The right cooking equipment can make the difference between suboptimal and superb outdoor dining events at clubs and resorts.
Outdoor dining service can feel like a limiting proposition for club and resort chefs. The culinary team is away from their back-of-house comfort zone, where they have everything they need to pull off impressive cuisine.
But in truth, outdoor dining presents a much bigger opportunity to excite members and guests. Not only do open-air settings set a stimulating tone, but with the right equipment and engaging menus, club and resort chefs can elevate the sensory bonanza far beyond what they can do within the four walls of a typical dining room.
Step outside and see how these three chefs are blowing the roof off member expectations.
“We are always looking for new presentation ideas and how to deliver that ‘wow’ factor,” says Paul Frintrup, Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director at the Country Club of Little Rock in Arkansas.
That ‘wow’ factor is best delivered during the club’s annual “Grapes on the Green” event, which highlights a different vintner each year. The course-wide affair is the club’s largest outdoor F&B execution, with three chef-attended, themed cooking stations across the course, and another on the club patio at the end of the progression.
At the most recent Grapes on the Green event earlier this spring, which fed around 250 members, Frintrup implemented a French antipasto station; a street taco station with chefs cooking fresh tortillas to order with a variety of fillings, including a number of vegetarian options; and an Asian-themed station with house-made egg rolls and crab rangoon.
At the taco station, Frintrup used circular, cast-iron gas grills. The sounds and smells of the sizzling ingredients put on a visual and olfactory show for members and guests.
“That grill makes for a great presentation,” says Frintrup. “It’s a beautiful piece of equipment and it’s very functional. You can sear anything on it, but this year we use it more like a plancha.”
Frintrup has used the grills for other menus, including a Mongolian grill-style cookout and small farm-to-table events at which the team is cooking steak, fish, and vegetables—utilizing the grill like a flattop. “It’s been a fantastic tool for these types of events,” he says. “We’re able to produce the same quality of food outside that we do inside, which is typically extremely challenging without the proper equipment.”
For under $800, Frintrup also purchased a couple of inexpensive, propane-fueled, restaurant-sized deep fryers, to help with high-volume batch cooking outdoors. And because the fryers are much like those used indoors—they aren’t “finicky or substandard,” he says—they perform the same as the ones the cooks are accustomed to using inside.
Frintrup also uses pizza ovens for poolside events, and a gigantic smoker on a trailer for golf tournaments (“It’s a show-stopper,” he says.). Semi-annual lobster bakes are another outdoor hit.
“This year, we’re building a giant cinder-block pit, using charcoal, with a 1/8-inch-thick stainless-steel plate on top of it, and a large basket on top of that with the lobsters in it,” Frintrup says. “We’ll cover it in [plastic sheeting] and steam it. Then we’ll have chefs breaking the lobsters down for guests à la minute.”
With a whopping 500 acres of property at its disposal and great weather 10 months out of 12, the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif., seizes a lot of outdoor dining opportunities.
The right equipment is critical to executing Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray’s creativity at a high level across the property’s vast expanse.
For a plated event on the resort’s event lawn, “we basically have to build a kitchen with ovens and refrigeration,” Dubray says. “We always design the menu to make sure it’s something we can execute perfectly.”
Dubray utilizes pizza ovens for stations and a shawarma machine for Middle Eastern menus outside. Smooth-surface gas grills are also key. Besides their culinary performance and visual entertainment, the grills provide an added benefit in California, where the use of open flames is unwise.
“Being in Newport Beach and close to brush, we don’t do a lot of outdoor grilling with charcoal, because we could start a fire,” Dubray explains. “But on the grills we can do kabobs, burgers, steak, fish, and chicken.”
Pacific Practices for Outdoor Dining
The climate is also kind at the Fairmont Orchid, a resort in Waimea, Hawaii, says David Viviano, Executive Chef. Alongside a 36-hole golf course on the Kohala Coast are 32 oceanfront acres of lush tropical gardens, cascading waterfalls, and a tranquil white sand beach and lagoon. Dishes featuring an east-west blend of ingredients are frequently prepared outside.
“I’d say 90 percent of what we do is outdoors,” Viviano says. “In Hawaii, everybody wants to be outside.”
Kushyake grills are a favorite tool for Viviano’s open-air cooking.
“In Japan, you hear of yakitori chicken and things of that nature, and all of it is done on premium binchōtan [a type of white charcoal],” he says. “It fits into the influences of the Hawaiian islands, too.
“The grill is a box about one-and-a-half feet by four feet, and you put your charcoal in the bottom of it,” he explains. “It has grates over the top. We do everything on skewers—usually shrimp, chicken, beef, and vegetables. The charcoal burns at about 800° F, so you get this really intense heat that gives you a nice crust, while the inside is still luscious and moist.”
The binchōtan produces minimal smoke, Viviano notes, creating less bother for group guests—especially in Hawaii, where wind can be more of a factor. The concept has been such a success that the resort is in the process of creating a restaurant called Binchōtan, which is slated to open later this summer.