Buffets take members and guests beyond the normalcy of everyday dining to offer something new and different.
Club chefs are known for unleashing their creativity on buffets. These spreads offer a unique chance to showcase something new and different—both on the menu and with how what’s served can be presented and displayed. For some, buffets act as a testing ground, to try dishes that might not be immediately well-received on typical menus.
“If we’re working within a theme, we try to be as authentic as possible,” says Todd Walline, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage for
in Kansas City, Mo. “We like to do a combination of small plates and action stations, to make the experience more dynamic and interactive.”
For last year’s men’s member-guest, Blue Hill’s members requested a Mexican theme. Instead of menuing tacos and fajitas, Walline and his culinary crew served up turkey mole, pork tamales and beef barbacoa.
“The members went nuts over the menu,” says Walline, who has been with Blue Hills for 18 years, and was also the winner of the 2017 Chef to Chef Mystery Basket Culinary Competition, held during C&RB’s 9th annual Chef to Chef Conference in Atlanta, Ga. “Our membership appreciates that we try new things and offer authentic dishes whenever we can.”
For other buffets, Walline, who also teaches about international cuisines as an Adjunct Professor of Culinary Arts at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., has done everything from a sushi and sashimi night to a deep-South menu, featuring a chicken-and-waffle action station where a chicken thigh was placed on a skewer, then dipped in a waffle tempura batter and fried, before being served with a Vermont-maple and hot-sauce glaze.
“On my days off, I sometimes train with a nearby sushi chef who worked for Wolfgang Puck,” Walline notes. “He has helped me to refine and improve my sushi techniques. We now do dedicated sushi nights a couple times a year.”
Many of the dishes from Blue Hills’ various events find their way onto the club’s a la carte menu, while others are better suited for the banquet menu.
“We did an Asian noodle bar once as an action station, where we served ramen, pho and chop chae,” says Walline. “The members enjoyed the noodle bowls so much, we now have a rotating noodle bowl on our a la carte menu.”
Buffets are also a great place for Walline to introduce less-familiar cuts of meat, like the chuck flap.
“We always use menu cards to make sure members know what each dish has in it, in case of allergies,” says Walline “The cards also serve a secondary purpose, to introduce unfamiliar cuts of meat and ingredients.”
For buffet displays, Walline relies on natural materials like marble and wood, to set dishes at different elevations and help each have its own spotlight.
The biggest buffet challenges at Blue Hills, which has 643 members and does $1.9 million in annual F&B, are similar to those at other clubs: keeping the food hot and maintaining a buffet that looks as plentiful for the first person as it does for the last.
“We found these useful rechargeable cubes that act as warmer plates, to help keep food hot,” Walline reports. “We’ve also had success by setting up separate buffet lines that can be set based on reservations and seatings.”
For this Easter, for example, Blue Hills planned to basically prep four buffet lines, with the food hitting the first buffet line at 10 AM, the second at 12 PM, the third at 2 PM and the fourth at 4 PM.
“This way, no one is served from an ‘old’ buffet,” Walline explains. “Plus, we can better control the flow, and the look.”