The Executive Chef of Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, Ohio joined the club in 2018 and quickly instituted a number of enhancements, including utilizing mobile pizza and smoker equipment, and starting a new sushi program.
Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, Ohio has a long heritage of tradition and distinction. The club was founded in 1929, when a group of members from the downtown Cincinnati Club set out to create a country club with golf, and engaged Donald Ross to help it find a suitable site for a course. Over 340 acres of farmland was acquired northeast of the city, with additional land then secured to create a 482-acre property on which William Diddel designed the original two 18-hole courses.
Today, Kenwood stands as one of fewer than 40 clubs in the U.S. that are over 90 years old and have 36 holes of golf—and as one of only 20 in that group that has hosted a major national tournament. And its golf heritage is now augmented by a full complement of amenities, including clay- and hard-court tennis, platform tennis, fitness, swimming and diving, and award-winning dining headed by Executive Chef Sean Sennet, CEC.
Chef Sennet came to Kenwood in 2018, bringing experience from several other leading club and resort properties, including Ballantyne CC, River Hills CC, Mountain Air CC, The Broadmoor and Chevy Chase Club (while at River Hills, he presented at the 2012 Chef to Chef Conference in New Orleans). After arriving at Kenwood, he has quickly instituted a number of enhancements, including utilizing mobile pizza and smoker equipment, and starting a new sushi program, to further enhance member satisfaction and Kenwood’s already-strong food-and-beverage reputation.
We thank Chef Sennet for taking the time to provide some insights into how these and other programs have been planned and implemented, and also for filling us in on some of the keys to his career success.
C+RB Chef, can you talk about your newly purchased pizza oven and the exciting plans you have for using it and other new equipment?
Sennet We have an outdoor bar and restaurant, The Pavilion, which is a well-used, 100-seat outlet during our summer season. It was also built without a dedicated kitchen to provide foodservice and during my first two seasons, we managed to cook all food for The Pavilion—as well as for pool concessions, the golf turn for our two 18-hole golf courses, and our grab-and-go—all out of a footprint the size of a large food truck.
Before my arrival, the staff tried to provide foodservice for the Pavilion out of our main kitchen, but the distance to service it was too far away. Going into my third season, we decided that a Marra Forni mobile pizza oven would help to relieve some of the pressure off our summer-house outlet and allow us to be directly next to The Pavilion without building another structure. And it could also be used during other member events, and/or for carryout during our slower months. We also have a Meadowcreek mobile smoker on a trailer that we can move around with a golf cart to help, if we want to provide a Pizza & Wing night or other “dueling” events.
The initial price tag for the pizza oven is high, between $20,000-$35,000. But as the membership has seen the flexibility and efficiency that it will produce, they’ve been excited about the investment. For others who are considering getting one, if the oven has an option of being pre-cured before transport, I suggest having that done. Not that it is a difficult task, but having it ready to cook upon arrival, after the six- to eight-week build time, helps to get things rolling. Members want pizza the day it comes off the trailer!
C+RB You’ve started a sushi program as well. How did you go about looking for a sushi chef, and what would you advise for someone who is considering doing something similar?
Sennet In our area, most steak houses offer sushi, and it was the one thing Kenwood did not offer. We were losing a whole crowd of members when one of these local restaurants would offer half-priced sushi, so our idea was to create our own program.
I first looked around to see if and how other clubs were offering sushi. I soon found that most were only offering it as a specialty night or contracting a company to cook three to four nights. We wanted to have it as part of the a la carte menu and offer it five nights per week. That way, to start, we would be able to hopefully use one person, one shift per day, and on the busy days use one of our rounds cooks to help during the rush.
We placed a job posting for a sushi chef (sous chef), and luckily for us there were local sushi restaurants which were cutting some hours due to COVID-19—so there was some local talent looking for work. Cooking interviews followed, and eventually we found a very talented chef who had been in the industry for quite some time.
To start, we offered three sushi specials only during dinner hours, and only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This helped us gauge the membership’s preferences and work out the back-of-the-house logistics. We were also fortunate to have a demonstration kitchenette that shared space with the dining room and was only being used for smaller events, and not often due to COVID-19. So this dedicated space has helped with storage and logistics.
The other fun addition has been the use of Bluegrass Soy Sauce. Being in Cincinnati, it has helped to tell another story, promote a local product, and sell sushi in the Midwest. It has been very well-received by the membership and is also another element we can teach to our current and future culinarians.
C+RB Are you sourcing from local farms for your current menu?
Sennet The demand for using sustainable products from our membership is there, and our first thing was to ensure sustainability while satisfying the need. So our search was a little broader than the local farm down the street. When I was working in Appalachia, I had experienced startup farms where the farmer who had great produce also took a siesta from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and/or had no contact phone number, or simply went away for a week without warning. This led us to search a little more broadly at Kenwood for more established farming operations.
We have found some great success with some local and interesting farmers in the area. Two that have been sustainable and have grown tremendously over the past couple years are 80 Acres Farms, which is an indoor farm, has a great story to tell, is very innovative, and produces amazing-tasting produce. When you go to their facility, you feel like you are getting ready to grow food in space, minus the space helmet! Really a great concept, bringing farming to the city! We had an opportunity to use them when they were first starting, and it has been fun to be with them from almost the start.
The other is Black Hawk Farms. They raise Wagyu Cattle in Kentucky on an innovative combustible compost. The beef tastes great and the farmers are always available and stop by frequently. We use their ground beef for burgers at our Pavilion and Summer House, and have been told by numerous members that we are not allowed to change the meat we use. Their other cuts I use for wine dinners, butcher’s specials, and member events.
Currently, we are working with our horticulturalist to start a bee program and member garden. The demand for local farms from our membership is certainly there.
C+RB What best prepared you for your position at Kenwood?
Sennet When I first started my career, I was told to move around every two to three years, pick people or places to work in or around who you think will better your career, and pay attention. So I took that advice and traveled, working in all kinds of foodservice, from stadiums and resorts to restaurants and clubs—even barbecue and catering for a couple years.
All of these places and experiences helped to prepare me and “round me out” for what was needed from the Executive Chef at Kenwood Country Club. Like most clubs, you have a diverse membership that has many different tastes and expectations. It is the wonderful thing about working at clubs: You as a cook or chef get to create any environment, cook almost any food, and have immediate feedback. See your creation from start to finish, sometimes a little faster than liked—but joking aside, it is that excitement and creative release that keeps me at clubs.
C+RB How has networking with other club chefs helped you in your day-to-day position?
Sennet The great aspect of the club chef network is we usually face some of the same challenges. Budgets and other facets might be different, but that creates creativity and diversity.
Sometimes, I just call to vent or talk about a fun event our club hosted, and at the end of the conversation, I have a great idea and new process for how to set up my pool snack bar better. Or we want to start a pizza program, and I can talk to a chef who just recently went through the process and can give me insight into potential unforeseen issues, successes, and failures. Thank you Chef Richard Jallet, from Baltimore (Md.) Country Club, for all your help and insight!
My General Manager, Dylan Petrick, pushes me, and my staff, to network and get involved in local and national conversations; it is a bullet point in our annual reviews. Even as a young culinarian, I was able to talk to other sous chefs and chefs at other clubs and find out what/how they were doing with certain items in their a la carte operations, which led to inspiration and solutions.
C+RB What’s your philosophy about chef mentoring?
Sennet I have found the best and most successful way, at least for me, has been to create a fun and rewarding environment, rooted in teaching the fundamentals of our craft. Show how to take a task, which is and will be monotonous, and how it ties into the broader scope of things and/or how to accomplish it quicker, cleaner, and easier.
Also, laugh and smile a lot! Create excitement in everyday products, and how to use them, market them to the membership, and maintain them. Show that it is a craft first, and then it becomes a vessel for research, entertainment, sustenance, and creativity.
I like to also show humbleness, by introducing staff to experts in fields I am not necessarily experienced or best in, to teach best practices or techniques, and to introduce them to my peers. And involve the staff in industry events such as the Chef to Chef Conference or educational workshops. It was what inspired me when I was younger, and I feel it is the best way to keep the excitement and drive.
Sean Sennet, CEC
Executive Chef, Kenwood Country Club, Cincinnati, Ohio (2018-Present)
• Executive Chef, Ballantyne Country Club, Charlotte, N.C. (2017-2018)
• Director of Catering, Red Star Catering/Mac’s Speed Shop (2014-2017)
• Executive Chef, River Hills Country Club, Lake Wylie, S.C. (2009-2014)
• Executive Sous Chef, Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville, N.C.
• Sous Chef, The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo. (2005-2007)
• Sous Chef, Chevy Chase (Md.) Club (2002-2005)
Education & Professional Achievements:
• Delaware Technical and Community College—Owens Campus, Georgetown, Del., Culinary Arts Program, 1999-2002
• Certified Executive Chef, American Culinary Federation, 2016
• Chef to Chef Conference (2012, presenter/2019 & 2020 attendee)
• Semi-finalist, Culinary Olympic Tryouts, 2013
• Apprentice, Culinary Olympic National Team, 2004