In just five years, Kiawah Island Golf Resort has established itself as a premier, award-winning property- and the impeccable culinary operations, directed by Executive Chef Robert Wysong, are a big reason why.
For the second year in a row, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, located off the South Carolina coast just south of Charleston, has received the coveted Mobil Travel Guide Five-Star Award. This is just the latest in a series of top-shelf hospitality awards that the Sanctuary has quickly garnered since it opened in 2004 as the new, 255-room-and-suite oceanfront hotel and spa for the resort, which also features five championship golf courses, two tennis centers, nine restaurants and a variety of recreation and nature programs. Travel + Leisure magazine now ranks The Sanctuary among the top three resorts in America.
Current Position: Executive Chef, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
Leading the culinary operations at Kiawah Island is Executive Chef Robert Wysong, who came to the property just prior to The Sanctuary’s spectacular opening. Early in his career, Robert’s self-established goal was to become one of the best chefs in America at upper-tier properties. Including the experience he gained at other prestigious properties before coming to Kiawah Island, it certainly appears his aspiration has been met. And we are privileged to have Chef Wysong, a true leader of our industry, take time to share his wealth of knowledge and insights on how to create and preserve dining excellence in club and resort settings.
Q Chef, overseeing the purchasing process for a $15 million F&B operation can be an arduous task. How do you utilize your commissary to help control costs throughout your many food outlets?
A Our team works closely with a purchasing director. I also insist that our vendors constantly scrutinize for, and present, avenues of potential savings. Some work and some don’t. Product freshness and waste is carefully monitored through living pars. We also audit as a company. Believe it or not, the old-fashioned system of keeping people honest by locking it up works to our advantage. As for interdepartmental ordering and inventory, it is all done electronically. This offers a great deal of precision and control.
Q All of our budgets are tight this year, with an eye on a sluggish economy. Tell us about your aggressive but attainable plan to make it through this challenging period.
A We will forecast carefully every month, and keep our percentages as tight as possible. This is our business model. We do not like surprises, nor do we expect any. Careful purchasing and product bundling will be a key factor. This will be my biggest initiative for 2009. As a company, we constantly look at the balance of services versus maintaining profitability. This will never change, but at the end of the year, we are in business to make a profit.
Q What have you forecasted for catering in 2009? Do you think we will all be able to retain this ultra-important component in reaching budgeted goals?
A I think there is a new climate of focus for catering. While corporations are being more and more cautious, one thing that will never go out of style is the wedding. As a whole, weddings are not as profitable, and require a heightened level of work-related detail. I have begun to reevaluate the profitability and look for ways to enhance it. Our level of service, whether in the planning process or the execution phase, allows us to be set up for the difficulty of detail that is sometimes present in weddings and social catering.
Q Team morale and the trickle-down effects of creative energy are very important to you. How do you go about instilling these attributes into your day-to-day operations?
|The Sanctuary’s elegantly appointed lobby sets the standard for excellence that is maintained through the nine restaurants at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.|
A This is of the utmost importance. We spend a great deal of time in our team line-ups, and 90 percent of this time is used to discuss philosophical issues, such as our resort’s core values. We also spend a lot of time talking about the team approach and its effectiveness.
Managing resources carefully is also a huge factor in maintaining morale; you must have the correct tools, in the correct amounts. I am a stickler for the care and protection of resources. Aligned teams not only look after each other, but they push each other to grow and advance their products and services. I challenge and push my leaders every day—not just at evaluation time.
Q One of your mottos is “Keeping Culinary Simple, Yet Precise.” Can you explain how you teach your interns and externs by example about this philosophy?
A It’s simple—food preparation at its best is as fresh as possible, striking to look at, served at the correct temperature, and most of all, balanced in taste and texture. This is not only a trait of low-country cuisine, but of great food in general.
|Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, a Pete Dye design, hosted the 2007 Senior PGA and will be the site of the 2012 PGA Championship.|
An externship here at The Sanctuary is very interactive, with hands-on chefs. Successful externship candidates arrive with sharp knives, clean uniforms, and an understanding of what they are involved in and how it contributes to our overall food and beverage philosophy. The selection process for externships is a careful one. We are extremely proud of our products and we taste, taste, taste.
Q Chef, tell us about the recent decision that was made to add a steakhouse concept and create an Italian-dining theme as new dining options for The Sanctuary.
|The Lobby Bar is a popular spot to gather before or after a meal in one of The Sanctuary’s restaurants.|
A The decision was based on careful study of our existing outlets and what they currently offer. We examined the local market and asked our clientele what they would like to see us add, and in their answers they made it clear that they would like to see more variety. The high-end steak concept and Italian dining have done well and continue to gain popularity. We think of the concept changes as “needed elements” to enhance our total resort dining repertoire. C&RB