Executive Chef Frank Mirabile and staff have elevated F&B to be more than on par with Monroe GC’s Donald Ross-inspired reputation.
Monroe Golf Club, in the Rochester, N.Y. suburb of Pittsford, has a long and rich golf history that began when its course was designed in 1923 by legendary architect Donald Ross, and was most recently enhanced when its long-time Head Professional, Jim Mrva, was honored as the 2010 PGA Golf Professional of the Year.
CHEF PROFILE: Frank Mirabile
Current Position: Executive Chef, Monroe Golf Club, Pittsford, N.Y.
Awards and Achievements:
This distinguished tradition carries over to Monroe GC’s culinary operation, starting with the a la carte service offered in its Donald Ross Dining Room and Lounge, and extending to banquet service of up to 370 plated meals that includes hosting some 20 weddings a year. Monroe’s culinary brigade (pictured above) is led by Frank Mirabile, CEC, who has been the club’s Executive Chef since 2008, after previously working on the staffs of two other well-known Rochester-area clubs, Oak Hill Country Club and the Country Club of Rochester. Chef Mirabile’s resume is also full of impressive educational achievements and experience in restaurant and corporate positions, making it hard to believe he is still only 34 years old.
“Frank has turned our a la carte business around in a big way, as well as greatly enhanced our banquet business,” says Colin Simpson, CCM, Monroe’s Chief Operating Officer and a certified Sommelier. “We now have a tremendous reputation statewide for our cuisine, wine list and service quality, on both sides of the business.”
While describing how he has strived to continually elevate the cuisine at Monroe—and how the “offseason” there has now turned into a continuation of what has been a very busy a la carte dining year—it quickly becomes clear that Chef Mirabile is a great talent and passionate young chef who is clearly dedicated to his profession. We thank him for taking time to share some of his insights and experiences with C&RB.
Q: Chef, can you describe how you developed and enhanced your very successful tasting-menu program at Monroe Golf Club, and how you sustain it as you go through peak season?
A: To me, the absolute best way to dine is with multi-course, small-portioned meals. It’s also the most rewarding way to cook, in my opinion.
Incorporating meals of this caliber is not always commonplace in a club environment, and they certainly do not replace the more casual experiences that members expect. However, as more and more members talk about this kind of dining experience, the bigger it gets. Once you have proven your cuisine to membership and provided great food for them day in and day out, they will begin to trust your menus and experiment a bit more.
It’s not uncommon now for members who want to impress someone to come to Monroe for a five-course degustation that is paired with wines. We are fortunate to have a Chief Operating Officer who is also a certified Sommelier, so we have great fun planning these meals.
It is important to me to provide an experience to our members that equals any great meal they would have in a big-city restaurant. In the peak of season, it does become a challenge to devote so much time to one piece of the business and still take care of everything else. Developing a great team is a very important factor to be able to succeed with everything at this time. I have very dedicated sous chefs and a core group of cooks whom I love and care for greatly, and they work hard for me.
Q: You describe your cooking style as “Post Modern.” Can you explain what you mean by this?
A: There are a lot of terms being thrown around out there to describe what is happening in the food world today. I think “Post Modern” is what best defines my style. I have a very strong classic French background—but I am also an American chef with Italian blood who loves to eat Asian food.
I worked for chefs who were at the heart of the “Nouvelle Cuisine” movement, which interestingly enough is now called “Classic” cuisine. But to me, it was the last real major movement in the food world—until now. The technology that we have available today as chefs has really created a major paradigm shift in the way the world views the culinary arts. So, if “modern” was “Nouvelle Cuisine,” then “Post Modern” is where I feel we are today.
For me, this means taking the best of classical cuisine and techniques, along with the technology and know-how that we have today, and using the most amazing local ingredients (many of which we grow ourselves) to create a truly unique and grand cuisine.
Q: You and I share the belief that young chefs should go out into the field and learn from the best—throw themselves into the fire, so to speak, and not worry about salary first and foremost. You did exactly this 10 years ago, when you spent a couple of years in Mougins, France and at Restaurant Daniel in New York. How did this build the foundation for the chef you’ve become today?
A: Unfortunately, too many young people in this industry are so wrapped up in the monetary and stardom aspects of our world that they jump from job to job and don’t take the time to learn how to cook. From a young age, I knew the importance of mentorship, discipline and work ethic.
When I left for France, I had never been on a plane before, didn’t speak any French, and didn’t know anyone at the restaurant where I was going to work. But I worked for free for Roger Vergé, just to have the privilege to be in his kitchen. And when Mr. Vergé then sent me to work for Daniel Boulud in New York City, I packed my bags and went. I had just returned home from France, didn’t have a penny to my name or a place to live, and had never discussed money with the great chef. However, when Daniel Boulud calls you personally and asks, “When are you coming?”—you have to go.
These chefs and my other mentors—Xavier LeRoux and Jean Charles Berruet—have all been part of building my foundation. And they, along with the love and support and moral values that my parents instilled in me, have all helped me to become the chef, and the person, that I am today. So my advice to young cooks is to learn how to master your art, and then you will see the real money.
Q: It is refreshing to hear how interested you are in the career development of your culinary team, even if it includes losing them to another opportunity. How do you help to advance staff members who you think have the passion to achieve more?
A: Once a cook has shown dedication to the industry, I do my best to make sure he or she has forward progress. If I cannot provide this in the form of a promotion or position change within our club, then they need to leave the nest, and I will help them do it. I have been very fortunate to work with and become friends with many great chefs through my career who know the standards that I hold for myself and my team, so my recommendation is highly regarded. Whether it means sending off a young grill cook to the CIA to further his or her education, or sending a former pastry cook out to Bouchon Bakery in Napa to work for the Thomas Keller group, it’s all very rewarding.
Q: You went to the Culinary Institute and worked in the industry for seven years, then returned to school for your bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management. How did that additional educational experience help you to become a better chef?
A: Prior to attending the CIA, I had already received an Associates in Food Service Management and had been working in the industry for a few years. It was always intended that I would also acquire a bachelor’s degree in food management, as well as the degree in culinary arts. Upon graduating from the CIA, however, I had a wonderful opportunity to work for the school in a post-graduate fellowship with Chef Xavier LeRoux and after completing that, I had the opportunity to work in France for Roger Vergé. So I put the Bachelors on hold.
Going back to school, though, was always in the back of my head as a goal that I needed to achieve. So I eventually did go back to get it, and having it has helped tremendously. I know it sounds like a cliché, but these days, a chef needs to be more than just a good cook. It’s difficult to be competitive without the proper combination of education and experience. I always had a good business sense built into me from my father, but having the know-how to really “crunch the numbers” and run a business is a great asset that will absolutely set you apart.
Q: What can you tell us about your experience as a corporate chef for a food manufacturing company, and why this opportunity interested you at the time?
A: This position was of interest to me for two major reasons. First, I was a newlywed, madly in love with my beautiful wife Nicole, and the idea of a “9 to 5” job was going to allow me to have more time with her. We wanted to have children one day, which we did (a beautiful son) and this schedule allowed me to be there for his first year.
Secondly, I had always been extremely interested in the science of food. I was always the guy who had to know why food reacted the way it did when cooked. I knew that working at the developmental R&D level, which relies heavily on science, was going to allow me to really understand things like xanthan gum and homogenizers (which I fell in love with at first sight).
I had access to everything I could imagine, and it was a great experimental phase of my life—but in the end, my desire to be creating things in a kitchen proved to be too strong of a pull. It is fun, however, to walk down the aisle of a grocery store and see items on the shelves that you helped to create.
Q: Did that experience also teach you anything about cost efficiencies and product quality that you can now apply to your current role?
A: In the world of manufacturing, the procurement of goods, managing costs and ensuring product quality follow the same important guidelines that they do in running a restaurant or country club. You always search for the best quality, only it’s on a much larger scale. Instead of going to the farmers’ market for three quarts of strawberries, you’re talking directly on the phone with farmers in California or Chile to secure 100,000 lbs. of berries for the next year that haven’t even been grown yet. It’s definitely a different world, but the same rules apply. You have to have high standards, be business-savvy and know how to work with vendors—which I feel I learned a lot about, and became very good at in that time.
More of Chef Mirabile’s Recipes include:
Diver Scallop with sous vide endive, parsnip purée, salsify, compressed apple and pistachio
Roasted Lola Duck Breast with white sweet potato mousseline, glazed beets, and macerated Finger Lakes grapes
Ceviche of Hiramasa and Bay Scallop with Beets, Mango Spheres, Baby Leeks and Fennel Mousse