Club chefs are coming up with exciting new ideas for the classic, tried-and-true dishes members love best.
Dishes like fried chicken, pot pies and mac and cheese are classics for good reason: They’re close to perfect. But for creative club chefs, they are also a foundation for endless inspiration.
At Ridgemoor Country Club (Harwood Heights, Ill.), Executive Chef Boris Kirzhner approaches traditional dishes thoughtfully.
“You must keep some of the elements that make the dish familiar,” he says. “At the same time, you want to make the dish better—not just new.
“Take fried chicken, for example,” Kirzhner adds. “It can make your hands greasy and smell like fryer oil when you eat it. Our way of improving fried chicken is by changing the preparation, so you don’t have to pick it up to eat it.”
First, Kirzher debones half of a chicken. Then he soaks it in buttermilk, blackening spice and Tabasco for 24 hours. Next, he flours it and bakes it at 325°F for 20 minutes. Finally, he fries it for five minutes, to get a good, crispy crust. The end result is a moister and more flavorful fried chicken. Plus, it’s easier to eat.
Do You Dare
“Our members also enjoy high-end meats; one member referred to our membership as a bunch of ‘meatheads,’” says Kirzhner, who has been with Ridgemoor CC for four years. “That same gentleman asked me to find a way to improve a porterhouse. So we had our meat company put a 55-day dry-age on an LHA Prime porterhouse.”
That “meathead” member loves Kirzhner’s dry-aged steak—and isn’t alone. Ridgemoor CC, which has 250 members and does about $1.2 million in annual F&B, now sells about eight porterhouses weekly. They are plated with roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus and bone-marrow butter (see photo, above).
“Taking a new approach to an old-school dish gives members a chance to appreciate what was great about the original in a more modern way,” says Kirzhner, whose pot pie follows suit. Instead of chicken, it’s made with lobster.
“We start with a traditional mirepoix, then make a lobster bisque-type gravy,” he says. “We fold in sweet peas, andouille sausage and lobster tail, and top it with puff pastry. The sausage adds a bit of smoke, and the six ounces of lobster make it rich and decadent.”
Kirzhner’s biggest grievance with reinvented classics is when chefs deconstruct a dish and pay no attention to how the final product actually tastes. “You have to be spot-on with flavor,” he says. “Otherwise, your members will be disappointed, and the dish will fail.”
What’s In a Name
Menu writing also plays an important role in the reinvention process. “If you call it fried chicken, it better look and taste like fried chicken,” Kirzhner says. “But if you’re creative with the description, you can get away with more.”
For example, Ridgemoor CC’s variation of a loaded baked potato is actually a twice-baked potato with pancetta, truffle cheese, crème fraiche and chives. It’s menued as a “baked potato with the works.”
Joachim Buchner, Executive Chef of Mountain Lake Country Club in Lake Wales, Fla., agrees that descriptions are significant.
“You don’t want to take away something familiar and well-loved and replace it with something that isn’t as good,” says Buchner. “If you call something an apple pie, it should be apple pie. But if you deconstruct an apple pie and only bring back the elements that you want, then you must call it something new.”
At Mountain Lake CC, Buchner uses menu writing to explain the ingredients he uses to elevate classic dishes, such as his bruschetta with grilled American lamb tenderloin (see photo, opposite page).
“We used to serve lamb chops as a passed hors d’oeuvre, but members would then end up with a lamb bone in their hand,” he says. “That always bothered me, but our members love lamb, so I had to find a better way.”
He started to experiment with other lamb cuts, and the dish evolved from there. The final application features a slice of grilled tenderloin on a piece of grilled focaccia. It’s topped with a smear of hummus, roasted plum tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and olives.
“There are layers of flavor now in the bruschetta that the lamb chop by itself wouldn’t allow for,” Buchner says.
He will also use newer cooking techniques, like sous vide, to elevate classic dishes. “I’m a traditional chef, but if I can improve the consistency of a dish with a better cooking technique, like sous vide, I’m going to do so,” he says.
When he cooks sous vide, Buchner does not describe the method on the menu. “It would more than likely confuse the member or guest if they aren’t familiar with sous vide,” he explains.
In the end, the success of a dish comes down to finding the perfect balance between tradition and artistry, Buchner believes.
“You have to understand where the original dish came from and why it needs to be reinvented,” he says. “Maybe there’s a better cooking technique, or ingredient or a different ingredient or flavor you want to add. But you can only go so far, and you must know where that line is.”
Modern Mac and Cheese
Burgers as well as macaroni and cheese are two popular reinvented classics at Orchard Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield Township, Mich.
“By remaking classic dishes like these, we’re able to keep our members interested and on their toes,” says Executive Chef Mark Dixon, who does $2.2 million in F&B. “On one hand, we have to keep the integrity and flavors of the dish; on the other, we strive to make it fresh and new. When we succeed, our members are quick to let us know.”
For their mac-and-cheese remakes, Dixon and his Chef de Cuisine, Ron Letwinski, have retooled the dish in a number of ways. They flash-fry it to use as an appetizer, and also take cooled mac and cheese, cut it into sandwich-sized squares and layer it on a short-rib grilled-cheese sandwich.
“Our members are our biggest champions,” says Letwinski. “By listening to them, we provide what they’re looking for, while still being creative.”
Orchard Lake CC’s cheeseburger is a perfect example. When members asked for a healthier, juicer burger, Dixon and Letwinski delivered.
“We took our everyday wagyu-beef, ground-chuck burger and added sautéed onions and mushrooms to the mix,” says Dixon. “Our standard mix for our blended burger is 75% beef to 25% sautéed onions and mushrooms. This variation has created a healthier, juicier burger with more umami flavors.”
Members have the option to top their burger with more sautéed onions and a blend of gruyere, Swiss and parmesan cheese that is melted in a personal raclette cheese-melter and poured over the burger tableside (see photo, top left of opposite page).
It’s quite a show.
“When you hit that sweet spot, you’re not only making your members happy,” Letwinski says. “You’re also teaching your cooks what creativity and hard work can turn into.”