Executive Chef Joseph Comunale and his team at Inwood CC balanced safety and style to score a culinary success at the sold-out tournament.
The member-guest tournament is one of a club’s prime opportunities to show off its fine-tuned hospitality skills. Members pair up on the course with a guest for some friendly competition and the chance to show off their home away from home. And while golf may be the focus of the event, the food truly ties the day together.
But how does a club plan a safe, socially distanced event while encouraging a sense a community?
In mid-July, just 20 miles outside of Manhattan, Executive Chef Joseph Comunale and the management team of Inwood (N.Y.) Country Club pulled off just that. The club’s member-guest event was sold out, with 88 socially distanced participants, and successfully wrapped up moments before a thunderstorm rolled across the island. And the winners included a culinary team that provided memorable food while working under some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in the country.
No Skimping on the Menu
Inwood CC’s member-guest tournament included three meal occasions, snacks for the course, and a full range of beverages, all served in compliance with state laws.
During breakfast, staff-managed buffet stations included made-to-order omelets as well as Belgian waffles. There were also mimosa and Bloody Mary stations, designed similarly, with attendants and a variety of accoutrements.
For lunch, members and guests returned to the terrace for an upscale barbeque.
“We set up two barbeque-themed action stations with the same exact menu, to cut down lines,” says Comunale. “We also always had someone directing the members on where to go, so everyone was on the same page and there were no large gatherings.”
The barbecue stations featured New York prime strip steaks, hot dogs, salmon, snapper, a range of skewers, and homemade brisket-blend burgers. Comunale also prepared a range of vegetarian options. Homemade sides and a series of fresh snacks, such as spiced nuts, were elegantly served in individual containers as well.
“By the end of the tournament, we wanted to focus the menu on comfort food,” says Comunale. That meant including chicken wings tossed in hot sauce, as well as a variety of pizzas and homemade pies.
Before any of the food could be prepared, however, an extensive amount of planning had to go into how it would be made and served.
“Our biggest challenge was making sure everyone on our team was prepared and organized,” says Comunale. “We held a lot of meetings to go over all the details and then communicate our plans to the staff. We left tons of time to talk through the process and answer any questions.”
Inwood CC started with the basics: All staff must wear gloves and masks and remain six feet apart. Food displays and steps of service would encourage social distancing. Dishes would be plated a la minute instead of served on buffets. Whenever possible, components, condiments and sides would be pre-portioned and sealed for safety.
“At the beginning of the process, we focused on the menu and service,” says Comunale. “With a member-guest, everything has to be beautiful and elegant. It has to impress. But with COVID, the process had to be even more detailed.”
Eye-catching action stations were staffed by the club’s culinary team, which allowed members and guests to personalize their plates while interacting with the staff, one-to-one. During larger meals, separate action stations allowed members to queue up with plenty of space and speed.
There’s no question it was a lot of work, says Comunale, but it was all worth the effort. Members were proud of their culinary team and of the extra mile they went to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance.
An Added Challenge
Pulling off a member-guest amid a global pandemic would have been hard enough in a familiar setting. But Comunale only started as the club’s Executive Chef in February. And right when the season was set to begin, dining shut down.
While Comunale didn’t have the runway to earn the trust of his new membership in the traditional fashion, he dove headfirst into creating memorable to-go meals during the lockdown. He also initiated a hugely successful grocery program.
And as a result of those efforts, along with the seamless success of the member-guest event, he quickly earned the confidence of Inwood’s membership—as evidenced by how reservations for the club’s outdoor dining service have now been filling up three weeks in advance.