Under the direction of Executive Chef Diane Allen-Baines, members and guests are provided with a comfortable and creative F&B experience that fits well with the relaxed nature of the golf club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., northeast of San Diego, was built around a strong golf reputation, with notable members including Annika Sorenstam, Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman, who led a course renovation in 2000.
For the past 22 years, under the direction of Executive Chef Diane Allen-Baines, The Farms has also provided members and guests with an inspired dining experience that fits well with the relaxed nature of this golf-only gem of a club. We appreciate Diane taking time to talk to us about what life is like at a small and intimate club where everyone knows everyone.
Current Position: Executive Chef, The Farms Golf Club, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. (1992-Present)
Q: Diane, you wear many hats besides Executive Chef. How does working in a smaller-volume F&B operation, where you and others have multiple duties, change the overall approach to managing your kitchen?
A: The Farms is a private golf club that is open six days a week for breakfast and lunch. We are also open at night on occasion, for social and golfing events for our members and guests. Being a smaller club means, of course, a smaller staff. I have only two full-time chefs, so we all do a bigger variety of jobs around the kitchen. We make our own stocks and sauces in-house, as well as all of our desserts.
We don’t have another shift of employees that comes in the afternoon to set up the functions for the evenings. In the culinary department, we create a visually stunning buffet with flowers, props and linens to match our flavorful offerings.
I also cover my chefs’ days off and enjoy being in the kitchen instead of my office. But sometimes it is hard to stay ahead of it all. We are always looking for on-call staff to help cover the evening functions.
Q: With no dinner service, lunch is the opportunity to showcase your team’s talent. How do you change up the menu regularly?
A: The lunch menu at The Farms has four different specials daily. All but one change every other day. This gives us an opportunity to incorporate any item from a function into a special, to help on our food cost.
We come up with some pretty creative specials to accomplish this. Examples have included: a Crispy Curry Chicken Wrap with basmati rice, spinach and yogurt pomegranate sauce; a Sumac Spiced Lamb Skewer flatbread sandwich, with white bean hummus; a Salad Sampler Plate with watermelon, mango, papaya, and tequila lime vinaigrette; Israeli Couscous tabbouleh; Skirt Steak Bloomsdale spinach salad, with cilantro lime dressing (very popular with the women golfers); and Lamb Madeira with goat cheese, penne pasta, shiitake mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes (a delicious way to use leftover lamb leg or chops).
Also, during the summer we are open for dinner on Friday nights. Each week we promote our culinary talents with different thematic cuisines and dishes. We have had Italian nights, for both Northern and Southern cuisines; Asian and Thai nights; and a theme dedicated to all California-sourced produce, cheeses and seafood.
This year, I am also implementing more cooking classes. The members enjoy them, and it gives the culinary staff an opportunity to connect with them and share our favorite recipes.
Q: Diane, I believe that having a variety of soups is essential for a number of reasons: sound cost controls, member satisfaction and raising check averages. You have a solid reputation for soup at The Farms. Can you explain how you’ve built its popularity over the years?
A: We sell more soup than any other item on our menu. We always have two soups daily, changing one every day. This always gives our chefs the opportunity to utilize product and generate revenue on a cost-effective item on our menu. Rarely is anything ever wasted between soups, specials, and feeding 50 staff members a day. Once we even turned a peanut-butter pumpkin pie that wasn’t selling into a soup!
The soup schedule is not set; we have a large repertoire, many being ethnic soups. Varieties of soups that we’ve offered include Ecuadorian potato, corn and avocado; Lamb Vindaloo; Tamale; Olla Podrida; Albondigas; Mulligatawny; Curried Chickpea Stew; Osso Bucco Risotto; Tom Kha Gai; Hot Sour Shrimp; Sopa Azteca; Chicken Khao Sai and Pork Tomatillo (see recipe, opposite page). We also sell a lot of soup to go; many of our members often bring soup home to their wives, winning some points with them after spending half their day on the golf course!
Q: Overall, it’s clear that your membership is very open to trying new flavors and foods. Tell us how you got the “taco of the week” going, and which have been the most popular.
A: We’re very fortunate that many members like to try our specials and enjoy the variety of cuisines and flavors that we offer. We had a burger of the week as one of our specials, but that had really run its course. Mexican specials are by far the most popular, and my staff came up with “taco of the week” and it was a brilliant idea. We were able to take advantage of our southern California locale and find wonderful, authentic ingredients. The women golfers love it because it gives them a smaller-portion option, with one or two tacos.
The most popular have been the fish (cod), carne asada (skirt steak) and carnitas tacos. I have a Mexican chef who has added his expertise to the menu, with great salsas that the members now request.
Q: I met someone who said he’d been to The Farms and had “incredible” pancakes there before playing golf. What makes them better than most?
A: When I first came to the club, I held a taste-testing of three different pancakes for all the staff to try. One was completely from scratch, one was an add-water mix and the last was in the middle, with a dry mix but adding eggs and buttermilk to it. The latter has been the favorite for over 20 years. I have members who order them for dessert!
Q: Chef, your buffet setups and little enhancements look awesome. Do you see things when you’re out and about to add to the collection?
A: I am always looking for ways to improve the presentation of our food. I use a lot of seasonal decorations, from pumpkins, squash and gourds in the fall to a miniature shoe collection for Mother’s Day. I also decorate the tables like a garden for Mother’s Day, using moss, pavers and watering cans filled with fresh flowers. We receive so many compliments on our Easter and Mother’s Day brunches, which are our biggest social events of the year. A member once told me he rarely ever golfed anymore—but he remained a member just to come to the brunches at The Farms Golf Club.