While interest in plant-based options falls on a spectrum, today’s members and guests are often open to meat alternatives, and it’s up to club chefs to stay ahead of the curve.
Scott Craig, CEC, CCA, WCMC, Executive Chef of Cullasaja Club (Highlands, N.C.), believes interest in plant-based options is “absolutely” growing. In his prior role as Executive Chef of Myers Park Country Club (Charlotte, N.C.), Craig and his team offered members an entirely vegetarian a la carte menu. He’s brought many of these philosophies and recipes to Cullasaja.
“Folks who aren’t vegetarian are trying the vegetarian options,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s become more readily available because of demand or if more people are interested because it’s more readily available, but either way, there are more products on the market now for chefs to work with.”
By making plant-based foods recognizable and accessible, club chefs can capture even the most apprehensive members.
“If I’m talking to a table I know doesn’t trend in that direction, I’ll say, ‘We’ve got this awesome plant-based burger that is so good, I can’t even tell that it’s not meat,” says Craig. “The only difference is I don’t have to nap after I eat it.’”
People and Planet
Members of Bonnie Briar Country Club (Larchmont, N.Y.) are “always willing to try new things,” says Catherine DiQuinzio, the club’s Chef De Cuisine. She considers it a club’s obligation to have as many options as possible on and off the menu.
“If someone wants vegan, vegetarian or a gluten-free item, our menu offers it,” she says. “Even if it’s not on the menu, if we have it and aren’t busy, then we make it.”
DiQuinzio’s interest in plant-based foods stems partly from her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Now, she says, she’s eager to learn about foods that could act as a natural remedy.
At Bonnie Briar, a community-supported agriculture program supplies the club with weekly fresh produce. The program has exposed the club’s culinary team to new, plant-based alternatives, like lion’s mane mushrooms, which pull apart in a way that mimics lobster or crab meat.
“[Our expeditor] bought some, cut them up, threw some seasoning together, and fried them for us,” says DiQuinzio. “It was delicious.”
At The Residence Club at Ocean Reef in Key Largo, Fla., demand for plant-based alternatives is mixed.
“Some people are super excited about [plant-based foods] and love that it’s always evolving and changing—and some are just carnivores,” says Executive Chef Andrea Mallon-Griffith. “That’s what they want and what they like. And they have no interest in changing. As chefs, we have to find the balance within our menus.”
While neither ‘vegan’ nor ‘vegetarian’ equate to ‘healthy,’ there are benefits to eating a more plant-forward or plant-based diet.
Mallon-Griffith says she’s been on a personal journey to eat healthier, and plant-based foods play a significant role. She’s also currently working on earning a nutrition certification to better help those she serves.
Her goal is to learn enough to help guide members and guests. “Most of the people at Ocean Reef are older,” she says, “and a lot of them have issues with their health—arthritis, diabetes, certain types of cancers. I aim to connect with them more and at least help steer them toward options supporting their wellness goals.”
At the 2023 Chef to Chef Conference in Miami, Mallon-Griffith will present the science behind plant-based, clean and organic eating. She’ll also demo dishes centered around fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables.
Think Outside the Box
“Look at what’s local, seasonal and available, and think of different ways to introduce complementary and contrasting textures, flavors and temperatures,” says Cullasaja’s Craig. “Always be mindful of protein. [With plant-based foods], you have to get a little more cerebral.”
At Cullasaja, bang bang cauliflower with pickled vegetables and soy reduction is especially popular, as is the quinoa-stuffed avocado with black bean purée, cilantro crema, toasted walnuts, baby greens and cilantro-lime vinaigrette (see photo, below).
The menu also features a weekly rotating vegetarian grain bowl; among them, the soy-glazed tofu with fried rice, pickled vegetables, bok choy and toasted peanuts and the maple-glazed tofu with fall vegetable-grain medley, butternut squash purée and herb salad both sold well.
“I did a cauliflower parmesan
recently,” Craig says, “where we took a cauliflower head, sliced it down the middle, and then blanched it, breaded it, deep-fried it and stuffed it with
mozzarella and parmesan. We air-baked it and served that with pasta and vegetables. The member sent it back because she thought it was chicken.”
Today, he says, there’s a home for all forms and flavors of plant-based cuisine.
“Our members love country fried steak,” says Craig. “But what they love about the dish isn’t necessarily the protein; it might be the nostalgia or comfort. When we engage with our members and have conversations to understand the reasons behind their preferences, we can create vegetarian dishes that are more successful.”
Chefs must communicate with and understand members, then flex their creative muscles.
“That’s one of the most valuable things about vegetarian cuisine,” says Craig. “Success requires thinking outside the box.”