In addition to bringing a breath of fresh air to meal and event menus, outdoor cookouts give clubs a chance to show off the beauty and versatility of various spaces throughout the property—even those that aren’t used very often.
Retention ponds on golf courses are necessary, but they’re not usually the first choice of settings for a special-event meal. Especially one as elegant as a wine-pairing dinner.
But when Greg Myers, Executive Chef of Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club, was scoping out serving spots for one of his popular outdoor progressive-style dinners last spring, he saw the potential for the pond, which had recently become part of the landscaping on the course. Each course of the progressive dinner, from hors d’oeuvres and appetizers to desserts, is served in a different outdoor setting on the property, such as streamside or on the clay tennis courts, and members ride to the various sites on golf carts.
|SUMMING IT UP
• Choose unusual and intriguing settings on your property for cooking outdoors.
For the spring dinner, Myers used the pool area and space alongside the river as his settings for outdoor cooking. The pool area was luau-themed, featuring mesquite-grilled salmon brushed with teriyaki and topped with grilled pineapple salsa and chicken prepared huli huli-style, in sweet and savory pineapple juice-based sauce.
After dark, guests were treated to a bonfire by the river, along with a dessert of make-your-own s’mores from “tons of different cookies and candy bars,” Myers reports. When the sign-up time for another progressive dinner scheduled for May was announced, it sold out in 11 minutes.
But the beauty of the new retention pond was, in Myers’ mind, worthy of an event all its own: a wine dinner with all the courses cooked on grills. It began with chevre-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, lamb-chop lollipops and shrimp piri piri (marinated in a blend of serrano chilies, garlic, paprika, fresh lime juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and cilantro). The second course was a grilled romaine fattoush (Middle Eastern salad) with charred pita. Then came grilled wild swordfish with grilled caponata, drizzled with balsamic syrup, also known as balsamic cream. And dessert was a grilled pear and rosemary crème brûlée.
“We limited the guest list to 24, and we were sold out right away,” Myers says. “The members loved it, and keep asking me when I’ll do another one.
“But cooking everything outdoors is a challenge,” he adds. “So it might be a while.”
Meeting the Challenges
One way to make outdoor service easier, Myers notes, is to have some parts of the menu that don’t have to be served hot. For example, the caponata for the swordfish can be made in advance and held until the dish is plated.
A favorite at member-guest golf tournaments at Lancaster CC is the taco station, where the pork or beef is grilled and topped to-order, and the golfers can be off in their carts with little delay. Food stations are situated so they can conveniently serve several holes at once, allowing golfers to easily swing by more than once during the tournament, without slowing the pace of play.
Sausages are also popular tournament fare. Myers often features four different kinds on the grill, such as turkey, spinach and feta, chicken and mild Italian. Kebabs can offer a lot of variety, he notes, by mixing and matching proteins and vegetables. To make things very simple, one kind of kebab can yield different flavor profiles when combined with sides of sauces such as curry, pesto and a saki-based selection.
Portable fryers turn out crispy ravioli, with topping options that include roasted red pepper relish, lemon and garlic aioli and Kalamata olive tapenade.
This summer, Myers notes, Lancaster CC is adding two flattop grills to its outdoor arsenal, to facilitate more cooking on the course while also creating an outdoor street-fair setting. One dish he plans to offer is pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup that is trending all over the country. For pho, boiling broth is poured over a bowl of uncooked rice noodles topped with raw, thinly-sliced strips of chicken or beef. The ingredients cook quickly in the bowl. To prepare pho outdoors, Myers intends to keep the broths boiling on one of the flattops.
“To keep things exciting for members, just think outside the clubhouse,” Myers suggests. “At one of our progressive dinners, one of our members saw how beautifully we could handle an event down at the river on our property, and he booked his wedding there. One thing leads to another, and [members and guests] can see how unique and versatile the club can be.”
Kitchens With a View
An always-highly anticipated annual member event at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Mich., is dinner on the Rogue River, which runs through the property. A major undertaking, it requires setting up an entire makeshift kitchen with gas and char grills and portable stoves for preparing and serving passed hors d’oeuvres, salad, entrées and dessert.
Last year, while renovating its dining areas, Blythefield added a new permanent gas-grill station next to the clubhouse. The large grill immediately was put to good use, turning out a busy summer’s-worth of home-ground sirloin burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches for golfers making the turn, and special meals for golf leagues, tournaments and outings.
For those “special meals,” grilled salmon, barbecued ribs and “any type of steak” are top choices. But absolutely every golf-event menu must include Executive Chef Jeffrey Hiler’s lamb lollipops.
“Members can’t get enough of them,” Hiler says. “It’s all in the marinade.”
Protecting Food Safety and Flavor
Sanitation and detailed attention to food safety during cooking and holding are integral to the success of all outdoor events, notes Jeffrey Hiler, Executive Chef of Blythefield Country Club, Belmont, Mich.
“To make it easier to manage and control timing and proper plating, I will take the food down to the party as we need it,” Hiler explains. “When we do bigger parties, including weddings by the river for 250 guests, we will typically pre-mark and cook the proteins in the main kitchen—steaks to rare or mid-rare, and chicken to a safe temperature of 165º or more—let them rest, and then finish them on the grill.”
To avoid drying out or overcooking food, use marinades and brines that enhance and add to the flavors of proteins while retaining their natural moisture, Hiler suggests. Even a simple brine of water, kosher salt, brown sugar, lemon juice, honey, garlic and onion powder, and cinnamon stick can make a big difference in the flavor and juiciness of barbecued chicken, he notes.
The much-craved marinade gets its distinctive flavor from limes, fresh-grated ginger, pineapple, onion, garlic, rice vinegar, honey, rosemary and mint. Hiler also uses it for grilling lamb chops and rack of lamb, both of which are also popular with members.
For portable grilling stations on the golf course, every detail is noted and organized in advance so that nothing is overlooked. Mise en place, Hiler notes, is just as important outdoors as it is in the club’s main kitchen.
“I do prep sheets that list everything required for that event, including food, chafers, tents, utensils, condiments—everything I can think of that they will need,” he says.
For six to eight weeks in summer, weather permitting, Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif., hosts weekly cookouts, including four major golf tournaments. Most of the time the fare isn’t fancy, but Executive Chef Anthony Cotroneo always seeks out the best of everything, from Kobe hot dogs to local vegetables, to give members and guests a special experience every time.
All season long, Cotroneo keeps his outdoor smoker, located behind the kitchen, fired up with a variety of woods—from mesquite to applewood, cherry or a blend—to slow-cook ribs, beef brisket and pork to pull for Southern-style sandwiches.
“The different woods add their own accents of flavors to the meats, making them taste a little different from service to service,” he explains.
Ears of corn develop a rich smokiness when Cotroneo grills them with the husks on. He also likes to make Mexican street-style corn, slathering the ears with chipotle aioli, sprinkling them with chili powder, cotija cheese and chopped cilantro, and serving them with fresh lime wedges.
Even a pot of rustic barbecued beans becomes a lush mélange of flavors and textures with the addition of meltingly decadent pork belly. Tarts or pies, starring grilled seasonal stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines and plums, often close out the meals.
The biggest and most upscale annual event at the club is a members’ tournament on Bel-Air Day. For this event, the outdoor grills turn out Nova Scotia lobster (“the best kind,” Cotroneo notes) and steaks, to serve upwards of 250 guests.
To support all of that outdoor cooking, the club recently purchased three additional grills for use on the patio outside its main dining room or on the large lawn. A new portable wood-fired pizza oven for use on the patio will also broaden the outdoor menu this summer, giving Cotroneo a chance to further demonstrate his creativity.