The evolution of outdoor events has meant rethinking—and dreaming up—all that open-air gatherings can now be.
As regulations for events and gatherings continue to evolve, club and resort chefs and managers continue to turn more to the outdoors for appropriate solutions. As a result, clubs and resorts are rethinking existing spaces—and, more importantly, reimagining what’s possible.
“It’s amazing how much a fresh background or view from a different location can impact one’s perspective,” says Wes Tyler, Executive Chef of The Club at Carlton Woods (The Woodlands, Texas). “It’s all about thinking outside the box and using available space to your advantage.”
Matthew Aquino, Executive Sous Chef of BallenIsles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has also seen a continued rise in demand for outdoor spaces. “After the onset of the pandemic, BallenIsles’ outdoor patios delivered the ambiance and square footage required to accommodate safe social distancing, while COVID-imposed restrictions were in place,” he says.
That meant everything from evenings accompanied by live music, where members could unwind in comfortable, soft seating overlooking BallenIsles’ East golf course, to a New Year’s Eve fireworks show and a luau with flamethrowers and Hawaiian dancers.
“The patio venues have quickly become members’ favorite locations for dining and socializing—so much so that the outdoor patio locations have been integrated as permanent additions to the club’s social calendar,” says Aquino. “One of the exciting events we have planned for this year is an outdoor wine-and-food pairing, combined with a drive, putt and chip competition on our driving range.”
Tyler is also busy retooling the way he approaches and delivers on outdoor events at Carlton Woods.
“Whether it’s interactive action stations, plated dinners or identifying new dining locations, everything is on the table as we expand and rework our traditional views in order to stay relevant and cutting-edge,” he says. “The bottom line? We want to offer a big show and engage with members as they join us on a culinary adventure.”
Over the past year, outdoor gatherings have become a means for communal and family-style feasts at other properties.
“Our favorite event this year was ‘Feast in the Fairway,’” says Colin Moody, Executive Chef of The Club at Pasadera in Monterey, Calif. “We put a 60-foot-long, harvest-style table on the first fairway, invited local wineries, did some action-station grilling of Monterey abalone, passed out caviar-filled crepes and champagne, and then served an amazing five-course meal.”
Moody also oversaw a recent Brazilian-inspired churrascaria experience, which involved dropping fun South American appetizers on tables and having waiters or chefs walk around, using swords to carve spit-roasted meats.
Aquino, meanwhile, is working on family-style dinners, among them hot pots, that serve the entire table.
Comfort foods are also trending. As such, Aquino will turn to classics like chicken and dumplings, pot roast and pot pies this fall and winter, stretching the outside season as long as possible.
As for ever-popular, always-evolving action stations, Tyler says members remain fans, and his kitchen staff likes them, too.
“In the past few months, I have done a couple of plated dinners for 400-plus people, and several more stationed events for 200-plus guests,” he says, recalling gatherings with tacos al pastor prepared on a vertical broiler and paella Valenciana, cooked over an open campfire. “The stationed events typically go more smoothly and are more attention-grabbing.”
The added logistical challenges to outdoor events, Tyler admits, can be “trying at times.” Weather—and the need for an alternate rain plan—is the most obvious potential monkey wrench for an otherwise perfectly planned, open-air celebration.
“Here in South Florida, the rainy weather and hot summer days can change in a moment,” Aquino notes. “So we have invested in additional furnishings, lighting, umbrellas, tenting and misting fans, to enhance the ambiance and functionality of our outdoor spaces.”
Keeping food hot is also a key to successful outdoor entertaining, Tyler says. To help make sure his team is properly prepared, he says, “We ask ourselves [questions such as] ‘How can we keep the food warm and fresh for service?’; ‘Are we going to cook in the kitchen and transport, or cook on site?’; and ‘Where do we store backup food and supplies?’”