From the “dish pit” to dual responsibilities as Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage Operations, Gregory Mummert has been part of the Country Club of York’s culinary scene for 32 years—and both he, and the club’s members, have been rewarded by his dedication to the cause.
The Country Club of York (Pa.) was first conceived in 1885 by a prominent local businessman, Grier Hersh, who built a nine-hole course, called Springdale, on his estate in the south-central Pennsylvania city. Today, this thriving club is known for the many important tournaments it has held, most notably the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1999, which it hosted in the same year as the club’s official centennial celebration.
The culinary team at the CC of York has been led for the last seven years by Gregory Mummert, whose full range of current duties are reflected in his title of Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage Operations. You come across these stories in clubs once in a while, and I am so impressed with the dedication that it took for Greg to be promoted from within, after serving as the club’s sous chef for 14 years. And that’s not even the half of it—as you can see from Greg’s answer to my first question, he has been promoted many times over the years, through every level and station in the CC of York’s kitchen, since he started there as a dishwasher in 1981.
Chef Mummert is truly a high-achieving veteran at his club. He now enjoys a newly renovated kitchen that is triple the size of the one he had known for 30 years prior. Greg is a charter member of the Susquehanna Valley chapter of the American Culinary Federation, and clearly someone who has taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way. We appreciate Chef Mummert being kind enough to share valuable insights that come from his vast experience working in a variety of culinary positions over many years at one prominent club.
Q: Chef, could you start by outlining the significant steps and milestones along your 32-year career path at the CC of York?
A: In 1981, I was fortunate enough to get hired at the club as a dishwasher, while still in high school. The professional and “old school” management team that was in place here at that time, including Mr. Wayne Vanderpool, Mr. Sirous Banihashemi, and Executive Chef Darrell Tobin, set a great example of member-first service that still guides me today.
Then in 1982, an opportunity presented itself for me to advance out of the dish pit. Just turning 18, and now finished with high school, it seemed like the one shot I had to make something of myself in a struggling economy.
Another chance to grow came in 1985. Under the leadership of a new General Manager, Gene Cummings, the main kitchen was closed for a major facelift, and we set up a makeshift prep kitchen in the lower level of the clubhouse. It was poorly lit and equipped with an electric stove from the ‘50s or ‘60s, but we set out to keep our members right where we wanted them, at their club. We opened the 19th hole grill room at night, and I got a chance to roast prime ribs, make the daily soups and manage a small but powerful operation, while the chef and sous chef took some much needed time off. I have never looked back since.
By 1988, I had worked my way through the vegetable and broiler station and found myself in the sauté position. This was very exciting, due to the fact that we broke down our legs of veal, made all of our stocks and sauces daily, and offered Dover sole on our nightly menu. There was plenty of opportunity to learn here, and I was hungry for knowledge.
The biggest milestone in 1990 was when I married my beautiful wife. But this was also when I became the roundsman, which gave me a chance to flow from one station to another, honing my skills and becoming a more balanced chef—perfect training for what was next.
In 1992, I became the sous chef, a position that offered many challenges. The sous chef worked the lunch shift and prepped most of the main courses for private parties. This entailed many split shifts and long days, but it also exposed me to so many exciting new avenues of education. The membership was enjoying their club, and hosting creative parties almost every weekend.
In 2005, I took over as interim chef, to help guide the club through a leadership transition. And in 2006, I put in my application to become Executive Chef. After a full interview process, the search committee decided I was the chef of their future, and I was honored with that title.
As I strive to continue moving “onward and upward,” I have the pleasure of working with a young general manager and COO, Thomas Czaus. This talented and educated gentleman is helping to redefine the future of club management, and was key in our latest facilities enhancement. The team that I have now has efficiently adapted to the ever-changing needs of today’s country club atmosphere. Every day offers challenges, and I am fortunate to have the talent on board to meet and exceed those opportunities for success.
Q: As you well know, the club business has many loyal, long-time assistants who also want their shot at the top jobs. What advice can you offer to them?
A: Keep pushing yourself daily, and try to stay evolved with all that is going on around you. This will prepare you for when opportunity knocks. Also, be patient, because time goes by faster than you think. And you should actually make sure to enjoy your time out of the spotlight—because once you step into it, you will be driven to keep it shining, with hundreds of members requiring your personal touch. Your time will be precious from that point on.
Q: When the recent kitchen renovations at your club took place, you were told, “We wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t doing the job you are doing.” Besides great food, what part does your “can do” attitude play in why you were told that?
A: I believe that a positive “yeah, we can do that” attitude from my position assures the membership that they’ve made the right decision. New members are the lifeblood of a successful club, and the best way to get them is to keep current members proud of the choice they made to join a top-rated club.
Q: Your column in your club newsletter is quite different than what we often see, because you try to take a different, more personalized approach in what you write. How has this benefited you in connecting with the membership?
A: For me, it’s a great way to convey thoughts and inform members of upcoming events, while also letting them see some of the lighter side of the culinary world. For example, including pictures of the farm stand where you and many members shop daily keeps you connected both professionally, and more importantly, as a member of the community.
It’s important to have fun with what you write, too, and not see it as a chore. Recently, I informed the membership that my daughter would be off to college for the first time, and jested that while it was going to be sad to see her leave, we live only a quarter-mile from campus—so she would be back that afternoon! Including thoughts like this not only make it more fun, but also give members a look into where their chef is in life.
Q: Like you, I like to set my own tabletops for buffets and stations. Why do you think it’s better for those involved with the culinary function to do this?
A: There is always a certain flair that comes from professionals, and the culinary trade is certainly no different. In most cases, you’ve been involved with planning the event and are aware of the work needed to prepare the desired look. In the end, how the cuisine is presented will directly represent your operation and passion for detail.
It’s easy to tell when a station setting is “mailed in”—the lack of depth is apparent. A simple milk crate covered with a tablecloth can go a long way to make your cheese board, fruit tray or roll basket stand out.
Q: Chef, the club food scene has certainly changed dramatically in the years since you started, and there’s no reason to expect that won’t continue. Looking forward, what are the most significant changes that you see taking place in our business over the next 10 to 20 years?
A: I see the continuing trend of smaller portions that feature low-fat and high-taste meals. Great barbeques, Italian cuisine and regional favorites like shrimp and grits will always have their place. But I think the all-you-can-eat, belly-busting buffets will become less and less appealing.
Q: Finally, Greg, you and I met at the “Chef to Chef” Conferences that you’ve attended. Besides those experiences and your involvement with the American Culinary Federation, what resources do you reach for when you train one of the 10 to 12 culinary graduates you have on your staff?
A: Number one is each other. Combined, our total knowledge is vast and reaches coast-to-coast and around the world. Most of our most creative ideas are collective in the end.
Second would be the Internet, of course. My favorite is actually images. I find that if we have a question on a dish, search for an image first. If you like what you see, then check it out.
Another great training tool is to assure your people that you don’t have all the answers to every technique out there. With research, we will learn together on a daily basis and grow as a team. This serves to teach everyone—and especially me. Just because we have doing things for 30 years certainly doesn’t make us perfect!