While filet mignon served in the French style will probably never go out of style on club banquet menus, an increasing number of members and sponsored guests are giving chefs freer rein to exercise their culinary chops.
At The Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., surf and turf (usually crabcake and filet) is the most often selected banquet option, according to Executive Chef Kirk DeLoach. But the sophisticated and well-traveled members also often request the incorporation of global dishes and flavor profiles they have experienced into their banquet menus.
Popular entrée choices include Chicken Napoleon with portabella mushroom, asparagus, risotto and brandy cream and sauteed shrimp and scallops with corn puree and vegetable brunoise. A vegetarian favorite is spanakopita with couscous, mixed green salad, olive relish and tzatziki sauce. For luncheon banquets, DeLoach offers a Vietnamese rice noodle salad with caramelized chicken, cucumber, tomato, peanuts, mint, basil and nuoc cham dressing.
Local seafood is often the star attraction at coastal Coral Bay Club in Atlantic Beach, N.C. Executive Chef Geneveive Guthrie’s unique take on the South’s ubiquitous shrimp and cheesy grits (her secret is cooking the shrimp and toppings in bacon fat) has earned the dish a loyal following for banquets.
Guthrie adds that members also “go crazy” for the club’s soft-shell bites, tempura-fried soft-shell crabs with chipotle mayonnaise. Also available on her seafood-centric menu are pan-seared grouper over sweet corn polenta and pan-seared scallops with chorizo and mushroom lemon risotto.
A stand-out display is her tuna prepared four ways—blackened, seared with salt and pepper, sesame seared and “candied.”
“To candy the tuna, we take small dices and marinate them in tamari, brown sugar, sesame oil and ginger,” she noted. “Guests are really intrigued by and enjoy this preparation.”
At BraeBurn Country Club in Houston, Texas, members may come in thinking steak for their banquet entrée, but leave with a vision of Executive Chef Pedro Sanchez’s lomo negro, beef chuck flap meat braised in Malta (non-alcoholic malt beverage), red wine, cloves and brown cane sugar.
“This dish takes a lot of prep, but holds very well,” Sanchez explained. “It originated on our supper menu but was so wildly popular that we offer it for banquets as well.”
Another banquet option that has caught on at BraeBurn, “especially for bar mitzvahs,” is the upscale taco bar. Stations with flattops produce tacos with lobster, shrimp, roasted chicken and al pastore (roasted pork).
Whimsical desserts are also a hallmark at the club. One, called the Sub-Zero station, involves flash-freezing Fruity Pebbles cereal in liquid nitrogen so when the guests eat it smoke comes out of their mouths and noses. At the same station, jumbo-size marshmallows are dipped in vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry crème anglaise then into frozen nitrogen to create a treat that tastes like an ice cream-covered marshmallow.
“Kids really love this station, so it is another great one for bar mitzvahs,” Sanchez points out.
Like its dining room menus, the banquet menus at The Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Matteo, Calif. change with the seasons. Members are open to switching up the traditional steak and potatoes to something fresher and more elaborate like Chilean sea bass on a bed of sticky rice with baby bok choy, pickled and roasted shiitake mushrooms and shiitake mushroom dashi broth, says Matthew Azevedo, the club’s Executive Chef.
In the late summer, a choice was wild-caught local king salmon with lemon smashed potatoes, ratatouille, and basil aioli. For winter, the salmon might be paired with roasted beets and horseradish aioli.
Vegetarian or vegan guests have thoughtful options of their own. They can choose a napoleon of roasted vegetables or a risotto timbale with roasted red pepper sauce.
“Out of 200 guests, we’ll sell about 10,” Azevedo says.
BraeBurn serves its banquets in the French style with six servers to a table and no trays. Azevedo explains that members appreciate the elegance of the presentation.
Azevedo can set up a seated banquet for up to 150 guests at the pool. In summer, he uses the space for barbeque buffet banquets.
The front terrace of the club’s ballroom, which overlooks the San Francisco Bay, can accommodate 80 guests. Sometimes he will set the buffet up outside and guests can dine in the ballroom.
Although members of The Army and Navy Club often like to dine outdoors, being a city club means not having a great deal of outside space. For special functions, DeLoach will set up in the rooftop garden. From May through September, he is also able to utilize the rooftop of a connected building once a month.
“These spaces consistently sell out,” he states.
Since COVID restrictions have relaxed, some clubs are seeing more banquet business than ever. Guthrie reported that the club’s numbers in 2021 were even bigger than in 2019 and that it is booked for weddings every weekend.
Sanchez says that BraeBurn’s banquet business has recovered about 60% since the pandemic. He noted that the events have been smaller than they used to be, around 30 to 50 guests, and about 50% are sponsored or referred by members.
In April and May, The Peninsula Club had a wedding or bar mitzvah scheduled every Saturday. (For the bar mitzvahs he does plated food for the adults and a buffet for the youngsters.) From now until the end of the year, the banquet facility is booked out, Azevedo says.
At The Army and Navy Club, banquets have picked up “considerably,” according to DeLoach.
“At this point, we should match or even surpass pre-COVID revenues,” he said.
In addition to members’ private events, the club has an extensive annual banquet roster. Some of them are The Annual Salute to the Armed Forces Gala, Golden Nights Dinner (for members who have been with the club for more than 50 years), Military Promotions Ceremonies and Receptions, Young Members Masquerade Ball and the Army vs. Navy Annual Football Viewing Party.
With so many banquet events and a clientele that ranges from presidents and members of Congress to admirals and generals, planning, service and execution have to be impeccable and reproducible. First, DeLoach meets with the club’s Director of Events and Catering to get an overall perspective on the event as far as food selections and service requirements. After that, he and the event managers go over timing and execution of service.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, BraeBurn Country Club in Houston, Texas, did a brisk banquet business, says Pedro Sanchez, the club’s Executive Chef. But, he notes, two years with no big events gave club management an opportunity to re-examine and re-evaluate their banquet thinking, planning and execution.
The most dramatic changes have been made in the realm of service.
Instead of buffets, since Covid, 80 percent of banquet meals are plated or served at stations, Sanchez explained.
“We decided to stay away from pre-plating and hot boxes,” he said. “All plating is done through the line or at the buffet.”
He pointed out that while pre-plating may save time, it can take a toll on food quality.
“We chose quality,” Sanchez states.
In addition to providing guests with fresher food, he notes, plated and station service also cut down on food waste. And guests really enjoy interacting with the chefs at the stations, he adds.
Summing It Up
> Banquet service has increased since COVID restrictions have relaxed, but many aren’t seeing it all the way back to previous levels.
> Upscale taco bars—featuring stations with flattops that produce tacos with lobster, shrimp, roasted chicken and al pastore—are gaining popularity.
> In addition to providing banquet guests with fresher food, plated and station service also cuts down on food waste.
Shrimp and Cheesy Grits
Yield: 4 servings
INGREDIENTS for Cheesy grits:
2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 cup stone ground grits
4 oz. shredded sharp cheddar
salt and pepper to taste
PROCEDURE for Cheesy grits:
1. Place water, milk, Tabasco and butter over medium-high
heat and bring to a simmer.
2. Add the grits and stir well. Reduce the flame to medium-low
and stir often.
3. Once the grits are fully cooked, remove from heat, stir in
cheese and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
INGREDIENTS for Shrimp and Toppings:
2-3 tbsps. chilled bacon fat
12 local 26.30 shrimp
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup destemmed and thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsps. rendered bacon
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 lemon, cut in half or 2 tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup bias cut scallions
salt and pepper to taste
edible flowers for garnish
PROCEDURE for Cheesy grits:
1. In a medium stainless steel saute pan on high heat, melt bacon fat.
2. Once melted and hot, add shrimp, toss in fat followed by minced garlic.
3. After the shrimp have cooked partially, add shiitake mushrooms. Toss, then add bacon, toss again, add the juice of one lemon and the Tabasco sauce.
4. Once the shrimp are fully cooked, remove from heat, add 1/4 cup sliced scallions, lightly toss and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
5. Using a Cosmopolitan glass and #16 scoop, scoop cheesy grits into the glass. Place three shrimp on the top and add toppings from the pan.
6. Garnish with the remaining sliced scallions and an edible flower.
7. Serve immediately.
Submitted by Geneveive Guthrie, Executive Chef, Coral Bay Club, Atlantic Beach, N.C.
YIELD: 12 servings
5 lbs. beef chuck flap meat
1.5 gallons beef broth
1 head garlic, chopped
12-15 ground cloves
2 tbsps. black pepper
1 tbsp. nutmeg
3 yellow onions, small diced
3 red peppers, small diced
1 cup grated piloncillo panela (brown sugar cane)
6 bay leaves
1/2 cup canola oil
6 12-oz. bottles non-alcoholic malt beverage (Malta)
6 tomatoes, small diced
2 cups red wine
1. Trim the excess fat from the chuck flap and cut into 7-ounce portions.
2. In a hotel pan, marinate the beef with the Malta, red wine, garlic, tomatoes, onions and red peppers. Let it marinate for at least 12 hours.
3. After the 12 hours, remove the beef from the marinade, strain the liquid and reserve it and the vegetables.
4. Heat up the oil in a skillet and sear the beef on all sides. Make sure you get nice caramelization on all sides, the darker the better.
5. Remove the beef from the skillet, add the shredded piloncillo and cook until melted and gets a dark color. Deglaze the skillet with the malt and wine mix from the marinade, bring to a boil and add the vegetables from the marinade.
6. Put the beef back in the skillet and lower the temperature. Add the beef broth (enough to cover the beef by 3/4).
7. Add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, salt and pepper and bay leaf. Let it simmer for around 20 minutes then place the beef in deep hotel pans and cover with liquid 3/4 of the way.
8. Cover and bake in the oven at 350 F for about 4 hours or until tender.
9. Reduce the broth until nape, season with salt and pepper as needed.
Submitted by Pedro Sanchez, Executive Chef, BraeBurn Country Club, Houston, Texas
Grilled Salmon with Lemon Smashed Potatoes, Charred Tomato Relish and Basil Aioli
Yield: 1 serving
INGREDIENTS for salmon:
1 – 8 oz. portion wild king salmon, skin on
INGREDIENTS for Lemon Smashed Potatoes:
1/5 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut into 1” pieces
Juice of one lemon
INGREDIENTS for Charred Tomato Relish:
6 large heirloom tomatoes
6 toybox cherry tomatoes, halved through the stem
2 shallots, diced fine
1/2 bunch parsley, finely minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Dash sherry vinegar
INGREDIENTS for Charred Basil Aioli:
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 cups blended cooking oil
3 bunches basil, de-stemmed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, blanch basil leaves until tender, about 30 seconds. Immediately submerge in ice water.
2. Squeeze water out of basil and combine in a blender with 1/2 cup blended cooking oil. Puree to a smooth, bright green puree.
3. Add egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and desired pinch of salt to a food processor. Puree until smooth, the slowly drizzle in basil oil to emulsify. Finish with 1 to 1 1/2 cups blended oil. Season to taste. Set aside.
4. Submerge potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water and bring to simmer. Cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside.
5. Char heirloom potatoes on a hot grill until the skin begins to peel and turns black, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then roughly chop them and toss with shallots, parsley, olive oil and sherry vinegar. Season to taste.
6. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup blended cooking oil. Once oil reaches smoke point, smash potatoes with the back of a spoon by hand and fry them in the saute pan until crispy, about 3 minutes. Do not overcrowd pan. Finish potatoes with lemon juice and salt to taste.
7. Grill salmon to desired temperature.
Submitted by Matt Azevedo, Executive Chef, The Peninsula Golf & Country Club, San Matteo, California
Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops with Corn Puree and Vegetable Brunoise
YIELD: 4 servings
2 ears fresh corn shaved off the cob
1 medium russet potato
1 small yellow onion
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 cups water
1/4 cup polenta
Salt and white pepper to taste
12 u-10 shrimp
8 u-10 scallops
1 cup brunoise vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, green pepper and corn kernels)
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 small shallot, diced
Salt & white pepper to taste
1. Place the first five items in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are very soft. Add polenta and continue cooking another 5 minutes until polenta is very soft.
2. Place in blender on low speed at first, then increase speed until pureed and very smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Remove from blender and set aside. Keep hot.
4. Saute the shrimp and scallops in a small amount of cooking oil for approximately one minute on each side until cooked through.
5. Remove shrimp and scallops from pan and keep warm.
6. Saute the shallot and garlic with the brunoise vegetables in a little butter until cooked through. Keep in a warm place.
7. Plate shrimp and scallops on polenta and top with brunoise vegetables.
Submitted by Kirk DeLoach, Executive Chef, The Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.