Sunny San Diego and a succession of engaging presenters combined to provide an illuminating experience at C&RB’s Eighth Annual Chef to Chef Conference.
Southern California’s mid-winter warmth and an agenda packed with timely presentations from leading practitioners within the club and resort industry’s chef community proved to be an irresistible combination that led to record attendance for C&RB’s Eighth Annual Chef to Chef Conference, held from February 28-March 1 at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina.
Attendees got more than ever from this year’s Conference, with expanded educational features added to both ends of the program. Prior to the official kickoff of the Conference on Sunday night, February 28, many registrants took advantage of the opportunity to learn from special programs provided by a variety of Conference sponsors (for details about the topics covered in the sessions, see the Conference Update page in the April 2016 issue of C&RB’s Chef to Chef).
Another new feature unveiled at the 2016 Conference was the “dine around” opening reception that was arranged as an alternative to previous years’ formal sit-down dinners. The culinary team at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina stepped up to the task of impressing an especially discerning group of diners by providing well-received fare at a variety of food stations that were set up for the new “Chef to Chef Bistro” format. Attendees also gave the thumbs-up to the expanded networking opportunities and especially welcoming opening-night atmosphere that was provided by the more casual kickoff to the Conference.
Additional chances to mingle were then extended well into the first night by another new Conference feature, the “Chef to Chef Lounge,” which provided a place for after-dinner socializing (the Lounge was also open on the Conference’s second night, as a place to gather after attendees returned from exploring San Diego’s culinary scene on a night left open for dinner; on both nights, the Chef to Chef Lounge was well-populated and lively, as it quickly drew acclaim as a popular new Conference feature).
Sunday night’s “Chef to Chef Bistro” also gave Conference attendees their first chance to interact with Rich Rosendale, CMC, who set up a special “show and tell” featuring new food products and concepts during the dine-around. The next morning, Rosendale—formerly part of the acclaimed culinary team at The Greenbrier Resort and now director of the Rosendale Collective catering, consulting and training firm—began the full-session educational portion of the Conference with his presentation on “Contemporary Club Cuisine from a Master Chef.” Rosendale’s riveting presentation, which generated an unprecedented number of audience questions through the Conference’s texting system, focused on how contemporary cooking now calls for embracing contemporary preparation techniques, with a particular emphasis on sous vide.
Rosendale was followed by another master chef, Jonathan Moosmiller, CMC, who walked attendees through how he helped his club, Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., build a successful “ranch to table” steakhouse concept and brand. Southern Hills’ determined quest to establish the club as the best steakhouse in Tulsa resulted in a record year in 2015 for its fine-dining restaurant, Moosmiller reported, marking a remarkable turnaround from 2014, which had seen that same restaurant’s worst cover count in five years.
In the next Conference session, Robert Fasce, CEC, Executive Chef of the Genesee Valley Club of Rochester, N.Y., captivated the Conference audience with his detailed, three-year outline for “Strategies for Success in the Club Kitchen Beyond Cooking.” While presented as a plan for chefs to follow when they take positions at new properties, Fasce’s prescriptions for success had strong applicability for all, as he counseled attendees on how to first take time to evaluate what is needed for a particular situation before then determining how to best go about “doing your thing and making an impact.”
Fasce was followed by Phil Benedetti, Executive Chef of Peninsula Golf & Country Club, San Mateo, Calif., who reported on his role and experiences to date in helping his club plan for a comprehensive clubhouse remodeling that will be completed in early 2017. The project includes a full makeover of the club’s existing banquet kitchen to create a new a la carte kitchen, and Benedetti described the steps that have been taken, as the project has unfolded, to keep banquet operations functional, especially during the holidays.
For the final full-session presentation on the Conference’s first day, attendees were treated to the energetic and entertaining approach taken by Jason McClain, Executive Chef of the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, as he seeks to maximize the value of his club’s extensive rooftop garden in establishing a signature culinary program. “Let what you grow and source determine the dish,” McClain advised as he demonstrated several unique menu items featuring lettuces, greens, vegetables, fruit and herbs cultivated at the top of the club’s downtown building.
The remainder of the Conference’s first day was then devoted to the popular “Chef to Chef Live” breakout sessions, which allow smaller groups to interact in free-wheeling discussions centering around common challenges and issues faced by all club and resort chefs. The sessions were moderated by Robert Fasce, Penelope Wong, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club, Cherry Hills Village, Colo., and Jerry Schreck, Executive Chef of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and the National Program Coordinator for the Chef to Chef Conference.
Prior to dispersing throughout San Diego to explore the city’s culinary scene as part of the Conference’s open-dinner night, attendees gathered on the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina’s Coronado Terrace for the Conference’s popular Mystery Basket cook-off.
When the Conference reconvened for full sessions on March 1, Scott Craig, CEC, Executive Chef of Chevy Chase (Md.) Club, presented a strong case for why “formal dining doesn’t have to go the way of the dinosaur” in club settings. Volume can still be driven to fine-dining outlets, Craig said, through steps that can include:
• rebranding space to tailor it to members’ tastes;
• creating a prix fixe option to create perceived value;
• designing menus to appeal to broader demographics, and including menu items that combine familiar flavor profiles with contemporary techniques and presentations; and
• doing more to familiarize members with the club’s formal dining space through events such as themed dinners, wine pairings, local beer-brewery dinners, and cigar dinners.
“Formal dining should be your philosophy as a chef that’s on display in some form each evening,” Craig concluded.
Chef Craig was followed by Craig Peterson, Executive Chef of Cherry Hills Country Club, Cherry Hills Village, Colo., who presented a wide variety of innovative concepts for buffet enhancements and creative catering. “Be imaginative and make believe,” Peterson counseled in describing his approach to creating resourceful and inventive presentations for events. “Think outside the box and continue to reinvent [as the same type of events occur]. Utilize all assets and resources of the club, and get all departments involved.” He also promoted finding ways to avoid using chafers whenever possible, as a key first step in demonstrating how a buffet can go beyond typical presentations and setups.
In the next presentation, James Haberstroh, Executive Chef of Glen Ridge (N.J.) Country Club (and formerly with Trump National Golf Club, Bedminster, N.J.), dazzled the Conference—and provided tasty samples—with his demonstrations of how liquid nitrogen can be used to create crowd-pleasing items such as “dragon’s breath popcorn,” “Jack Daniels Cracker Jack,” “adult root beer floats” and “smokin’ sangria.” Haberstroh also described how the technique can be used to create a variety of “lollipops”—including cake-batter, red velvet, chocolate and “fun-fetti”—that are especially popular at kids’ events.
The Conference then featured a presentation by Vincent Tracy, CCM, CCE, General Manager/COO of Town & Country Club, Saint Paul, Minn., and John Kain, the club’s Executive Chef, that detailed the steps Town & Country has taken to become the first private club to earn the status of being a Certified Green Restaurant®, as bestowed by the Green Restaurant Association. Tracy and Kain outlined the benefits that the certification, which has now been elevated to three stars, has had in a variety of operational aspects, including energy savings, food waste reduction and water conservation, as well as for creating distinction for the club’s culinary program and becoming a point of pride among the membership and staff.
With the Conference program now extended to a full second day in response to previous years’ attendees requests for an expanded agenda, the post-lunch sessions on the final day in San Diego began with a compelling presentation by Michael Matarazzo, CEC, Executive Chef, Farmington Country Club, Charlottesville, Va., on the need to make a commitment to accommodating special dietary needs and requests, as an integral part of every club’s culinary program. Matarazzo shared his personal story in making a lifestyle change that led to his significant weight loss to drive home these key points that should now dictate every club’s approach in striving to serve the dining needs and preferences of all of their members and guests:
• It should not be assumed that special requests are due to food allergies.
• It is possible to love food and still restrict yourself from eating certain ingredients.
• Vegetable dishes do not have to be “vegetarian” dishes.
• Special dietary items and ingredients should be kept in-house and made available whenever possible.
• Personal philosophies should not drive the level of accommodation provided to all diners.
• Providing a level of accommodation that members cannot find elsewhere will create a unique dining environment that they will recognize, appreciate and favor.
Chef Matarazzo’s presentation was followed by a tutorial on wine pairings delivered by Clive Smith, CCM, General Manager/COO of Waynesborough Country Club, Paoli, Pa., and Rob Bigelow, MS, Senior Director of Wine Education and On-Premise Development for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash. Smith and Bigelow walked attendees through principles for food and wine pairings and addressed common misconceptions associated with pairing efforts. Comprehensive takeaways were provided in the form of food-wine pairing charts that included suggested matchups for both red and white varietals with appetizers, main courses and desserts, a glossary of wine aroma descriptions, and a wine aroma chart.
As the final presentation of the Conference, Quentin Collignon, Executive Pastry Chef of the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, demonstrated how to incorporate ingredients, visual appeal, texture, taste and sugar balance to produce “a tempting table” of pastries and desserts that will appeal to diners seeking smaller portions and a greater variety of choices.
The 2016 Conference then adjourned with the announcement of the dates and location for the Ninth Annual Chef to Chef Conference, which will be held at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, Ga., from March 5-7, 2017. Planning has already begun for the agenda and speaker selection for the 2017 Conference, based in large part on suggestions from attendees’ evaluation forms. Updates will be posted in the coming weeks on the Conference website, www.CheftoChefConference.com (where PDFs of biographies and presentations can also be found). Registration for the 2017 Conference is scheduled to open on that site on August 1, 2016.
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