One of the most important things that I’ve learned in my short time as Executive Chef of Dubuque G&CC is that a club is truly a community within a community. As the chef of that community, it’s my job to unite my members and help foster relationships that will last a lifetime. We must also connect our club with the community outside our walls. We do this with tasty and beautiful food.
During his presentation titled, “Going Beyond Cooking Skills to Develop a Strategy for Success for Your Club Kitchen” at the 2016 Chef to Chef Conference in San Diego, Robert Fasce, CEC, Executive Chef of Genesee Valley Club (Rochester, NY) stressed the importance of getting involved in the community. And it really resonated with me.
Getting involved in the community is an important thing to do not only as a chef but as a human. My wife, Billie, and I are involved with an organization called ResourcesUnite! (RU). RU seeks to strengthen the Dubuque community by creating connections. We help connect people to volunteer opportunities and resources that lead to a happier and more engaged way of life.
In the beginning, we found that individuals don’t always know of the services offered in our community. So we thought by creating a provider-generated online directory of resources, users would be able to find exactly what they’re looking for.
The directory started out on a whiteboard as we mapped all the community services that were available. We created a provider built and provider maintained directory unique in the social services field.
While the directory is a great tool, we quickly learned that it was not “the” tool. We learned that in order to connect people to one another in any given community, multiple tools need to be leveraged. RU spent hours brainstorming with the white board. As the weeks and months passed, we learned a lot from our community. Through a number of meetings with individuals, organizations, companies, and community leaders, it was clear that people wanted to connect. They wanted to get involved in our community, but generally, they didn’t know how.
Since its inception, RU has lead projects like collecting water to take to Flint, Michigan. What started out as a 1,000 cases of water goal turned into a 19,000 cases of water goal (over 350,000 bottles).
What I’ve been able to do as a chef is partner with RU to help create Chef’s Unite, a fundraiser/awareness dinner for the community. We have made it an annual event where we have been able to partner with a local restaurant and some of my friends in the industry to create an epic multi-course dinner. The first dinner we hosted was last fall. I was able to convince my friend and for culinary school classmate Erik Anderson (an alum of Noma, The French Laundry, and Nashville’s acclaimed Catbird Seat who was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2012) to headline the dinner.
I also organized a handful of Eastern Iowa chefs to help me create an amazing five-course meal.
It was a proud moment for me as we were able to use our talents as chefs to unite people and help them understand what RU is all about. We had another dinner in the Winter with just local chefs, and we have our next big event this October, which will include a James Beard nominated chef from Madison, some chefs from the Minneapolis area, an executive chef from the University of Iowa, and some local chefs (including myself).
Being in the business of relationships, and creating a community of passionate, likeminded people is something I feel is extremely important to foster, especially if we have the means to do so. Even in a private club setting, creating a better community is a genuine goal we should all share.
The dish that I created for the first dinner was a dish that embodied my personality as a chef. I braised some butternut squash tubes in pork jus. (If there is a way to insert pork into a dish, I will find it.) I also had shaved fennel, pickled grapes, granny smith apple, candied pumpkin seeds, and fried Brussels sprout chips. I created an apple cider vinaigrette with local apple cider, and infused cranberries with the apple juice into a gelee. The bright colors and tastes from my favorite season, Fall, are the highlights and focus of the dish. And I like to think in their own way, the help to nurture that community that is so important to us all.