Vineyard Golf Club opened in 2002. This gorgeous property sits on 235 preserved acres on Martha’s Vineyard two miles from historic Edgartown, Mass. The front nine of the golf course was redesigned in 2013, and the back nine in 2015, by world-renowned architect Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner. Vineyard GC offers great golf in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S.
Where there is great golf, there is likely to be exquisite food. Vineyard GC’s Executive Chef, Anthony Rabeni, took over for former chef and mentor Mark Chaput (“Island Paradise,” C+RB, July 2012) just a couple of years ago. Chef Rabeni hasn’t looked back in putting his stamp on what was already a tremendous F&B program.
I’d like to thank Chef Rabeni for taking the time to talk with C+RB as the summer crowd was starting to either fly in or have their vehicles loaded on to ferries from various locations on Cape Cod, so they could make their way to Vineyard GC.
C+RB Chef, you were challenged after becoming the club’s new Executive Chef with branding Vineyard’s F&B operation by offering a broader cuisine, creating signature dishes and providing an experience that was unique to your club. How did you go about accomplishing this?
Rabeni From the beginning, we were trained to be consistent with each item on the menu. Chef Mark Chaput, my mentor, would always say, “You can be consistently good or consistently bad, as long as you are consistent.” A member from 10 years ago can come in to the club today and get the same cobb salad or roasted oysters that they had back then, which is pretty cool in a way.
With that said, I am looking forward to expanding the menu and branching out a little from the “norm.” Having a great management that supports my moves in the back of the house with trying new items makes my job easier.
C+RB You are in the dining areas interfacing with members constantly. Many chefs are reluctant to do so regularly, for various reasons. How has your outgoing personality and desire to step out of the kitchen helped you and your team’s reputation?
Rabeni I think it is important to be visible for the members and to be willing to listen to both the good and the bad critiques. Putting a face to the name on the menu goes a long way. In return, I learn and understand the members’ wants and needs. This makes for a more enjoyable eating experience for the members.
This also helps for my staff to then be trained to remember and meet members’ specific requests/preferences, likes and dislikes. We will know what they may order, and how they like it prepared, before that member even sits down.
C+RB Your season is relatively short compared to most. That being said, you have a captive audience and I’m curious as to what your menu strategy is, to give the members a different look each time they dine at the club.
Rabeni Menus are a tricky thing with clubs. I am always looking to keep a good balance of items that the members expect to see, while still sliding in some new ideas.
We have had some items on the menu since 2002 that we dare not to remove. But we have also expanded the menu to add more choices, from appetizers to shared plates and entrees. We also always try to use the freshest ingredients of the summer and the bounty of the island’s local resources.
I also try to throw new ideas to the membership through nightly specials. From that I get a good understanding if the special should become an item on the menu the following year. A simple example is Chicken Parmigiana—I just tried it out one Sunday and boy, it took off so much that it went on the menu shortly thereafter.
C+RB Staffing our kitchens is the biggest challenge we face as chefs today. For you, being on an island and also in an extremely seasonal operation, it is even harder. How do you tackle this year in and year out?
Rabeni Staffing is always an issue. We always reach out to former employees first to see if they would like to return. From there I look to fill the empty spots. I travel to job fairs at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y. and at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Then on to other clubs in Florida. We offer housing and a strong hourly wage. The housing is key—without that, I would have no staff.
Once the season begins to slow down, I try to help the staff relocate for the winter months, whether it be back to Florida or out west to the ski resorts. The staff is grateful for our help. It is getting easier each year, but I do lose about 50% of the kitchen staff each year.
C+RB Many are aware of the environmentally sensitive measures taken on the Vineyard golf course. How has this initiative carried over to clubhouse operations?
Rabeni The environment is very important, not only to our members, but also with our staff. Being an organic golf course has opened our eyes to the many ways we can help in the clubhouse. We have placed water-refill stations throughout the course and in the snack bar. We are striving to remove all plastic from the takeout menu, snack bar and even at the bar. Throughout the back of the house we recycle whenever possible, including cardboard, glass and aluminum.
We have just started working with the Island Grown Initiative (www.igimv.org) on Martha’s Vineyard to save all food waste. In return, this non-profit organization will pick up the food waste, compost it and return it to us to fertilize the golf course and our garden. We are excited about each of these small changes we have made, and look forward to continuing and expanding our environmental efforts in the future.
C+RB You were called upon to go to Augusta National to help execute The Masters Tournament this year. Can you tell us what that experience was like, how it energized you, and what you brought back from it to Vineyard GC?
Rabeni The Masters was an amazing experience. Just the magnitude is overwhelming; I for one have never worked for an event that large. The best way to describe it is that it’s like working a Member-Guest function every day for 14 days. The long hours did help me to get ready for my season at Vineyard.
Seeing the organization of each kitchen and of all that went into the training, staffing and menu design was a great learning experience. It was really fun to go someplace and bring back pieces of ideas—it is where the thought was generated for a Lobster Gnocchi dish that we now have at our club.
Executive Chef, Vineyard Golf Club, Edgartown, Mass. (2017-Present)
• Assistant Executive Chef, Vineyard Golf Club, 2002-2017
• Culinary Brigade Member, Augusta National Golf Club (April 2019)
• Rounds Cook, Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, Va. (2001-2002)
• Private Chef, 1998-2001
• The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., AOS Degree (2002)
• University of Delaware, Newark, Del., Bachelor of Science, Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (2000)
• Swiss School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Chur, Switzerland (1999)
Continuing Education and Professional Affiliations:
• 4th Annual Epicurea, 2018
• Chef to Chef Conferences 2016, 2018 and 2019
• Fundamental Food and Wine Pairings, CIA Greystone, Napa, Calif., 2011
• Individual Pastry and Desserts, CIA, Hyde Park, N.Y., 2008
View Executive Chef Anthony Rebeni’s recipes: