One day this past January, I received a call from a member of my club. He asked if I would like to be nominated to be a guest chef at a "Taste of the Club Nations" event to be held in April at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla., where he also belongs.
Club & Resort Business has had articles ("Platinum Idea," September 2006) about how these events are proving to be a great way to offer an exciting night to members and guests and give them the rare opportunity to sample a variety of expert chefs’ specialties. In many of my monthly "Chef to Chef" conversations with colleagues in C&RB, it’s also become clear that, when done right, these guest-chef concepts can be sure winners that add significant revenues, prestige and highly anticipated buzz to a club’s F&B calendar.
The "when done right" aspect is what made me want to participate in Ocean Reef’s event myself. It’s one thing to read and hear about these events, but quite another to be part of the show. Knowing that this would be Ocean Reef’s second "Taste of the Club Nations" event after a successful debut last year, I was eager to get insights from the club’s Executive Director of Culinary Operations, Philippe Reynaud, and his staff about how to maximize the benefits of staging these elaborate events, while minimizing the potential pitfalls.
My General Manager was equally excited about the potential opportunity for not only me, but our club, and so it was that I was able to get away for a little Florida sun in early April. But it wasn’t all fun and games; participating as a guest chef has a special set of challenges. And as I learned from Chef Reynaud and his staff, these events call for a tricky combination of creativity, coordination and control on the part of the host club that must be transparent to the dinner guests, but are critical to their success.
|The host chefs from Ocean Reef Club (above) didn’t just let their guest chefs do all of the work; their contributions both before and during the event were equally critical to its success.|
Avoiding Too Many Cooks
Ocean Reef’s format for "Taste of the Club Nations" followed the best recipe for collaborative situations: assign each participating chef to individually prepare various courses (vs. having multiple chefs dabble in every course). Another huge plus was that each of us was assigned a chef helper from the Ocean Reef staff. And because Chef Reynaud had efficiently collected our menu ideas well ahead of time, to smoothly develop the design for an impressive five-course dinner, all of the ingredients and products we needed were on hand when we arrived.
For the cocktail reception, each guest chef—who in addition to myself included Andrea Griffith of The Greenbrier Sporting Club, Joseph Piazza of Cherry Hills Country Club and Todd Sellaro of The New York Yacht Club—prepared some of our clubs’ favorite hors d’oeuvres (see Cocktail Menu menu & Dinner Menu). Ocean Reef’s own staff, led by Executive Chef Damian Gilchrist, made the reception buffet complete with the proper "touches of home"—a sampling of tropical fruits native to Florida, locally caught seafood and an awesome ice sculpture with our names and a special logo for the event (see photo, pg. 34).
That got the 85 members and guests in a great mood for the dinner itself, and Chef Sellaro, assigned the appetizer course, made sure he ramped up the excitement even more with his chilled whole Maine lobster with cucumber, mango and champagne dressing—a specialty of his exclusive club.
Chef Griffith then followed with the second course: an inventive West Virginia rainbow trout dish with collard greens and bacon dumplings. And for the entrée, none of us had ever seen a corned rack of lamb for the main course such as Chef Piazza prepared, with potato croquettes and buttered fava beans. But after seeing how successful it was, we all left wanting to try it ourselves.
Then I was up, with the salad course. I served some peppery cress microgreens, a tiny wedge of local artisan goat cheese, and a beggar’s purse with a Kahlua-flavored wild mushroom mixture.
Diners who somehow left room for dessert were glad they did, so they could savor a special creation of Ocean Reef’s Pastry Chef, Rafael Torano: a key lime custard with graham cracker meringue, star fruit and blood oranges.
|Participating guest chefs with their creative contributions: Top left, Andrea Griffith, The Greenbrier Sporting Club, White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.; Todd Sellaro, New York Yacht Club, Newport, R.I.; Bottom (left to right), Jerry Schreck, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa. (with Joseph Hochstrasser, his chef helper from the Ocean Reef Club); and Joseph Piazza, Cherry Hills Country Club, Englewood, Colo.|
Dining Without Drama
After returning home, I got back in touch with Chef Reynaud, to get more insight into what it takes to make the "Taste of the Club Nations" a success.
"Hosting other club chefs for an event like this is not a walk in the park," he stresses. "It takes a great deal of communication and follow-up skills. The club chefs that you select must be extremely knowledgeable, professional, and easy to work with. You want to make sure you have a great display of camaraderie, respect and good cooking, without all of the drama found in chef TV shows."
A key goal of these events, he adds, should be to have the guest chefs "bring in foods that can’t be found [in the region of the host club]—to really give us, and our members and guests, a taste of their clubs and where they are from."
When you do all of that, Chef Reynaud says, "Nothing will beat a good day in the kitchen and a dinner that is perfectly executed." As someone fortunate enough to participate this year at Ocean Reef, I can affirm that the club’s staff (including its Member Events department, led by Islande Dillon) has written the template for a flawless event.