Executive Chef Marshall Violante has put Glen View Club on the map for more than just the game that named its hometown.
In 1897, the Glen View Golf and Polo Club opened in an area north of Chicago that was unusually hilly, making it possible to create a unique and exciting golf experience for the region—so unique, in fact, that it gave birth to the new town of Golf, Ill., because of a sign that was posted at the nearest railroad station to point the way to the new course.
The new property shortened its name to Glen View Club (GVC) a few years later, and in the 1920s, its course was redesigned by William Flynn; it now stands as the only work done in Illinois by the famous designer, who also created Shinnecock Hills on Long Island and assisted Hugh Wilson with Merion’s East Course.
Glen View Club hosted the first Western Open in 1899, and its golf legacy now includes five Western Golf championships, in addition to a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. While golf will always be Glen View’s foremost claim to fame, the club offers a wide array of other amenities for its members, including a top-level culinary program developed and directed for the past ten years by Marshall Violante, CEC.
Current Position: Executive Chef, Glen View Club, Golf, Ill. (2001-Present)
Violante’s e-mail signature includes the Sicilian proverb, “The belly rules the mind”—and he was kind enough to share some great insights into how he works to keep great cuisine front-of-mind, even at such a golf-focused venue.
Q: Marshall, when arriving at Glen View, you encountered a broken food program as well as a labor pool where there were some who felt entitled and seemed a bit lazy. This is not unusual in our industry, and we wouldn’t be needed if things were all in perfect order. How did you handle the situations where staff was surprised by your intensity and drive to improve a culture?
A: “Lazy” is probably not the right term; myopic and complacent would be more to the point. I was in an opportunistic situation where the club was on the cusp of incurring a significant assessment for capital improvements to the clubhouse, and more specifically for the kitchen facility. From my perspective, moving forward with this project at the existing energy level would be unthinkable.
Replacing someone who had been at the helm for more than a decade is quite a big deal for most, but I never looked at it that way. I had the confidence of the general manager at the time, and the autonomy to proceed as I deemed necessary.
Overall, the staff was receptive to direction and my leadership by example. However, truth be told, I turned over 90% of my staff within the first four months, without a hitch in the clubhouse experience. You were either in or out—there was no gray area here. From the outset, I told my employees that “your GVC future starts today; here is your fictitious pencil and paper, write your future.” Most of the employees apparently lost either the pencil and/or the paper, as they are no longer here.
Q: What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered during your first ten years at Glen View, and what does the long-range plan look like for the next decade?
A:Keeping in tune with the progressive needs of a vibrant and more savvy membership will always be every club chef’s challenge. As a platinum-level “North Shore of Chicago” private club, we have the natural resources to hone our skills by drawing from the city’s culinary landscape. While we operate on a vastly different model than the independent, profit and loss-based entities, it is incumbent on our clubhouse staff to keep creative elements infused into our offerings. This will instigate the idea that their club is a destination for entertainment, special events, business meetings and a strong a la carte program.
One particular initiative that stands out in our more recent past would be the “Terrazo,” or al fresco dining, on the blue-stone terrace overlooking the 18th green and the 10th tee and fairway. In essence, we can now offer an outside dining venue that offers breathtaking vistas of our great golf course.
The natural and organic development of this space did not encroach on the majestic “curb appeal” of the exterior at all; it merely enhanced it. More importantly, you cannot get a seat without a reservation most evenings. This has proved to be a significant boost to our a la carte dining program.
As for other physical or creative changes and enhancements that may be made to the campus long-range, I can’t speak specifically to this. But I can say that whatever else may come in the future, I’m sure it will be true to form with all of the improvements that have been made to this grande dame throughout the time I’ve been here, and be impeccably thought out and executed. The end product of every improvement made here always looks as if it has always been in place.
Q: How important was the corporate contract foodservice experience you gained while in the New York metropolitan area, prior to coming to Glen View?
A: We used to have a saying in my past, as a corporate “business and industry” chef, that our intent was to keep the client from going to their private city club or their country club for an important luncheon or dinner. Now, the tables are turned—and as the country club chef, I am very fortunate to have my space on this wonderful and discrete, classic campus. I want to have our facility—their country club—to be the venue for a breakfast meeting, followed by a brief lunch breakout, a round of golf, capped off by a wonderful dinner. What’s wrong with that?
Secondly, the exposure to the venues and clients in the Big Apple made me a more direct communicator, more organized, a client/member concierge, and detail-oriented.
The one big difference between here and New York City was the immense amount of employee turnover there, which has not been an issue for me here. After the initial “weeding of the chaff,” I have not lost one significant position player in my department.
Q: Many club chefs I have spoken to in the Midwest have suffered the loss of much-needed catering revenue from weather-related cancellations this season, which has left it to a la carte dining to carry the load. What action plan have you implemented to come close to budget expectations, despite these challenges?
A: The spring and early summer of 2011 was not kind to most of us in this area. There are no less than four quality private clubs within a reasonable distance of Glen View Club, and we have all felt some budget-correction points. Personally, I have never had such a constant flow of event cancellations and postponements due to weather-related issues in my ten years here.
Certainly, it is difficult to make up the void from a cancelled private event. But thank goodness for a strong a la carte draw, which has sustained us through most of this time. As the catering revenue has slowed a touch, we did not deviate from member services, our operating hours were not abbreviated, or we didn’t go to limited menus; all of this would penalize the membership. I told my staff that we will do the same, if not more, with less of an operating budget. We trimmed manhours across the board, and overtime has become an exception, not an entitlement.
Q: We as golf club chefs often hear things like “The meal was good—but you do know this is a golf club and not a country club, right?” How do you interpret this, and does it have an effect on your menu design philosophy?
A: The paradigm of “golf club vs. country club” is a common thread that weaves through classic older clubs. I hear this echoed when in the company of my contemporaries, especially at the “Chef to Chef” Conference presented by Club & Resort Business. Some of the best or more pertinent information comes when a fellow chef casually shares the same, or contrasting, thoughts.
At the Glen View Club, in addition to golf and the indoor golf teaching and skill center that was recently added, we offer tennis, platform tennis, swimming pool programs, a natural ice skating facility, a trap- and skeet-shooting range, and cross-country skiin
g. But we have a very deep golf tradition here at GVC, and to overlook this would be both irresponsible and negligent. I have always had the mindset to honor the structure, institution and culture of my club by enhancing the overall clubhouse experience. That is what I am here to do.
Q: Tell us about the “Evans Scholars Foundation”— it sounds larger and more established than most I have seen in our industry. How have its programs impacted your club, and you personally?
A: Glen View Club has been the vehicle for a couple of distinct and specific scholarship formats. The Evans Scholars Foundation speaks to our rich caddie program exclusively. Currently, four scholars from GVC are supported within this format. These students have met specific, stringent requirements and have been selected due to their achievements. They live in select housing on their given college campus, along with receiving tuition assistance.
Our club also has the Glen View Club Scholarship Foundation. This lends assistance to all other employees and staff, caddies, and family members of employees. The criteria for this scholarship includes a yearly transcript review, a personal interview with the Foundation Board, and letters of references from each employee’s department head and academic advisor. In fact, my two children have received scholarship assistance by way of this foundation. The Foundation just awarded grants to 48 young people totaling $199,000. The benevolence of our membership to “give back” never ceases to amaze me.
Q: Finally, Marshall, please share something about two causes near and dear to your heart: “Project Renewal” and the
“Special Chefs Association.”
A: Project Renewal was facilitated by our corporate office in New York, to enable hands-on culinary training for those who may have not made some of the best decisions in life in their past. As they lived in a controlled environment, such as a halfway house, they would use this culinary externship to amass a specific amount of hours to acquire a diploma and then “graduate” from the program. I willingly would trek down to the “Bowery” in Manhattan to attend or officiate commencement exercises for many ladies and gentleman who had come through our facilities. Pretty humbling stuff!
“Special Chefs” is an organization that I was exposed to, in Chicago, by a member of GVC. Talk about a special day. Imagine yourself at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant. You are not there to wine and dine, however; you are in the private dining area/test kitchen next door, and you are there to observe, and lightly critique, the work of some awesome ladies and gentlemen with developmental disabilities. They have their respective mentors alongside to assist them. The focus is to comfortably and enthusiastically embrace the vital independent living skill of food preparation.
Currently, I am working with all of the local hospitality curriculums to establish an in-house mentoring/externship program; my fellow chefs may recall how important this facet was to our learning experience.
View Chef Violante’s recipes for: