C&RB’s Second Annual Chef to Chef Conference offered the right mix of mingling, management messages and master chef show-and-tell.
The Second Annual Club & Resort Business Chef to Chef Conference, held March 7-9 at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Fla., offered presentations by expert speakers who, as one participant noted, “were all very informative, inspirational, and energetic—and they have re-energized me to look forward to my new challenges!”
Energy and expertise were in plentiful supply throughout the two-day conference. While access to the full content of the presentations is restricted to Conference participants, highlights from the sessions are provided in this report.
(And if you weren’t able to get to Palm Beach, make sure you’ll get the full benefit of the program next year—watch for details on when and where it will be held, to come soon at www.CheftoChefConference.com)
The 2010 Chef to Chef Conference kicked off with a keynote presentation by Walter Scheib, author of White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen. Prior to directing the White House kitchen during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Scheib was Executive Chef at The Greenbrier resort and at the Boca Raton (Fla.) Resort and Club. The anecdotes and experiences that Scheib shared with his audience showed that while paying sharp attention to the idiosyncrasies of diners is the key to a chef’s success in any setting, it’s especially critical in the intimate surroundings of a private club or upscale resort—or when serving the First Families.
In his presentation on “Leadership Lessons From a Chef,” Charles Carroll, Executive Chef of Houston’s River Oaks Country Club and author of a book with the same title as the session topic (and with the subtitle, “Finding Time to be Great”), dazzled the audience with his culinary version of motivational speaking. Carroll offered tips for effective techniques that can show staff members how you genuinely care about their needs, both professional and personal. He also provided valuable insights for clearly communicating expectations to each employee at all levels.
Conference participants were then provided with fresh insights into the growing role and importance of F&B operations as key contributors to the success of club and resort properties, as William P. McMahon, Sr., Chairman of McMahon Group, Inc. in St. Louis, presented results of a new survey that his firm has conducted on Private Club Dining. The new data presented by McMahon made a clear case for why dining can now be considered the most important offering in clubs—even for those with golf—because of how it provides the best social connectivity among members and, when properly offered, has the best potential to touch all ages and user groups. “Dining is the one thing we all do together,” McMahon told Conference participants. He went on to emphasize the importance of acquiring, and using, solid statistical data, both for aggregate industry trends and for the preferences of the customers being served at a specific property, to serve as an important guide to delivering not only better member satisfaction, but also improved financial performance.
The Conference agenda then shifted to an entertaining and spellbinding demonstration by Vincent Horville, Executive Chef of The Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C., as part of his presentation, “New Spins on Old Classics.” Chef Horville (who immediately won over the crowd when he insisted that despite his French accent, he was from Mobile, Ala.) showed numerous ways to excite a private club audience with out-of-the-box ideas, not only from a recipe standpoint, but also through extremely innovative presentation methods. As demonstrated by Chef Horville, it also became clear that trying to find new and innovative approaches for even the most routine food requirements can be contagious and serve as a valuable way to motivate a staff that may be stuck in a rut.
Chef Horville was followed by another presentation that included an instructive live demonstration. In his session on “Good Food + Proper Nutrition = Healthful (and Profitable) Dining,” Patrick Wilson, Executive Chef and House Manager at The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings on Hudson, N.Y., first presented compelling evidence, drawn from his own experience, of how today’s more health-conscious dining environment makes it possible to serve half-sizes of portions at three-fourths of the price—and be thanked for it. Wilson also showed the value—both for diners’ satisfaction levels and bottom-line savings for the kitchen—of using the freshest ingredients and emphasizing cross-training in smaller operations.
The first afternoon of the Conference was devoted to a “live” session of C&RB’s popular Chef to Chef magazine interview feature. Jerry Schreck, C&RB contributor and Executive Chef of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., moderated the session, with a panel of presenters responding to questions relating to day-to-day operations and challenges faced by all club and resort chefs. The panelists’ thoughts prompted many questions, comments and interactions with the audience on each topic.
To start the Conference’s second day, Kevin Cottle, Executive Chef of The Country Club of Farmington (Conn.), and Matt Murphy, a former club Executive Chef who is now Clubhouse Manager of the prestigious Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., presented different perspectives on “The Chef’s Expanded Role. ” Cottle, a recent finalist on “Hell’s Kitchen,” related how the value of being in the spotlight has helped him learn how to bring new and better ideas to his membership. For those who aspire to advance their careers beyond the kitchen, Murphy provided a clear roadmap for the plans and steps that should be taken and made. Making the jump from F&B-specific responsibilities to general management duties, Murphy stressed, requires close attention to, and development in, four key areas: certifications and continuing education; honing personal presentation and interviewing skills; becoming adept with financial information, and fully exploiting all available networking opportunities and relationships.
The Conference session on Kitchen Equipment and Design was presented jointly by Brad Cornwall, Executive Chef of Blackrock CC in Hingham, Mass., and Kevin Cromwell, a former Executive Chef at Charles River CC in Newton, Mass. who now consults on kitchen design projects. Their presentation stressed the importance of being well-prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities for more efficient design that will be presented by even the most “minor” renovation or rearrangement scenarios, and of how poor placement of equipment can have an adverse effect on the efficiency of an operation for many years.
The Conference then featured another live demonstration, as Robert Wysong, Executive Chef of The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf Resort, ended his discussion of “Buy vs. Make” options with a walk-through of the preparation and plating steps for an award-winning Roasted Lamb Loin dish, served with curry butter sauce, butternut squash, wild mushroom, and baby beets.
Conference attendees then had to “suffer” through a session on Wine/Spirits Pairings that included tastings at each table. Clive Smith, Clubhouse Manager of Merion Golf Club, highlighted opportunities to “create a buzz” through proper marketing and execution of beverage-themed events. Randa Warren, a Master Sommelier, then demonstrated practical ways to identify different wine varietals and determine how they can best be coupled with the proper foods.
For a session on “Revving Up Takeout/Fast Casual Revenues,” Christopher Ropp, Executive Chef of Kenwood CC of Cincinnati, highlighted the many opportunities in an F&B area that is still often underutilized in club settings. Ropp also stressed, though, that realizing the full potential of takeout is still being hampered by an outdated provision of the tax code, and urged all of the Conference attendees to solicit support from their property’s management and memberships to work towards that provision’s revision or repeal.
The 2010 Chef to Chef Conference was then brought to a breathless conclusion with a presentation by Gerald Schmidt, Executive Chef and Director of Culinary for Linger Longer Communities (which includes Reynolds Plantation), in Greensboro, Ga. For his topic, “Making Catering Events Special,” Schmidt provided entertaining run-throughs of the many unique and inspired events his community has become known for; in the process, he opened attendees’ eyes to the full potential offered by the many different venues that exist on a typical club or resort property.