As New Orleans CC takes its food-and-beverage program in an exciting new culinary direction, General Manager Bobby Crifasi shares how the tradition-rich club always works hard to better itself.
New Orleans is one of the best food towns in the country. It has a regional cuisine that reflects the city’s Cajun, Creole, and French roots. In the Crescent City, dishes like muffaletta, po’boys, and gumbo are legendary.
The best version of one of “The Big Easy”’s classic dishes—turtle soup—can be found at the 102-year-old New Orleans Country Club (NOCC), which does over $3.5 million in annual F&B.
“Every club has ‘sacred cows’ on the menu,” says Bobby Crifasi, NOCC’s General Manger. “Our turtle soup is ours and it’s widely known as the best in town.”
Crifasi, who has been with NOCC since 1988, has been instrumental in leading the club, which has nearly 1,500 members, through some of its most challenging times—most notably after its property and facilities were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina (“Restoring the Roots,” C&RB, December 2008). Together with Executive Chef Stewart Redhead, who came to the club in October of 2015, NOCC is entering an exciting new food-and-beverage era.
C2C: In 2014, NOCC completed an $11 million renovation. What parts of the project were related to F&B?
BC: We completely redesigned our a la carte kitchen, added a new Garden Room and Oak Bar, and downsized our Oak Room. We also added a Sunfish Café, which services the members at the pool complex, and a wine room for private wine dinners.
C2C: How much of the $11 million was spent on the a la carte kitchen?
BC: In total, we spent approximately $1 million on kitchen improvements and $500,000 in new kitchen-equipment purchases. We needed the kitchen to be more efficient. So we expanded the main line and added more prep area. We also added a pastry room.
C2C: How has the renovation affected the style of dining at NOCC?
BC: It has helped us move toward more casual experiences and more flexible dining spaces. During the renovation, we downsized our Oak Room from 150 seats to 90, and added a Garden Room with a NanaWall right behind the 18th green. It seats 60, but we can open up the walls if the weather is nice, to expand our seating further. Plus, we hired a new chef—Stewart Redhead—late last year. He has taken our food and elevated it in awesome ways.
C2C: When did Chef Redhead come on board?
BC: October 1st, 2015.
C2C: What are some of the characteristics you were looking for in a new chef?
BC: We want a strong leader who is hands-on. We want someone with a great palate, and an understanding of the club market. Because we’re such a large operation, we need a chef who is well-organized and knows how to hire the right people to build a strong, capable team. We also want someone who is fiscally savvy.
C2C: And you found all of that in Chef Redhead?
BC: All that and more. He has an awesome palate. The food is drastically better and still very regional. He has a great taste for seafood. He loves cooking wild game, too, which is big here. He uses tons of local products and so many of our dishes are inspired by what’s available from within our community.
He’s a good leader, too, and he’s well organized. Something I personally love about him is that he’s very good with numbers. He runs a tight food cost and limits waste.
C2C: Out of the box, he was able to save the club $20,000 on employee meals. How did he do that?
BC: He uses our employee meals to take advantage of ingredients that might otherwise go to waste. He’s a very smart and clever chef, so the meals he comes up with are outstanding. Our staff is thrilled. And since happy employees make happy members, we’re thrilled, too, with what he’s been able to do in such a short time.
C2C: What’s your food cost?
BC: We run between 42 and 43 percent.
C2C: How did you help Chef Redhead to hit the ground running?
BC: We kept—and keep—the lines of communication open. I helped him to learn about our history and traditions. We talked about how we can drive excellence and consistency in F&B. We talked about leadership. We set out goals we wanted to achieve together, and went from there.
C2C: What were some of those goals?
BC: We wanted him to eventually revamp the menu and bring in more specialty and local dishes. We wanted him to price the menus in both a la carte and banquet, to see if we could reduce waste. We wanted him out in the dining room, talking with members and getting immediate feedback, too.
C2C: How did putting him in the front of the house help him acclimate to the club?
BC: It helped him get to know the members much faster than if he stayed in the back of the house. By being on the floor, he was able to get immediate and honest feedback to see what members liked and where they thought we were lacking. He was also able to put a culinary face on the operation.
C2C: How did the members react to their new chef?
BC: Our members love him. He’s very approachable and kind. He’s local, so they’re comfortable with him and they trust he knows how to cook, because he’s proven his skill. And when he’s out on the floor, it makes the meal more personalized. He is able to find out immediately if something isn’t working and why. Then he fixes it. The members appreciate that he’s making time for them and that they’re being heard.
C2C: As a manager, what were some of his first tasks and how did you support him?
BC: He had to make some key hires in the beginning. I gave him a lot of leeway to do that since he has to build his team. Once he narrowed the candidates, though, he asked me for my thoughts. I would have been fine with him making the hires entirely on his own, but he values my opinion and he likes having me as a sounding board. I welcome that.
C2C: What do you like most about Chef Redhead?
BC: He’s easy to work with and he loves to collaborate. He’s knows the tradition and culture of our club. And he knows that we’re slower to change. We’re a 102-year-old club. We have to be smart and move slowly. He’s very good about understanding that. I really like his demeanor, too. He’s very steady.
C2C: What’s next for F&B at NOCC?
BC: We’re going to continue to improve and make sure that the food is terrific. New Orleans is a tough town. Our competition is through the roof. We’ve been able to keep speed with that. We’ve got to continue to get better, though. We’re busy, but we can always be busier. I see us getting better at banquets and expanding and fine-tuning our a la carte operation.
C2C: If you could give club chefs one piece of advice, what would it be?
BC: Build your team. Be the leader. It’s the most important thing you do. You have to set the example because your team will watch what you do 24/7. You must lead by example.