In the second of this two-part series, Glenmoor CC’s Executive Chef explores the many different facets and traits necessary to succeed as a club chef.
As a country club chef, the misconceived glamor associated with being an Executive Chef includes a whole other set of hats to wear than discussed in the first part of this series. What I have found as the Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.) is that I am almost always in the spotlight; whether it be for praise or for humiliation. Not only do I feed unusually wealthy patrons, but they are the same patrons that I will be feeding tomorrow, perhaps the next day and quite possibly the next two days after that.
In the private club setting, it is the members who frequent your dining room, and they are the ones who essentially pay your bills. Point being: if you produce the most pleasing dish the first two days, you damn well better prove that you can do it again the day after. Trust me that if you do not, the immediate thought that comes to your member’s mind is, “Why did they get rid of the last chef?”
Please don’t misunderstand me. Being the Executive Chef of a private country club is more than gratifying. It is honorable and veritable. A country club chef integrates ingenuity, innovation, and endurance—as do most other chefs. Along with that, a country club chef must also be able to perform spontaneously at inevitable and unheard of dietary needs. (Just try to say “no” to one of your members. The probability of being in their good graces and gaining their understanding is low.)
Another difficulty a club chef faces is menu design. Being at a club, your membership is made up of a wide variety of likes, dislikes, favorites and despises. Your menu has to live up to the Jones’ expectations as well as the Smith’s, who live off the seventh tee and have a daughter who is allergic to any form of wheat, flour, gluten and dairy.
At a free-standing restaurant, if a customer cannot find something they like on the menu, they’re going to go down the street to another restaurant. A member at a private country club is not going to sell their membership because they don’t approve of your summer seasonal menu; they’re going to make sure their displeasure is heard.
Another job requirement for a club chef includes publicity, marketing, hype, and PR.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when the chef of my favorite restaurant steps out of the kitchen to greet his customers and ensure satisfaction. But as a club chef, if you’re not out on the floor after or during every meal period, your members will start to take it personally. They wonder to themselves just what kind of a chef they are employing if he/she can’t even take time to come out and show member appreciation. Again, wanting to speak to and/or meet the chef for the sole purpose of knowing the chef.
Let me amend before I give off the wrong impression and make adversaries. I love what I do. I absolutely love knowing that every morning when I walk into the double doors of the club, I have utterly no idea of what my day has in store for me.
I have a daily routine that starts as soon as I walk into my kitchen. I greet my morning cooks—Buenos Dias, Amigos—and then I settle into my office. But before I start any work, I head upstairs to the patio outside of my banquet kitchen to stare out onto the most beautiful view of our golf course with the morning sun exposing every hill, sand-trap, pin-marker and lush tree top. I take in all the beauty and thank my blessings for the unbelievable opportunity I chose to accept. It is in this moment that I appreciate what I have, what I do, and who I feed every day. After that moment of gratitude, I enter my kitchen and am welcomed by the cacophony of pots and pans being thrown into the dish room, of kettles of boiling water, and of simmering sauces. It’s a familiar sound filled with fryer oil hard at work, conversations between the staff in more than one language and the proliferation of profanity being strewn across the kitchen (also in more than one language).
I sit down at my desk to start writing custom menus for the next three bar mitzvahs and four weddings. I schedule a meeting with my bar manager to taste wines for the next chef’s table dinner. I update last weekend’s revenue tracker, code invoices for payment, review last night’s service, post another ad for another dishwasher, follow up on the repair of the steamer, sign off on banquet billing, post a pic of last night’s fish course on Instagram, type up the day’s features, type up the day’s prep list and then head into the prep kitchen with my apron and knife in tow to start making sauces for dinner service.
The glamor of a club chef is real.