The great Bobby Jones once said, “I could take out of my life everything but my experiences at St. Andrews, and I would still have a rich and full life.”
Jones, of course, was referring primarily to the golf experience at the legendary course in Scotland, where the game began (and which made 18 holes the standard around the world, after the Old Course was reduced from its original 22).
But over the years, as more and more devotees of the game have made the pilgrimage to St. Andrews’ hallowed grounds, the St. Andrews Links Trust—the charitable organization that manages the property’s seven golf courses and three clubhouses—has recognized the importance of ensuring unique and top-shelf experiences in all aspects of its activities.
An important part of this, of course, is the food and beverage operation, headed for the past 12 years by Executive Chef Richard Brackenbury. During that period, Brackenbury has helped the club host three British Open Championships, and he is already preparing for a fourth, to be held in 2010.
|Richard Brackenbury, Executive Chef at St. Andrews Links, offers two of many signature dishes at St. Andrews: beef suet pudding (top left) and haddock leek tart (top right) Click each item for recipe|
After years of learning the trade at country house hotels and the Savoy Hotel in London, and then by running his own chefs’ agency, Richard has found a home at St. Andrews. Recent kitchen makeovers and upgrades have kept him especially busy, on top of the usual demands of overseeing F&B operations at the St. Andrews clubhouses and dining rooms.
It was a pleasure to have Richard take time out of his busy schedule, to share with C&RB what it’s like to direct F&B “across the pond” at one of golf’s greatest and most famous venues.
Q Chef, you and I first met at the Club Chef’s Institute at The Greenbrier. I am dying to know, after all that you absorbed there: What do you see as the main differences between club operations in the U.K., versus the U.S.?
A I would say that the main difference between our operations here in St. Andrews and what I understand to be the primary type of club operation in the U.S. is that we are not a private club; all seven of our courses are open to the public. For us, this means we have a massive range of visitors from all over the world in the summer. So we try to tailor our menus to this.
Q With so many golfers coming from around the world to get a tee time, what are some special items you prepare, to help make their total experience even more memorable?
A We understand that golfers have come a long way to play at St. Andrews, and we know that for most people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So from a food point of view, we try at all times to have local, traditionally made food, on top of the usual golfers’ fare. This, of course, includes haggis, which is always a huge topic of conversation, especially for Americans. Then in the winter, most of our business is local, which has its own challenges. (Editor’s Note: See box at right for how to get recipes for other signature dishes served at St. Andrews.)
Q Chef, with the St. Andrews Links Trust overseen by two bodies [the Trustees and the Links Management Committee], and with all surpluses needing to be directed back to maintaining and developing the courses and facilities, how does this affect the F&B operation?
A I have an excellent relationship with both the trustees and management. I have a free reign in all aspects of menu planning and kitchen operations.
Q You have recently designed the new kitchen at the Links Clubhouse and are getting ready to do the same at the new Castle Course. How much fun has that been?
|The kitchen at St. Andrews Links Clubhouse was recently redesigned, leaving room for future expansion.|
A The new kitchen at the Links Clubhouse was a great challenge, but also a lot of fun. However, working within the same operation for all these years, the design was made easier for myself, as we could tailor the facilities specifically to our needs. Plus, I designed the kitchen with future expansion of F&B in mind.
Q Richard, you’ve been in your position for twelve years. How do you challenge yourself to make every year new and fresh?
A I have an amazing staff of people who work hard for me. We spend a lot of time training and putting our younger chefs through their qualifications. We try every year to move on and find new dishes and innovative ways to challenge our people. The diversity of different events and functions that we have every year also keeps us on our toes.
Q Many of your seasonal workers come from nearby St. Andrews University, and your year-round team of chefs has been intact for quite some time. Besides having really smart porters, what is it that makes working at St. Andrews truly special for them?
A I think for our year-round team, they enjoy it because, like a lot of clubs in the U.S., we have our busy season—but then in the winter, they can have five months of quiet season during which the team gets every night off, as we close at 4 PM every day. Plus, I think the boys really do get on well with each other. I also feel that the Trust is a very good employer that is always looking to move standards to another level. And it is very passionate, as I am, about staff training and development.
|The 17th at St. Andrews Links—just two left to play before heading in for Chef Brackenbury’s treats.|
Q Being a chef at such a high-profile golf venue, you get to meet all kinds of interesting people. When you look back at your dozen years at St. Andrews, who or what stands out most?
A I think for me, the thing that stands out the most was doing The [British] Open in 2005—which was when Jack Nicklaus played at St. Andrews for the last time. We held a farewell dinner for him at the Links Clubhouse, and he was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He came into the kitchen at the end of the night and thanked the staff personally, and was the last person to leave the building. C