Michael McAllen CHEF PROFILE
Under the direction of its 30-year Executive Chef, Michael McAllen, elegant food-and-beverage service has joined the many other entrenched traditions at Kirtland CC.
The clubhouse at Kirtland Country Club (KCC) is the same stone mansion that was purchased in 1920 (as a 10-year-old building), in anticipation of the opening of the club in Willoughby, Ohio, a town on the southern shore of Lake Erie, northeast of Cleveland. Some changes have since been made to the mansion-turned-clubhouse, but its integrity has been upheld, as have other strong traditions created when Kirtland first opened with polo and tennis in 1921, and then debuted its 18-hole golf course, designed by English golf architect Captain C.H. Allison, in 1922.
Today, Kirtland CC also enjoys a long-standing tradition of food-and-beverage excellence, with its 300 members now generating close to $2 million in annual F&B sales. The club also averages over 12 weddings a year, a component that is critical to helping smaller-sized clubs like Kirtland maintain a budget that can keep all other amenities available for the members to use whenever they desire.
The strong sense of tradition also carries into the makeup of Kirtland’s culinary brigade, which is led by Executive Chef Michael McAllen, a 29-year veteran at the club. Chef McAllen, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, came from Youngstown Country Club in 1981, and the KCC membership hasn’t let him stray since. We appreciate Mike taking the time during his peak season to share some of the valuable insights and experiences he’s gained during such a long and successful tenure at such a well-established private setting.
Q: Chef, you’ve been at Kirtland for nearly 30 years. How has your F&B program evolved since you first arrived, and what new trends do you see going forward?
A: When I first began my career at Kirtland, the formal dining room was used as much as the mixed grill room. Members appreciated proper service and were less inclined to rush through a meal. There was far less competition in the area from high-end restaurants. Menus consisted of traditional dishes with rich, heavier sauces and larger portions.
Today, members are more educated about food, and much more intuitive. I am more conscious of healthy options, and it is imperative that fresh ingredients be used all the time. The meals are smaller, and it is important to keep some items casual. Our members need a quick option, as most of them are on the go. I work more closely with purveyors to be knowledgeable about what items are in season, what is popular, and what is a good buy at the time.
In coming years, I see continued growth in the “healthy lifestyle”; it will become more important for so-called “diet food” to look and taste great.
Q: The Kirtland membership is obviously very pleased with what you’ve brought to the table over your long tenure at the club. But I know you still work hard to guard against complacency. What steps do you take to keep bringing new and fresh ideas to your kitchen?
A: In addition to continuing education and visiting other clubs, I try my best to stay well-read; my office is basically a library of cookbooks and industry magazines. I spend time browsing the Internet for new trends or food-related articles. I also share best practices with several friends in the business around the country. Most importantly, I listen to and respect the ideas of my staff of culinary professionals, and try to keep my thumb on the pulse of members’ needs by attending committee meetings and listening to their requests.
If a member has visited an area restaurant or another club and has an idea, we will add our input and try to turn it into something that is “uniquely Kirtland.” One of the most successful ideas we’ve had in the last several years came from a member who suggested we hold private dinners on the tee box of our signature 10th hole. Another came from a purveyor, to have “Wine and Nine” events with food and wine stations located on the golf course.
Q: Kirtland is a relatively small club that puts up some pretty good numbers for weekdays, with Family Night cookouts averaging 100 to 150 weekly. What are some of the marketing techniques your team uses to draw strong turnouts?
A: The target group for these events, held every Wednesday, is young families with children; after all, they are the lifeblood and future of the club. The main goal is that they see Kirtland as “the place to be” every Wednesday during golf season. We try to combine a fresh, innovative meal with children’s activities and entertainment. We’ve used everything from a traveling zoo to a carnival-style dunk tank to keep children interested in Family Night, and weekly e-mail reminders also help to spark attendance.
|Kirtland’s 100-year-old clubhouse and 90-year-old golf course have been joined by elegant food-and-beverage settings and service as reliable and entrenched traditions at the 300-member club on Lake Erie’s southern shore, northeast of Cleveland.|
Q: The wedding business can be extremely profitable for private clubs; for Kirtland it’s been very consistent because you have a venue that’s in great demand. What’s been most responsible for keeping Kirtland as the popular choice for weddings in your area—the great food, beautiful setting, impeccable service, or all of the above?
A: I really feel it’s all of the above. Kirtland is a family club steeped in tradition; generations of Cleveland families have been married on these grounds. The garden is a special setting for a wedding ceremony and unlike many other places, is completely reserved. From the moment you arrive, you know you are in an exclusive atmosphere.
As a Top 100 Platinum Club, Kirtland is known for its cuisine, beautiful setting and impeccable service. There is a culture here that begins with the General Manager, Richard L. LaRocca, and is seen throughout the club in every area, department and employee. The well-trained and dedicated team pays attention to every detail, from the very first moment we meet with the bride and groom to when they leave the property after the reception. C&RB
Q: Finally, Chef, can you tell us about the “Ohio Grown” program you are involved with—what are your biggest reasons for supporting local farms?
A: The “Buy LOCAL Buy FRESH” program from Premier Produce in Cleveland is a co-op of local farmers in the state of Ohio that gives us the opportunity to buy the highest quality in local produce and dairy. Over 100 farms, spanning over 10 counties and all within 150 miles of downtown Cleveland, combine to offer a unique blend of food that literally goes from the field to the plate in less than 24 hours in some cases.
We support a program like this for two main reasons. The first is for member appeal. Our members like nothing more than an heirloom tomato grown in Middlefield, or sweet corn from Michael’s Farms in Urbana. The second is the sense of community we have at Kirtland. Supporting these local farmers is not only good for KCC, but also for the community as a whole. And our support will help to ensure the continued success of these farms.