Club kitchens should be constructed with a dual focus: meeting current food-and-beverage requirements while proactively anticipating and addressing future needs. For many clubs, this means expanding the back-of-house footprint, making room for enhanced banquet and pastry operations, garde manger and pizza programs while optimizing efficiency with new, modern equipment.
Executive Chef Michael Matarazzo, CEC, says Farmington’s Country Club’s membership helped push through plans for the Charlottesville, Va.-based club’s $10.5 million kitchen renovation project, which it completed in 2020.
“I was fortunate,” says Matarazzo. “When I [joined as Executive Chef], I was told that surveys were given out periodically to the membership for the past several years to ask them to prioritize their top capital projects for the next 10 years. And on all of those surveys, the majority voted for a new kitchen.”
He notes that not all memberships know the value of a well-designed, up-to-date back-of-house. Fortunately for Matarazzo, the renovation was a long time coming, and members were ready. Fortunately for the club, Matarazzo’s a reno pro; this was his fifth kitchen design project.
One of Matarazzo’s most effective strategies is to engage in mental visualization during the design process by immersing himself in the space.
“Follow the flow of everything you do in your operation and review it in your head repeatedly,” he says. “Once construction begins, after the crew goes home each day, physically walk through the space, keeping in mind where each piece of equipment will go, to catch any potential mistakes.”
Above all, Matarazzo says, clubs must ensure the chef is heavily involved throughout the design process.
“I was given complete autonomy to design this kitchen, and we now have the ideal kitchen for our operation,” he says. “I have seen other general managers or food-and-beverage directors dictating what is or isn’t needed in the kitchen. More times than not, you end up with a kitchen that doesn’t work for the chef who you hired to do the job.”
Making Space for Pastry
The primary goal of Farmington’s renovation was to expand the available space, with a particular focus on storage. The banquet kitchen underwent a remarkable transformation, increasing its size from 1,100 square feet to an expansive 7,000 square feet. Additionally, the renovation prioritized enhancing employee areas, such as break rooms and locker rooms, to ensure a comfortable and accommodating environment for the team.
Farmington’s original banquet kitchen had two ovens, six burners and one deep fryer, notes Matarazzo. Today, it features 12 burners, four deep-fryers, an indoor smoker, nine ovens, a char-griller, a flat-top grill, a salamander, a tilt skillet and a steam kettle.
“The combi ovens are invaluable to us,” he notes. “And we can’t live without the indoor smoker because we do a lot of barbecue. That’s a huge one for us. … We also installed a custom cooling well that cools our stocks and soups. It has its own dedicated ice machine that dumps directly into the unit.” This streamlined setup significantly enhances Farmington’s efficiency.
Farmington also added a dry-aging cabinet, allowing for the implementation of a “wildly popular” dry-aging program. “And our pasta extruder created a new featured section on one of our menus in our more upscale restaurant,” Matarazzo adds.
Among the most notable changes is the expansion of Farmington’s pastry program, with a shop that doubled in size since the renovation.
“We did have a dedicated shop [pre-renovation],” says Matarazzo, “but it was not independently temperature-controlled, so we were limited on our menus. … Adding that space and hiring [Executive Pastry Chef Mellisa Root] and her team has had a huge impact. It was an amenity-driven decision to make sure we have the highest-quality pastries in the country.”
Small in scale but big in impact is a 180-square-foot space dedicated to members with severe allergies. Matarazzo says he expects other family-friendly clubs to follow suit, given today’s allergen prevalence.
Down the line, Matarazzo also expects to see an increase in 100% electric kitchens.
“There are already counties and major cities around the country that have mandated all commercial kitchens switch to electric,” he says. “I think that’s something chefs are going to want to think about.”
Overall, Matarazzo says the newly designed back of house has been a “complete game-changer” for the operation in terms of functionality, flexibility and future growth.
“That’s the best part,” he says: “There’s space for us to add new toys.”