Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. has been a very special place from its inception. Legendary golf course designer Robert Trent Jones created Coral Ridge after he bought two hundred acres of prime South Florida real estate in the 1950s and built not only a gem of a golf course and club, but also made the property his home. The Jones family owned the club for fifty years until it was sold earlier this decade to several South Florida businessmen, several of whom were long-time members and friends of Jones (who died in June 2000, at age 93).
Coral Ridge CC has also been the home of a special culinary operation directed and led for the past three years by Executive Chef Udo Mueller, CEC. Prior to coming to Coral Ridge in 2004, Chef Mueller worked for three years for the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida; owned and operated a very successful restaurant in Fort Lauderdale for six years; and worked for seven years at a private country club in Bermuda.
Classically trained in Germany, Chef Mueller now seems very much at home in Florida with his wife and three children. I would like to thank Chef Udo for sharing his experiences and insights with C&RB on all that’s involved with maintaining the legendary status of such a storied club—and on how he hopes to build on, and add to, those traditions in the future.
Q Chef, before coming to Coral Ridge, you partnered in a successful Fort Lauderdale restaurant. How has that experience helped you as a club chef?
A It gave me a better overview of how to run a successful business. Also, with the diverse range of wonderful restaurants in our area, I loved creating innovative menus and cuisine that would satisfy the most discriminating of dining patrons. I have carried this innovation over when planning our club’s menus and doing special events like wine dinners and cooking classes.
Q You’re also vice president of your local American Culinary Federation chapter. Are you accomplishing what you set out to do with the group?
A We’re in the middle of building a network of talented chefs who will share their innovative ideas with each other. It’s an exciting organizational period, and we are driven to make this an outstanding chapter.
Q Speaking of exciting periods, I know that at Coral Ridge, your club is coming up on a multimillion-dollar renovation. What changes would you like to see this renovation bring about in your kitchen?
A We have proposed plans for a new multimillion-dollar clubhouse, and as part of that, I am working closely with a kitchen designer. We are doing a step-by-step walk-through of the kitchen on the blueprints, thinking of every little detail—how the loading dock and receiving areas would be designed, where the dry storage room and cooler would be located, where the point-of-sale system would be located, and the functionality of the a la carte line and the banquet kitchen. We’re even thinking about where we would put the hot boxes when we don’t need them for banquets. This kitchen would be a model of how to design a premier functional and efficient kitchen. When other clubs consider remodeling, I would be happy to use my experience to try to answer any questions someone may have.
Q Even without a new clubhouse and kitchen, Coral Ridge has always done a great job with kids and other family-oriented entertainment and events. Can you give us some tips on how to boost members’ participation and drive these types of events?
|Pecan-crusted Snapper Filet|
A Within the past three years, we’ve substantially increased the “Family Friday Night” activities at our club. These events always feature a children’s theme party with entertainment and separate children’s buffet, as well as a separate preteen party that may be centered around the swimming pool. Member participation increases when you offer a variety of fun and interesting activities that everyone in the family may enjoy. One way to identify what your members want is to ask all the parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren.
Q In your day-to-day operation, you capture almost 50% of lunch sales from buffets. With everyone wanting to take pressure off the a la carte crunch, how do you get diners to favor a buffet?
A Our primary orientation with the buffet, which was created to meet the needs of our tennis, golf and business people who are on a tightly scheduled day, is on quick, efficient service with two price points: a buffet that includes soup and salad buffet, or the full buffet with carving station and the fish of the day. Dessert is included in both buffet choices.
Q Finally, Chef, you are one of an elite group of club chefs invited to be featured at the James Beard House in New York. Tell us about that experience, and share with us what you prepared.
A Being invited to the James Beard House as a featured chef was one of my professional career highlights. I took three of my staff with me to help prepare the special menu for that night (Click here to view the full menu that Chef Mueller prepared, along with a recipe for one of the dishes, prosciutto-wrapped sea scallops). We arranged with the chef at the Marriott in the World Trade Center to use his banquet kitchen for our prep work. Upon arriving in New York, we found that all but three bottles of the champagne we had brought from Florida had been broken. But thankfully, that was the only thing what went wrong. We were surprised by how small the kitchen was, but that only made us more impressed with the maitre d’ and the professionalism of the entire staff. The entire experience was incredibly exciting and thrilling—one we will all long remember.