This Month’s Recipes
|Yves Bainier, Executive Chef, Bel-Air Bay Club|
Whether it’s fish from the docks or hunting mushrooms in the forest, an uncompromising desire for the freshest ingredients has always been part of Yves Bainier’s life. As Executive Chef of the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Yves has once again found himself at home by the ocean. He grew up in La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast of France. While that small seaside town, where Yves attended culinary school and apprenticed, is far from the glitz and glamour of Southern California, it had much to do with laying the foundation for his career.
After leaving home, Yves worked in various restaurants in Paris, including the renowned La Bernardin, and also worked with the Ritz-Carlton Corporation at locations around the world. Just prior to coming to the Bel-Air Bay Club, he was the Executive Chef for five years at The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in Los Angeles.
Chef Bainier exemplifies the changing culinary scene in the club industry; specifically, how club and resort properties can now attract some of the world’s greatest chefs. He was gracious enough to share his thoughts with us about all that’s now possible in club cuisine.
Q Chef, how has your upbringing affected how you cook today in Southern California?
A Being raised near the ocean definitely influenced my cooking. The food in my hometown was not processed or loaded with preservatives. The cheeses were not pasteurized; everything was pretty organic and natural. Today, I use only the best products because when I cook, I like for food to stay true to its original flavor.
Q How does your Ritz-Carlton experience help you now, and what’s the biggest difference between corporate and private operations?
A My management training at the Ritz-Carlton changed the way I react to challenges and has made me a better leader. Although the hotel/corporate world has changed tremendously in the last few years, hotels still often focus on profit at the expense of quality. At a private club, the focus is on the membership, and Bel-Air Bay Club is no exception. We have a brand-new, first-class beach facility (including a large, state-of-the-art kitchen), where we will serve top-quality food and wine and be dedicated to providing flawless service.
Q Have you brought anything from the hotel side to the club business?
A At the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, I reorganized the process for menu tastings for a wedding or corporate event, and that’s proved to work well now on the club side, too. At Bel-Air, we always try to hold tastings outside peak hours of operation, between 2:00 and 4:00 PM on Tuesdays through Fridays. We can usually convince clients who want to come at other times that this will make it easier for us to focus on showing them what we can do. Also, we do the set up in a function room, not the dining room, which gives a wrong feel for the upcoming event. We use banquet plates, linen, bread, wine glasses, etc., and at the end of the tasting I always introduce myself, along with the sous-chef. The client appreciates seeing a face with the food, and this gives me a chance to answer any concerns or questions—and also establish the confidence that makes it easier to “sell up” if the opportunity presents itself.
I work closely with the catering manager on these tastings, and we avoid having more than three appetizers, entrees and desserts. Overall, it’s an easy process to establish that sets the tone for not only a successful tasting, but a successful function—and repeat business.
Q What are the biggest challenges working between the main clubhouse at your property and the new “lower club” on the beach?
A The biggest challenge is logistics. If I need to call a meeting or make a last-minute change, getting everyone together can be a bit difficult. As you know, trying to communicate via e-mail or a conference call is not practical in most busy kitchens!
But having two facilities also has its advantages. I can move staff from one to the other, depending on how busy we are, to keep my team active year-round.
Q How do you keep up with the L.A. scene and bring new and innovative dishes to your menus?
A The Club encourages me to experience new restaurants so I can keep up with trends. I also attend Culinary Institute seminars in Napa Valley from time to time; I’ll be going to a South Asian class this fall.
I do have my own approach to creating new dishes. I go to the farmers market every Wednesday morning and am inspired by all of the great fruits and vegetables we have in Southern California. I also like to take old recipes and create new dishes by adding contemporary flair to them. An example is my eggplant terrine. Being passionate about what I do, and doing it in the right environment, is the key to my creativity.
Q Could you talk about the lighter fare that your membership desires?
A Our members are very health-conscious and tend to ask for healthier, low- or no-carb dishes. With this in mind, I like to keep salads with oil-based dressings, grilled fish and steamed vegetables on our menus. I make a daily soup special that is dairy and/or animal product-free, and often make fruit-based desserts.
We also offer smaller or half portions; our members are very fond of this option!
Q One of your specialties is weddings, and there is no question why, considering the venue. Besides making sure your windows are squeaky clean, what are some things that you do to make the Bel-Air Bay Club the place for a reception?
A We pride ourselves on being flexible and accommodating special requests, as well as offering impeccable service. We realize that a wedding is an incredibly important and memorable day, so we go to great lengths to make sure the experience exceeds the expectations of the bride and groom. We want each wedding to be positive and memorable for all involved—including the vendors.