General Manager, The University Club, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo. (1998-Present)
- Executive Chef, Topeka Country Club, Topeka, Kan. (1995-1998)
- Executive Chef, Capital City Club, Raleigh, N.C. (1991-1995)
- Awards and Accomplishments: Certified Executive Chef, American Culinary Federation, 1994
Gold Medal Grand Prize, Hot Food, Charlotte Culinary Salon, American Culinary Federation, 1994
- Professional Affiliations: President, American Culinary Federation’s Central Missouri Chefs Association Chef Grillardin, Chaine des Rotisseurs
Daniel Pliska, CEC, has been the Executive Chef at The University Club at University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., since 1998. In his 15 years at the club—located in the Donald A. Reynolds Alumni Center at the heart of campus, in the shadows of “Mizzou’s” famed columns—Chef Pliska has elevated not only the cuisine, but the profile of the club, to an impressive level. His cutting-edge, contemporary dishes are not only showcased at the club, they are also enjoyed in many other venues throughout the campus and Columbia, to help generate $1.3 million in annual off-site catering revenue.
Chef Pliska also holds a unique series of culinary summits at the club, with leading chefs from around the world invited to help bring special internationally flavored events and educational programs to the heart of the Midwest. He also has a model internship program and in general, doesn’t know what the word complacency means.
Chef Pliska, who also serves as the club’s Assistant General Manager, is rightfully proud of what he and his culinary brigade of over 40 people have accomplished, to transform what was mostly a convenience food operation before he arrived into what is now one of the more renowned F&B operations in the state.
We appreciate Chef Pliska being kind enough to take time out of his incredibly busy schedule, especially while school was still in session, to share insights on how to continually conceive new ways to keep a club, and its culinary talent, front-of-mind, even in a vibrant campus setting where many other activities and interests compete for people’s attention.
Q Chef, you challenge yourself every day to stay fresh and bring innovative ideas and new concepts to The University Club’s menus. What specific steps do you take to gain an edge daily, seasonally and annually?
A Staying current and bringing innovative ideas is a constant undertaking. I am always striving to provide motivation that will inspire our culinary staff to express their own culinary and pastry creations on a daily basis. They do this in venues like our lunch buffet, where the menu changes daily, as well as through weekly bistro specials and our dining room’s a la carte offerings.
Personally, just like many chefs, I am constantly searching for inspiration and find it in my culinary travels as well as through my memberships in culinary associations and by connecting with fellow chefs. I also like to review trade magazines and periodicals, both on the web and at the local library. Additionally, I look outside of our profession for successful events and themes that could be tailored to our club and catering departments, to develop new and exciting meals and functions.
Q For the culinary summits you’ve hosted over the past four years, can you tell us how you came up with the themes, and what kind of participation and feedback you received?
A Our culinary summits and festivals are one of my proudest accomplishments! It always invigorates the staff when top culinary talent comes to cook with us in the club. The ones that we have hosted, along with the local chapter of the ACF, include the Latin Food Summit, Asian Food Summit, Farm-to-Table Festival and Chocolate and Champagne Festival.
I am currently working in conjunction with our School of Journalism on a Culinary Arts in the Media symposium, called “The Art of Food,” which will be equally represented with media and journalism personalities and top-notch culinary and pastry stars. This event will be held on September 20th here at the club, and finish with a dinner reception at a local, renovated historic theater.
The University Club of Missouri is located on the heart of the “Mizzou” campus, in the shadows of the famed columns salvaged from an 1892 fire that destroyed Academic Hall, the college’s first building.
All of our events have drawn a large participation from culinary students and chefs from both inside the state and in our region. Our members enjoy the meals and parties that are a part of the summits as well. Feedback has always been positive, and I am often asked when and what will be the topic of our next culinary event.
C&RB CLUB RECIPE
Plum Tart with champagne lemon sabayon sauce
Yield: Two rectangular tarts (13 ½” x 4 ½”) or two 10-in. round tarts
|8 to 12 ea.||plums, seeded and cut into wedges|
|13 ozs.||granulated sugar|
|3 ozs.||butter, room temperature|
|6 tbsp.||apricot jam cinnamon (to sprinkle on top)|
2 tart pans lined with Linzer dough and par-baked, blind
|2 tbsp.||lemon juice|
|½ tsp.||lemon zest|
|½ cup||granulated sugar|
|4 ea.||egg yolks|
|½ cup||whipped cream (soft peaks)|
- Over a bain-marie in a stainless-steel bowl, whisk the champagne, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and egg yolks until they are cooked to 160º
- Chill over ice until room temperature
- Fold in the whipped cream and serve
To prepare the tarts:
- Mix sugar and butter together in a bowl, then add the eggs and mix to make a custard base
- Spread the jam onto the par-baked Linzer tart bases, and arrange the plums in nice pattern
- Pour over the custard and sprinkle with cinnamon
- Bake at 350º until golden brown and the custard is set
- Cool and prepare the champagne lemon sabayon sauce (see separate recipe above)
- Slice and serve with the sauce and cinnamon whipped cream, if desired
Submitted by Daniel Pliska, Executive Chef, The University Club of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
Q Daniel, you offer The University Club’s sous chefs the opportunity to go through the ACF CSC Sous Chef Certification process. With four CSCs on your staff now, how did you determine that they were ready to take on the challenge?
A To be successful at this certification level takes a strong degree of personal dedication. This is the first step that I evaluate and I ask myself, “Do they really want it?” Then I encourage them to get involved with the ACF and to go and witness a certification exam. At the same time, I review their culinary skills and give them advice on where they need to make improvements. Finally, I have them make a cooking plan and practice it at least six times.
The ACF also has some great PowerPoint resources on its website that are used to help in the certification process, called “time management” and “mise en place,” that I have them review for self-assessment.
C&RB CLUB RECIPE
Wild Mushroom Risotto Cakes
Yield: 50 to 75, depending on size
|2 cups||Arborio rice|
|¼ cup||melted butter|
|¼ cup||olive oil|
|1 cup||diced morel mushrooms, re-hydrated|
|1 cup||diced cremini mushrooms|
|1 cup||diced shiitake mushrooms|
|2 tbsp.||chopped tarragon|
|½ cup||chopped parsley|
|1 cup||white wine|
|6 cups||mushroom stock|
|2 cups||grated Parmesan cheese|
|1 to 1½ cups||breadcrumbs|
|to taste||salt and pepper|
n In a heavy-bottom pot, brown the rice in the olive oil and butter while stirring over medium-high heat
n When the rice is brown, add the shallots and the mushrooms, and continue to stir over the heat
n Add the brandy and wine and continue to stir until the rice has absorbed all of the liqueur
n Add the stock in 1- to ½-cup stages, stirring until absorbed each time before adding the next batch
n On the last batch, add the chopped herbs and when absorbed, check to make sure the rice is cooked and soft; if not, add more stock
n Finish with the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper, then spread out on a pan to cool
n When cold, add the bread crumbs and the eggs
n Form into patties and coat with herbed bread crumbs, then sauté and serve
Submitted by Daniel Pliska, Executive Chef, The University Club of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
Q Can you also describe your “Chef in Training Program” and the results it has yielded since it was implemented, to help enhance the career paths of recent culinary graduates and entry-level chefs.
A Our chef-in-training program begins with our ACF-accredited formal chefs apprenticeship program. This took quite a lot of time and planning to develop, and I am proud to say that we have had four certified sous chefs who have graduated in the past two years.
I am currently working on a second-phase training program that will focus on developing the entry-level sous chef/lead cook by determining a specific tract of development in one of the three areas: hot food skills, garde manger, or pastry and desserts. We will increase their skill level by investing in seminars, stages, and coaching in competitions, while at the same time creating a management training program to improve their business acumen. The estimated time for completion will be three years, and those who graduate will be prepared for advancement to the executive sous chef or entry-level executive chef position in other top clubs, hotels or resorts.
Q Tell us about the success of Global Cuisine theme nights, your newest series of dinners in your formal dining room.
A Global Cuisine theme nights are offered on a cyclical basis and feature a hybrid of buffet and family-style service. I was inspired to do this after a trip to a luxury resort in Cancun, Mexico. Sample themes have included Cruising the Greek Isles, Bavarian Splendor, Spanish Tapas and Exotic Flavors of India.
These nights also feature action stations and entertainment, which further enhance the experience. We have more than doubled our average cover counts on Thursday nights through these theme nights, and we look to further develop this concept.
Certified Sous Chefs who have graduated from the “Chef in Training” apprentice program developed by Pliska (center) include Reed Crull
(far left) and Scott Gestring from Johnson County Community College.
A “Cruising the Greek Isles” event was the latest of a series of successful theme nights held at The University Club of Missouri that have doubled average cover counts on Thursday nights.
Q Chef, I love to hear what chefs’ philosophies are regarding what I think is the single most challenging aspect of our jobs: flawlessly executing high-volume plated meal service. You successfully implemented an interesting approach when you served a very important “Capital Campaign Kickoff” event not too long ago. Can you walk us through how it worked?
A For this off-premise catering event, we served a three-course, formal meal in a climate-controlled tent. The black-tie event was for 650 people and took about six months of planning and training. The menu—which featured a duo of a horseradish, black pepper-crusted filet of beef with a boneless stuffed quail with apples and wild rice—was served by 50 servers.
We trained them in a synchronized service style in seven teams of five servers, so they could carry two plates each. Each team served a table of 10 by placing the food down in one movement, somewhat like a Swiss clock. They then shifted and served the rest of the table in one movement. They marched to each table from the plate-up line by following the team leader in single file, like a military squad. Each team served a row of tables in three sections, in a “wave” style of service.
We plated the meal directly into their hands from three double-sided lines, with heat lamps at the end and an expeditor controlling the flow. By the time the final table in their sections was served, the first tables were being cleared by a team of back waiters. This enabled the teams to seamlessly serve all three courses continuously without waiting for the entire floor to be cleared. Because each table was served individually, there was never a large gap of time where they had to wait.
The whole meal was served in about an hour and 15 minutes, and we received many great compliments. This function alone set us above the area’s competition when it comes to high-end, high-volume catering functions. The money we make from these types of functions allows us to grow our programs and give back to our membership with great value events.