Club chefs are committed to creating unforgettable culinary experiences for members and guests. They deftly navigate ever-changing seasons, food trends, staffing challenges and the constant ebb and flow of available products to deliver consistency, quality and value.
These chefs are fueled by the relentless pursuit of member satisfaction. They refuse to settle for “good enough.” Instead, they are on a mission to transform their best-selling dishes into something even more remarkable.
Start with member preferences.
Club chefs possess a deep understanding of the significance of member preferences and expectations in their pursuit of crafting exceptional dining experiences.
“I introduced a ‘Bang Bang Shrimp’,” says Mark Shoup, Executive Chef of The Springhaven Club in Wallingford, Pa., “and I think if I tried to pull it off the menu, I’d be out of a job.”
Shoup’s awareness of his members’ cherished dishes and tastes is pivotal in his menu development process. Recognizing the sacred nature of certain dishes within the club realm, Shoup acknowledges that attempting to modify or remove them would provoke a vehement response from members.
“In the club world, sometimes there are dishes that can’t be touched,” he says. “Members would be throwing fits if you tried to modify or remove them.”
Nevertheless, Shoup remains committed to innovation and reinvention, constantly seeking opportunities to elevate popular dishes like salmon and scallops. “We strive to reinvent them quarterly,” he says.
Fueling his creative journey, Shoup draws inspiration and insight from his fellow club chefs on social media platforms like LinkedIn. “I watch a lot of what my fellow club chefs are doing,” he says. “If something sparks my interest, I’ll give it my little twist or shake it around completely.”
Shoup exemplifies the artistry and dedication behind crafting unforgettable dining experiences for members and guests by blending a deep understanding of member preferences with an unwavering commitment to reinvention.
Add seasonal innovation and local flaIr.
Matthew Kornfeld, Executive Chef of The Hamlet Golf and Country Club in Commack, N.Y., has mastered the art of updating best-selling dishes to reflect the seasons and evolving palates of members.
“Our members love burrata and duck,” he says. “As the seasons and menus change, my culinary team and I change how each element is prepared and presented.”
Harnessing the core ingredients of these member favorites, Kornfeld and his team explore various iterations of the dishes. “We have been playing with Peking duck for two menu changes now, first curing and confiting duck legs, then finishing in hoisin with a refreshing scallion, basil, sesame and cucumber salad,” he says. “For our early summer menu, we’ve pivoted to DIY Peking duck roll-ups with all the classic accompaniments.”
As a New York native, Kornfeld’s deep-rooted knowledge of local crops and available ingredients is a valuable asset to the process. “Being on Long Island my whole life, I am very in touch with our seasonal ingredients,” he says. “I follow the food that’s local throughout the seasons and often let it be the star of the dish.”
By embracing seasonality, Kornfeld surprises members while upholding sustainability practices. One standout creation highlighting this approach is his “activated coconut and onion ash vinaigrette” for Hamlet G&CC’s cold-roasted cauliflower dish, which has become incredibly popular.
“We make a vinaigrette from activated charcoal, Sherry vinegar, shallots, Dijon, and maple,” says Kornfeld. “It’s fun and different for the members to see a jet-black vinaigrette and taste something new and different at their club.”
Presentation is paramount.
Experimentation becomes even more important if there’s a popular dish that just can’t be beaten. One such dish belongs to Jeremy Leinen, Executive Chef of the Country Club of Rochester (N.Y.), and it combines scallops and bacon.
“I’ve done a couple of iterations of it, with one involving cooking slab bacon sous vide until it’s extremely tender, then serving it glazed with barbecue sauce,” says Leinen. “The other iteration I’ve gravitated toward lately involves simply grilling a thick slice of the slab bacon.”
Leinen says plating greatly affects how a dish is received and offers an opportunity to dress up old standards. “Based on the venue I’m serving the dish in, I can dress it up or down,” says Leinen. “The potatoes might be piped very simply, or I might be a little more elaborate with the presentation and smear it as the base of the dish, run a comb through it and char it with a torch.”
Pleasing everyone isn’t easy.
Club chefs grapple with incorporating new ingredients, techniques, and flavors, blending tradition with contemporary elements. “Clubs are always filled with members who remember the ‘good ol’ days’ and want it that way every time,” says Shoup. But he also has members who seek modern applications.
“They are going to challenge you to try new things and want to talk to you about a meal they recently had at some trendy restaurant,” he says.
“No matter how elevated some of our dishes may be, we still have the classics that most club members have been eating their whole lives,” says Kornfeld, “for example, a simple crispy half-roasted chicken served with house-made white truffle potato croquettes, French beans, and a chicken jus.”
Leinen found a way to use a traditional dish as a palette for creative freedom in the form of a salad niçoise.
“When you research this dish and its origins in Provence, it’s pretty unrefined peasant food, but you can easily refine it and dress it up to fit in a more formal dining room,” says Leinen. “Certain ingredients simply have to be on the plate to meet the expectations of a member ordering a salad niçoise, but there’s plenty of room to be able to exercise a little creativity in the presentation.”
Garnishes can’t save you.
All three chefs agree: A garnish is never an easy way out.
“I think garnishes are great when they add to the dish, but I’m not big on garnishing just for the sake of garnishing,” says Leinen. “Putting a mound of microgreens on a dish never made it better.”
Shoup agrees. “Garnishes have to be enhancements to the dish,” he says. “I don’t use garnishes merely for appearance; if it’s on the plate, it’s intended to be eaten.”
“I love using only edible garnishes,” adds Kornfeld. “We currently use marigold, borage, affilla cress, different types of sorrel, and pansies.”
Kornfeld also likes to find ways to push his edible garnishes into unexpected presentations.
“We utilize different molded tuiles infused with flavors,” he says. “We make foams using soy lecithin, caviar from balsamic vinegar, very dark, vibrant green herb oils, and gels using agar-agar and various gums.”
The balancing act of feeding both tradition and improvement isn’t easy. Awareness of seasonal produce, innovative cooking and plating techniques, and unexpected pairings allow these chefs to build on their best-selling, signature dishes. With these tools in hand, these clubs are able to captivate members’ attention and enhance the dining experience