The best guest-chef events offer something totally different than the norm, while bringing the club culinary world a little closer together.
Club chefs are making cameo appearances in each other’s kitchens. As a result, members are gaining access to some of the industry’s best culinary talent.
“Although our members love the cuisine we regularly offer, bringing in a guest chef creates an opportunity for them to experience a new and different cooking style,” says Penelope Wong, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.).
And since the visitor never tries to replicate the host chef’s usual fare, guest-chef events also provide an exciting educational opportunity for the culinary “home team” at the host club.
“Our cooks learn new techniques and discover new cuisines during these events,” adds Wong, who generally extends invitations to colleagues she admires or respects. “The education piece is absolutely the best part.”
Two years ago, Wong invited Jason Hall, CMC, former Executive Chef of Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., to kitchen-hop and be the star of Glenmoor’s first Certified Master Chef (CMC) Guest Chef Dinner. The event was such a success that the club decided to make it an annual event.
“This year, Chef Hall brought two members of his team from Myers Park CC,” says Wong. “It not only gave his chefs the opportunity to work and learn in a new kitchen and with new chefs, it also created an opportunity for my staff to work with new faces and learn from them as well.”
Hall and Wong begin collaborating months in advance. They worked out the details on the menu, deciding which dishes each would prepare, as well as what they thought would be most useful for their cooks to prepare.
“We limit the dinner to 50 guests,” says Wong. “Our most recent menu included scratch-made butternut squash gnocchi, nori-cured hamachi, ribeye spinalis, a failed attempt at brown-butter foam, an awesome discovery of how to make blackberry sugar to brulée onto foie, and a very interesting combination of olive-oil ice cream and kalamata olive granola for dessert.”
Wong, who thrives in these jam-band-style kitchen mashups, hopes to eventually host at least three guest-chef dinners each year.
For Nelson Millán, Executive Chef of San Antonio (Texas) Country Club (SACC), collaborating with guest chefs from the club world has had far more value than when he invited celebrity chefs into his kitchen.
“We’ve been hosting guest chefs for at least eight years,” says Millán. “I’ve had everyone from John Besh to Benjamin Ford cook for my members. But last year, we changed gears and began inviting club chefs. The food quality and execution were far superior, in my opinion, and our members embraced these chefs and their food with very positive results.”
Richard Jallet, Executive Chef of Baltimore (Md.) Country Club (BCC), was SACC’s most recent guest chef (see photo, above). For his visit to Texas, Jallet prepared a five-course, contemporary French menu with dozens of modern twists. Sixty members attended the event and three of SACC’s cooks helped him with the execution of the event.
“Chef Jallet was super-organized and prepared,” says Millán. “I learned about texturizers for sauces and fruit powder for crumbs that I had never worked with before. He also shared with us a few modern plating techniques that made the plates shine. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and his presence made members feel like they were participating in something extraordinary.”
To return the favor, Millán then flew to Maryland to be a guest chef at BCC (see photo, below).
“We broke our guest-chef event into two parts,” says Jallet. “First, we had a wine dinner for about 40 members, where Chef Millán featured products and flavors native to [Millán’s home country of] Puerto Rico. Then at the pool, we had a Latino BBQ, with a whole grouper roasted in the Caja China box.”
BCC’s banquet staff was thrilled to learn new techniques from Millán. “With guest-chef events, it is always my goal to leave something useful behind and take something useful with me,” says Millán.
Jallet hopes to give up his kitchen a few more times, hosting more club chefs. “I would love to collaborate with local club chefs on an event where we each do a course,” he says. “There is much to learn from one another—from the cuisine of their region to how they run their kitchen.”
The Guesting Game
Penelope Wong, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club (Cherry Hills Village, Colo.), Nelson Millán, Executive Chef of San Antonio (Texas) Country Club (SACC), and Richard Jallet, Executive Chef of Baltimore (Md.) Country Club (BCC), share some of the do’s, don’ts and ground rules for successful guest-chef events.
Who covers expenses?
Wong: “I try to piggyback on the Certified Master Chef summit, which is held in Denver every year, to minimize my club’s expenses. However, I make it a point to wine and dine and shower my guest chefs with much appreciation and gifts for their time.”
Millán: “SACC covers all expenses, including airfare, transportation, lodging and meals.”
Jallet: “My club covers all expenses for the guest chef.”
What are the biggest challenges?
Millán: “Coordination of all the details.”
Jallet: “Planning and promotion. The guest chef needs to communicate ahead about any specific products needed. Organization is key.”
What value is there in hosting a guest chef?
Wong: “Learning and networking with other chefs and their cooks.”
Millán: “Learning new techniques and styles of cuisine.”
Jallet: “Being able to showcase the talent in the club world and to offer my members something different than what they’re used to.”
What could other club chefs learn from your guest-chef experience so far?
Wong: “The educational opportunities within the club-chef network are vast. Take advantage of that talent pool.”
Millán: “This is an exciting win-win for chefs and their clubs. Hosting a guest chef or being a guest chef will impact the way you look at your operation. It will validate things you’re doing well, and highlight areas that need to be improved.”
Jallet: “It’s an opportunity to bring some fun into your kitchen. Your staff will get excited, as will your membership. Plus—let’s be honest—it’s one day of the year when you don’t have to come up with the menu.”
What has been the highlight for you so far?
Wong: “We don’t have fancy equipment. During our guest-chef events, we have to forewarn the cooks. For example, we make gnocchi with our hands and the back of a fork, rather than a real gnocchi board. We showed the latest guest-chef team how we make and cook it. Then, weeks later when I was the guest chef, a cook approached me about my gnocchi-making technique. He had learned it from one of his cooks who had visited my club during a guest-chef event.”
Millán: “Baltimore CC, Chef Jallet and the club’s GM surprised me with a really nice chef coat and a polo shirt, both embroidered with BCC’s logo and my name. It blew me away and really made me feel welcome and special.”
Jallet: “The learning, cooking and camaraderie has been unmatched and very inspiring.”