By cooking sous vide, club chefs can improve consistency, quality and speed of service throughout their operations.
Sous vide—the method of cooking that seals food in airtight plastic bags that are then placed in a water bath or temperature-controlled steam environment for long periods of time—is ubiquitous in fine-dining restaurants.
It has recently gained a foothold in club kitchens, too.
Chefs using sous vide can cook anything to the exact degree of doneness with little to no effort. Everything from chicken to carrots to pears can be prepared with the method.
“It makes it easy to cook precisely,” says Kevin Guffey, Executive Chef of Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club, who employs the technique to prepare things like chicken breasts, which he then uses in the club’s satellite kitchens. “Every couple of days, we sous vide a batch of chicken breasts in the main kitchen, then bring it down to a safe temperature, and use it as needed in our quick-service outlets.”
This works well for locations like Tulsa CC’s pool, for example, which sees a great deal of foot traffic, but doesn’t demand a highly skilled culinarian.
“We can staff [the pool and other satellite locations] with less-experienced cooks who are responsible for heating and serving,” Guffey explains. Food safety and consistency, he adds, are some of the biggest benefits that sous vide brings to Tulsa CC, which has about 750 members and does $2.3 million in annual F&B volume.
“We know the product has already been cooked through before it gets to the outlet, so it’s safe,” he notes. “We also know the quality is going to be consistent. And speed of service is also improved, because the chicken only needs to be warmed through.”
Guffey prepares sous vide chicken in one of two ways: garden herb, which is cooked with garlic, crushed red pepper, basil, oregano, thyme and olive oil; or Southwestern, which is cooked with garlic, cumin, cayenne, cilantro and canola oil.
“When we pull the chicken out of the bag, we use a panini press at the pool to get grill marks and a hard sear before we serve,” he says.
Chuck Mahoney, Executive Chef of Eagle Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., got into sous vide after watching a live cooking demo at a recent American Culinary Federation conference in Florida.
“When we finally had all the equipment we needed, we decided it would be cool to let members see behind the curtain as we learned how to use the immersion circulator,” says Mahoney, whose club has 500 members and does about $1 million in annual F&B.
“We started a Culinary Concepts series on the club’s YouTube channel, where we prepared different products sous vide,” Mahoney reports. “After each [dish] was finished cooking, we had our cooks as well as the GM taste it and give immediate feedback.”
The episodes generated a lot of buzz for Eagle Creek CC. And the new cooking tool has proved to be extremely popular with members, Mahoney says.
“You get less shrinkage when you use sous vide,” he notes. “Plus it takes all of the guesswork out of the process. As long as you follow time and temperature, it’s idiot-proof.”
What’s impressed him most about sous vide is how it works equally well for parties of 10 or 300.
“I’m a big fan of using lesser cuts of meat for sous vide,” says Mahoney. “For Thanksgiving, we used sous vide for pork loins stuffed with spinach and mission figs. They cooked overnight and the next day, they were incredible—juicy and flavorful. All we had to do was sear and serve.”
Mahoney has also experimented with using sous vide to prepare fruit.
“We do pears bagged with a late harvest vinegar, olive oil, nutmeg and cinnamon,” he says. “I use them on salads, then take the drippings and make a vinaigrette.”
At Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club (Nichols Hills, Okla.), Executive Chef Mark Brown uses sous vide as frequently as other cooking techniques. It’s become such a part of the routine, in fact, that he doesn’t feel the need to showcase it.
“We stand behind the quality, not the modernist trend,” says Brown, whose club does $5.2 million in annual F&B. “We are always looking at ways to be better and push the envelope, but the members don’t necessarily care how the food was cooked, so long as it tastes delicious.”
Oklahoma City G&CC also uses sous vide to take the guesswork out of cooking proteins.
“Line cooks are some of the hardest positions to fill,” says Brown. “This simplifies the process and speeds it up significantly, too. You can cut your order time for a chicken salad from twelve to five minutes. Plus, there’s better consistency.”
Brown shies away from using sous vide on smaller cuts of beef (he finds the texture to be off-putting), but he does use it for whole strip loins, ribeyes, and tenderloins, as well as short ribs, chicken breasts and even baby carrots. Like Mahoney at Eagle Crest CC, Brown prefers to use the method to elevate underutilized or tougher cuts of meat.
“We’ve been very careful about not only building a solid HACCP plan but implementing it and making sure everyone knows how to apply it,” says Brown. “So long as you pay attention to time and temperature, you can play around with different proteins to find really cool applications that will elevate quality and save you a ton of time during service.”