presidential tale made it into the title of Samuelsson’s 2012 memoir, and onto the menu at Marcus — one of several celebrity-chef driven restaurants putting a D.C. spin on the Vegas-style casino restaurant.
MGM National Harbor opened this past December in Maryland, just a few minutes outside of Washington. The property sits on a hill overlooking the Potomac River, with a view of the nation’s capital in the background. Over the past decade, the National Harbor waterfront area has been developed into a residential, retail and entertainment center, which MGM saw as an ideal location for its new resort.
It’s truly a bit of Las Vegas grazing the Beltway, with a 125,000-square-foot casino, a 3,000-seat entertainment venue, the National Market food hall and new restaurants from celebrity chefs Samuelsson, Jose Andres and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio.
The chefs all incorporate local flavors and ingredients, drawing from the culinary history of the area. MGM hopes these local flavors will appeal to area residents, as well as the tourists and business people who flock to the region.
Most of the employees were hired from the greater District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia region, with…