After a major kitchen renovation, Executive Chef Stephen Pribish and his team implemented a series of ambitious culinary initiatives at Overbrook Golf Club.
A couple of millennia ago, Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “The only constant is change.”
The turbulence of the past year certainly buttresses ol’ Heraclitus’s argument, but for those who willfully embrace his constant, 2021 gave way to a spirit of reinvention.
Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova, Pa. provides a brilliant example.
Overbrook’s Executive Chef Stephen Pribish and General Manager Jimmy Bartorillo spent the past year actively seeking ways to improve the club’s culinary program. First, they completed a major kitchen renovation. They followed that with the implementation of new bread and pasta programs. Most recently, they launched a pitmaster and smoking program.
“Our new state-of-the-art kitchen opened doors for us that were previously brick walls,” says Pribish. “We now have the tools and the team in place to enhance, expand and fine-tune everything we do here—and we plan to make the most of this opportunity.”
Adapt or Die
Pribish has been with Overbrook for nearly twenty years. Bartorillo has been with the club for twenty-eight. For some tenured managers, it can be tempting to cling to programs that aren’t necessarily broken, even if they aren’t very exciting.
But neither of these men nor the people on their team, see value in upholding the status quo.
“Our team is our biggest strength,” says Bartorillo. “Together we’re unstoppable in our desire to evolve and serve the membership.”
After nearly 20 years without any major change, Overbrook’s kitchen was in need of updates. Because of where the kitchen lives inside the clubhouse, the footprint is unalterable. Planning, streamlining and being very particular about needs and wants was critical if the membership was going to approve the $1 million renovation plan.
“We were able to show the impact that new equipment and a more-efficient design would have on the program,” says Pribish. (Many of the ideas, and choices of equipment that he campaigned for, he adds, came directly from the education and experiences he’s gained by attending more than ten Chef to Chef Conferences.)
“It was challenging designing a kitchen through virtual meetings,” Pribish says of the additional curveballs posed by the pandemic. “I’m a visual and hands-on person. I like to kick the tires, so to speak.”
To make the most of the opportunity, he poured through his Conference notes, crafted programs he knew he wanted to bring in, and worked with a kitchen designer to find a way to make the footprint work.
Overbrook purchased ranges, a pasta cooker, combi ovens and a pasta-making machine. Some ducting and venting work also had to be done, and the line was widened from a 12- to 24-inch depth. New heat lamps were added, and the flow was opened up.
“We don’t have a huge staff in the kitchen, so everything has to be within arm’s reach and thoughtfully placed,” says Pribish. “For example, take the grill and the pasta stations. There is a flattop between the two that serves as a buffer and as a tool for both cooks. There is also a salamander above [the line] that both cooks can use without getting in each other’s way.”
The renovation began in January and was complete by March. (While the kitchen was closed, the staff ran foodservice out of the pool kitchen.)
One of the first programs Pribish was eager to activate was an in-house bread program.
“Up to this point, we worked with suppliers to source really great products,” he says. “But there’s something special about that fresh-baked, homemade roll that I wanted to give to our membership.
“I knew it would be challenging to start making our own breads—but I’m an all-in kind of person,” he adds. “Plus, our members deserve it.”
Overbrook no longer has a dedicated pastry chef, so the club relies on its AM and PM cooks to rotate through the bread station. Two cooks, in particular, have really stepped up and taken ownership over the prep and production.
“There’s a sense of pride in this program,” says Pribish, noting that a small pastry section has been set up in the kitchen where breads are prepped and baked daily. “It’s helping the team tap into their creative side. The foundation is set. I can’t wait to see where this team takes it.”
Overbrook’s pasta program is equally impressive, albeit a bit newer.
“When we were at the Chef to Chef Conference in Seattle, we ate at this one restaurant where they served us a veal ravioli,” says Pribish. “That ravioli has stuck with me ever since, and inspired this whole program.”
The team set to work developing the dough and technique and advanced to creating new and seasonal sauces. Now pasta is one of the top sellers on Overbrook’s fall menu.
“More impressive than the introduction of these two programs is how Chef is able to teach his team new techniques as a result of them,” says Bartorillo. “Not only are the members getting a specialty dish, but the staff is developing as culinarians in the process.”
Where There’s Smoke…
As part of the renovation, Overbrook budgeted for a brand-new smoker.
“We couldn’t expand the footprint of the kitchen, but there’s no reason we can’t expand the kitchen beyond the walls of the building,” says Pribish.
Pribish invited the smoker’s manufacturer to the club for a two-day immersion for himself and his cooks, to learn the ins and outs of the equipment and get a hands-on learning experience for himself and his team.
“It just goes to show how Chef is able to think outside the box—or kitchen, in this case—to bring a new, novel element into the program,” says Bartorillo, who has been working alongside Pribish for nearly his whole career. “He is the most passionate person I know. He’s also the most loving and caring person I know. I’ve never heard him say no. He wants to make people happy, and his passion drives everything we do.”
In the not-so-distant future, Overbrook plans to update its dining rooms, members’ bar and casual-dining areas. Those updates are expected to roll out in the beginning of 2023.
Until then, Pribish and his team will keep their foot on the gas.
“You only live once,” says Pribish, who admits that he “lives by” slogans. “But if we do it right, once will be more than enough.”