With “bistro”-themed specialty dinners and “Adventures in Dining” tapas-style events, Executive Chef Benjamin Guaman keeps finding new ways to add fresh spice to the Governors Club’s culinary program.
In 1987, the Governors Club in Chapel Hill, N.C., was established. The club is part of a 24-hour gated community that is annually recognized as one of the premier residential golf communities in the Southeast, and is especially attractive to those who desire to live in the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham “Research Triangle” area, rated by Money magazine as the number-one place to live in America. C&RB featured the Governors Club as its cover story in the July 2014 issue (“The Strong State of the Governors Club”).
Taking the lead role in the club’s food-and-beverage department since 2010 has been Executive Chef Benjamin Guaman. A native of Ecuador and educated in Paris, Chef Guaman has almost 14 years of club experience and is very accomplished in our industry. He was nice enough to share some of his thoughts as an award-winning chef with diverse club experience.
C&RB: Chef, tell us about your very successful Bistro Week program at the club. How was it conceived, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Guaman: Our members have a strong desire for variety that cannot be achieved solely with our a la carte menu. So, we have created a themed Bistro Week. Once a month in the spring and fall, in lieu of nightly specials, themed specialty menus are offered for one week.
A cooking demonstration and tasting that kicks off the week and showcases the Bistro Week menu items has become extremely popular with our members. Members are able to see how the food is prepared and sample select items from the menu with wine pairings, and we also provide the recipes for them to try at home.
Our Bistro weeks have included French, Italian, German, Asian, Greek, Spanish, and Mediterranean cuisines, and most recently we had a week devoted to lobster. We feature items that you will not necessarily find at a local restaurant and that are prepared in a unique way.
French week included Orange-Glazed Seared Duck Breast and Baked Fish “En Papillote.” During Mediterranean week, members were introduced to foods such as Lamb Shank Tagine, Classic Marseilles Bouillabaisse, Greek Chicken, and Zalabieh (Lebanese doughnuts with Nutella sauce). Asian week featured Thai Green Curry Flounder and Beef Bulgogi.
C&RB: Someone approached you about doing something different and unusual for a wine dinner event, too. What did you come up with, and how it was received?
Guaman: After one of our members approached me about doing a private wine dinner with the menu focused around unusual or exotic ingredients, “Adventures in Dining” was born. An intimate group of 16 members enjoyed a tapas-style dinner of nine light courses and dessert.
Drawing on my South American roots, the menu included: Sesos a la Manière (Sautéed Calf’s Brain), Sancocho de Rabito (Braised Oxtail), Anticuchos (Grilled Calf’s Heart), Guatita (Beef Tripe Stew in peanut sauce), Chupe De Pescado Róbalo (Wild Halibut Medallions, in coconut milk), Asado Criollo (Sweetbreads, Kidney, and Blood Sausage), and Sopa de Patas de Chancho (Pig’s Trotters Soup).
These adventurous diners were thrilled, and are ready to do it again.
C&RB: A huge topic of discussion at our annual Chef to Chef Conference is kids’ cuisine and getting kids involved with food at the club. What do you do with your menus in this regard, and what does your kids’ cooking class program in the summer entail?
Guaman: We have established “Kids in the Kitchen” as a component of our Governors Club summer camp program. We use this opportunity to introduce our junior members to health-conscious items. Being involved in the cooking process, they are more likely to experiment and try different foods. They are very proud of what they have created, and are more inclined to share their experience with their parents and siblings.
It is gratifying when you can introduce kids to new foods by simply changing the ingredients in things they already enjoy. One of our campers’ favorites is fish tacos, instead of the more traditional beef.
We have also enhanced our kids menu by adding grilled salmon, petite beef tenderloin, and shrimp pasta to supplement the more traditional offerings usually found on these menus. Hamburgers, hotdogs, and spaghetti in butter sauce will always have their place, but we’re finding that some of our younger members want what their parents or older siblings are eating, just in smaller portions.
We also have a weekly “kids eat free night,” to encourage our families to dine at the club.
C&RB: Another important topic at our Chef to Chef Conference is house-produced pastries without a pastry chef. What types of things are you preparing in this area to raise the level of quality, as well as cut costs?
Guaman: The kitchen team develops a dessert menu that matches our kitchen capabilities. Executive Sous Chef George Feneley takes the lead with desserts for big events. I prepare the desserts for the wine dinners and a la carte dining.
We utilize seasonal local ingredients to ensure quality, and this also helps to keep costs in line. In North Carolina, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of local produce nearly year-round.
In the spring, local North Carolina apricots go into our Almond & Apricot Cake—and who can resist fresh local strawberries on shortcake or in our homemade ice cream. In the fall, North Carolina apples take center stage in our Apple Tart Tatin.
C&RB: Chef, you are very involved with the North Carolina Chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF), as well as other chapters where you’ve worked before. How does this professional affiliation help both you and your Executive Sous Chef in what you do at the Governors Club?
Guaman: ACF membership gives me the opportunity to network and collaborate with other chefs and learn about what other clubs are doing, and then applying it to what we do at Governors Club. ACF competitions help to sharpen my creative thinking, and ACF education gives me the opportunity to learn about the latest cutting-edge industry trends.
C&RB: You recently won a Gold Medal at the ACF Mystery Basket competition in Charlotte, N.C. What were some of your thoughts going into it, and how did you organize your thoughts when the clock started?
Guaman: Going into the Mystery Basket competition, I began by thinking outside the box, which is part of my regular creative process. Once I learned the secret ingredient, the first step was to develop the menu with the time constraint in mind, figuring out which items would be included in each course. I then organized the ingredients and began the cooking process.
During the cooking process, I focused on taste and temperature, and began to visualize the presentation of the dish. Once the cooking process was completed, I began the plate-up. At this point, I was completely focused on the visual appeal and timely delivery of my dish.