Executive Chef Cynthia Romstadt has achieved remarkable career growth, fueled by her ambition to become an executive chef before age 30, unwavering dedication to her craft, and guidance from a few prominent club culinarians.
Her first role after culinary school was at Cherokee Town and Country Club under J. Kevin Walker, CMC, AAC, where she spent two-and-a-half years. After Walker left, she found a role at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Country Club, where she was sous chef under Roger Anderhalden (now Executive Chef of The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Fla.) for five years.
When Anderhalden left Cedar Rapids to become Executive Chef of Colonial Country Club (Fort Worth, Texas), Romstadt took over as Executive Chef. She was 27.
Years later, she came full circle after some time outside the club world, joining Colonial CC as Executive Sous Chef. A year later, she was promoted to Executive Chef. Three months into the gig, she is face to face with a massive $100 million renovation that will significantly affect expectations for the food-and-beverage program during and post-renovation.
Club + Resort Chef (C+RC): Tell us about the renovation plans and the impact on F&B.
Cynthia Romstadt (CR): Our a la carte venues are currently maxed out, and our sales each year have increased 30% in each venue. This renovation will position us to finally meet member demand [by adding] two new restaurants, which will add around 30% more seats.
There will be a lot of new programming, too. There will be a dry-age room, a chef’s table bar, and a rooftop lounge. They’re erecting a brand-new building for the new restaurants, so we’re supposed to maintain full operations at our current clubhouse. We won’t have banquets for the entire summer because our ballroom is being renovated immediately. Because the golf course will be closed for a year, culinary is being called upon as the big draw for members.
The overall improvement in facilities and equipment can potentially improve food execution, menu enhancements and the staff we attract. This year is an extremely important planning year for us to reorganize our brigade, apply focus to our dining venues, and hone in on our vision for high-quality food sources.
C+RC: What was the transition to Executive Chef like for you?
CR: In some ways, I don’t feel like much has changed. I was already doing [many of the responsibilities of this role].
That said, I feel a greater responsibility to connect to the staff. I’m digging deep from a leadership standpoint to keep them engaged and motivated, while also helping everyone see the vision of the culinary program.
I have to manage personalities, time restraints and schedule preferences. It’s a lot more communication and a lot more being extroverted than I was as executive sous chef. Chefs love to cook. Developing these interpersonal relationships is more challenging.
C+RC: Is that something you’ve had good examples of from mentors?
CR: Chef Walker used to say, “I’m not the best chef, but I’ve hired the best chefs. They’re the ones who shine; I just bring them all together.” I look at it that way now, too. It’s about finding people with different or better skill sets than you and getting them under the same roof.
Roger [Anderhalden] and Martin [Meadows, Colonial CC’s Director of Culinary Operations] have set me up for great positions, and I’ve always inherited an amazing staff, which plays a major role in any chef’s success.
C+RC: You spent some time outside of clubs. What do you like about the club space versus other industries?
CR: I learned a lot in my two years at an independent restaurant, mostly about food ordering. I’ve always been spoiled by having a purchasing agent at a country club, and then I went to an independent restaurant, and I had to do all of my own orders for a restaurant that does $16,000 in a la carte sales a day. It was a quick wake-up call.
Coming back to the club world, the best part for me is that every day is completely different. You have the same membership, but you’re always doing a different event, and you’re always putting on a different club-hosted event. There’s always a theme involved, and it’s not the same restaurant menu every day. You have multiple restaurants, and they’re always changing and evolving.
C+RC: What does your club do really well from a culinary perspective?
CR: We offer an amazing amount of variety, and that’s only going to get better with the new venues. We strive to offer multiple experiences for the [1,500] members. We have areas for just kids or just teens, areas for ladies who want to have lunch. They can all feel like they have something personalized to them.
We strive to connect, to be face-to-face with the members. Member relationships are really high on my priority list.
C+RC: Do you have a particular culinary philosophy?
CR: Make simple things to the best of your ability. And know your audience.
You can write the fanciest menu in the entire world, but first, you have to be able to execute it. Second, you have to know the membership. This is their home. I have chefs that come in all the time who want to write a wild menu, and most of our members are happier with the classics.
C+RC: What are you most excited or anxious about for this first year?
CR: I’m most anxious about how we can keep the members engaged without golf or tennis during our renovations. It’s an exciting time to use the culinary department as the main attraction. We are fortunate as a department to have the support from our leadership and finances to fill gaps in our club calendar with member-engaging dining events. We have a unique advantage as an amenity because our food cost isn’t the main driver of all of our decisions.
I’m also so proud of where the staff is at right now. There’s been a lot of staff development, and I think that’s going to continue. I push the staff pretty hard as far as hands-on with training. I know chefs who, if there’s a special wine dinner menu, for example, they’ll just do it themselves because they don’t want to take the time to teach someone else. I’m the opposite. I’ll say, “I’m going to show you how to do this. If we mess it up, we do it again. You have to learn how to do this—and be the best at it.”
Not everyone has the same amount of passion that I do. But for those who want to learn, I’m really involved in making sure they’re learning and they’re engaged. How do I keep everyone on their toes and excited about coming to work every day?
C+RC: You’ve mentioned being a young chef. Has posed any challenges?
CR: I do get second-guessed, but not by my staff; they know what I’m capable of—my strength and my voice. There are times where members will say [things like], “You’re the executive chef … of this restaurant?” No, the whole club.
I had the goal of becoming an executive chef by age 30. I received the position for the first time at 27 years old, and it felt like my career was truly beginning. Being an executive chef isn’t a plateau for me but a catalyst for more growth and opportunity in my career and capabilities as a leader and a cook, as the resources are broader.
I do what I do because I have a passion for being a chef. … At the end of the day, it’s all about how we bring our strengths together for the betterment of the team.