As the newly arrived Executive Chef at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, James Dyer is already taking the culinary scene to new levels as the exclusive property starts its second half-century.
The Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club (RPY&CC), in Boca Raton, Fla., celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. During that time the club has had an influential role in shaping South Florida society. The club site was originally a polo field that attracted some of the best players from around the world. The list of famous golf names who have contributed to the 500-member club’s success is also extensive: Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed RPY&CC’s original course in 1959, and Jack Nicklaus gave it a complete facelift in 2002. And Sam Snead was the club’s first golf professional.
This year, Executive Chef James Dyer brought his impressive experience in club and resort culinary direction (see profile box) to help RPY&CC take its food-and-beverage operation, with an annual budget of $2 million, to new levels.
We appreciate James taking time out during his peak season to provide insights into his plans for serving RPY&CC’s affluent and active membership.
Q Chef, you’ve only been at Royal Palm for a few months and are still basically in transition. How do you handle the challenges of juggling the menu ideas you’re trying to implement and getting staffing to where you want it to be?
Current Position:Executive Chef, Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club, Boca Raton, Fla.Previous Experience:
A It’s an intricate process, as we have multiple interests and age segments represented within our membership. We now have two restaurants running off the same cook line, and we are forming identities for both.
Our casual dining space is brand new and we started off with a clean sheet, so that has been fairly easy to shape. Our more formal room, The Commodore Grille, has required a different learning process, to understand the various subcultures within the club and respond to the wants and needs of each.
Menu ideas spring from the type of food that fits the venue—what’s in season, whether we can get an item locally, and just by asking ourselves “What would the members be hungry for?” By listening to the members and getting staff input on what they’re seeing and hearing in the dining room, combined with our culinary talents, I know we are satisfying the wide range of needs within our membership.
Staffing has been relatively uncomplicated. I have been blessed with a core group of talented, hard-working culinarians who moved with me to my new job and are eager to cook anything that comes their way. In addition, I have augmented the staff with new, committed people from the area, along with some of the existing RPY&CC staff.
Whether we are putting out our house-smoked barbecue ribs for the casual restaurant, or a traditional Dover Sole Meunière for the formal space, the men and women in Royal Palm’s kitchen understand the need for proper techniques and extraordinary personal care about what they are cooking. This skill level, plus a great attitude, gives us fairly wide latitude in deciding what goes on the menu.
Q After your arrival, you had member requests to bring back programs like soup and salad that had been popular before. How did you decide what to revive and what to keep on the shelf?
A Some traditions had been dormant for a while and we have been uncovering them as we receive feedback from multiple sources—such as me personally meeting with members, service-staff tableside visits, and e-mails from members. We also instituted a monthly e-blast from me to all members, called “Heard Over the Mixing Bowl,” where I highlight areas of improvements and always give my e-mail address, to encourage two-way conversations. Also, prior to my arrival, a member survey was taken that provided a good roadmap of areas where the majority of members were looking for improvement. We also consult point-of-sale reports and always ask ourselves, “Does this fit the venue?” For example, a long-standing tradition to have roast turkey with all of the trimmings on Thursday nights had disappeared. Bringing that back was easy, and it pleased a specific group of members.
Q I assume that your membership enjoys a healthy lifestyle that includes light, heart-healthy and low-fat foods. What are some of their favorite dishes in these areas that you’ve introduced?
A Upon arriving, I was told by some that our membership only enjoyed simple, “traditional” club fare. While that is true to a limited extent, we’ve seen several dishes prove to be great sellers that generate excellent feedback, as well as increased traffic. These include: pan-roasted Florida grouper with sun-dried tomato pearl pasta, grilled asparagus and basil; wood-fired organic chicken breast with Florida sweet corn, fava beans and oyster mushrooms; and line-caught swordfish, with artichoke and marinated olive salad.
|Royal Palm Y&CC offers a wide range of activities—including golf, tennis, and croquet, in addition to a boating marina—for its 500 members.|
Healthy food takes on many forms, and I use my experience from the St. Andrew’s Café at the Culinary Institute of America as a guide. These recipes have been developed by the CIA in conjunction with New York Medical College and are nutritionally balanced and healthy. The membership is learning that “healthy” comes in many shapes and sizes and is all about balance and moderation, not only the ingredients!
Q Working at a club with so many activities—golf, marina, tennis and croquet—how do you come up with new ideas all the time, to keep everything that you do innovative?
A Our membership is so diverse culturally and demographically that each group points up its own set of food values. Consequently we are always thinking about, and on the lookout for, unique presentations, new techniques and different ingredients to work with and innovate within those food values. The New York Times’ Wednesday food section is always inspirational, as is the Food Network. We’re always looking to see what our peers are up to. And, frankly, sometimes you just get tired of looking at a dish after a while!
Q Finally, Chef, where would you like to see Royal Palms’ F&B operation in a few years?
A Our traffic is expanding, and I would like to see that trend accelerate. We look at cover counts as the sign of success because we’ve actually decreased our menu prices, so sales are not really as good an indicator. In a couple of years, the identity of each of our dining rooms will be firmly established, with traditions unique to each room. Additionally, I would like Royal Palm to be known as the employer of choice for up-and-coming culinarians who are looking to learn from, and work with, a talented staff and great membership.