Held in the first days of March before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the 12th Annual Chef to Chef Conference in Charlotte, N.C. provided attendees with insights and contacts that proved especially valuable after they returned home.
SOCIAL DISTANCING WAS NOT YET even a concept, let alone a mandated practice, when hundreds of the club industry’s top chefs and food-and-beverage managers, along with many general managers, descended on Charlotte, N.C. in the first days of March for the 12th Annual Chef to Chef Conference. And as it turned out, the Conference provided attendees with a last opportunity to renew professional acquaintances, and develop new ones, that would prove especially valuable and vital as sources of needed support and information, after everyone returned home to face the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
With a program that included presentations by three Certified Master Chefs, a keynote address by celebrated chef, author and TV personality Michelle Bernstein, and the added attraction of the first-ever “Inside the House” club tour that would treat attendees to inside looks (and the food and beverage specialties) of three of the city’s top clubs, the Charlotte event drew the second-highest attendance in the Conference’s 12-year history. It also featured a record number of sponsoring companies that, in addition to their displays of a full range of products and services, also held special educational sessions, provided supplies and ingredients for Conference meals and events, and offered a variety of valuable prizes that were raffled off to attendees (see https://clubandresortbusiness.com/chef-to-chef-conference-features-sponsor-sessions-supplies-and-swag/).
After the first day of the Conference began on Sunday, March 1st with registration, sponsors’ pre-Conference workshops and a welcome reception, attendees gathered for an opening plated dinner prepared by The Westin Charlotte’s culinary staff headed by Executive Chef Aaron Cox (whose resume includes club and resort experience at TPC Piper Glen, Amelia Island Plantation, the Grand Teton Lodge, and The Greenbrier).
The dinner was followed by the keynote address by Michelle Bernstein, the Miami-based owner/operator (with her husband/business partner, David Martinez) of the Michelle Bernstein Catering company and Cafe La Trova, a Cuban-inspired bar and cafe in the city’s Little Havana section. In relating the steps of a career that has also included being a James Beard Award winner (Best Chef South 2008), authoring Cuisine a Latina, and making TV appearances on shows including “Top Chef” (where she bested Bobby Flay), “SoFlo Taste” and “Check Please!” (both of which she currently hosts), Bernstein related the drive and desire that has fueled her success to the passion and dedication she felt and shared with the club chefs attending the Conference.
After Bernstein then joined attendees to close out the evening in the always-popular “Chef to Chef Lounge,” the Conference resumed on Monday morning, March 2nd with its first education sessions:
• “Leadership vs. Management / Innovation vs. Creativity,” presented by Edward Leonard, CMC, Director of Culinary Operations and Executive Chef of The Polo Club off Boca Raton (Fla.)
• “From Club Chef to James Beard Nominee,” presented by Paul Verica, Chef Owner, The Stanley, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C. restaurant. Prior to opening restaurants, Verica was Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage at The Club at Longview in Waxhaw, N.C.
• “A Master Chef-Inspired Club Dinner,” presented by Olivier Andreini, CMC, Executive Chef, Bentwater Yacht & Country Club in Montgomery, Texas, during which Andreini walked attendees through all of the steps required to plan and execute a prix fixe five-course Valentine’s Day dinner that included two appetizer choices and three entree choices.
• “An Introduction to CBD and Terpenes from Canada’s Cannabis Chef,” presented by Travis Peterson, founder and principle owner of The Nomad Cook, which originally focused on cross-country pop-up dinners and in-home private dining, but changed its focus in 2018 to specializing in serving cannabis-infused dining experiences.
AN INSIDE LOOK
The afternoon of the Charlotte conference’s first full day was devoted to the first-ever “Inside the House” club tour, which gave attendees the unique opportunity to get an up-close, exclusive look at the properties and food-and-beverage operations of three of the city’s leading clubs: Quail Hollow Club, Carmel Country Club and Myers Park Country Club.
For the tour, attendees were first bused in smaller groups to both Carmel and Quail Hollow, with everyone then ending up at Myers Park. Each stop on the tour was hosted by the clubs’ Executive Chefs— Justin Sing at Quail Hollow, Ryan Cavanaugh at Carmel CC and Scott Craig, CEC, CCA, WCMC at Myers Park—and their General Managers—John Schultz, CCM, CCE (Carmel), Tom DeLozier, CCM, CCE (Quail Hollow) and Mark Bado, MCM, CCE—with full support from their staffs. Each club pulled out all of the stops to provide insights into their unique cultures and histories and offer full access to their kitchens and dining venues—and to serve up a full complement of their menu and bar specialties, to make sure everyone was well-fed and refreshed every step of the way.
(Detailed coverage of the club tour will be included in the May 2020 issue of Club + Resort Chef that will be mailed with the May issue of C+RB).
Upon returning from Myers Park and enjoying the traditional night out to experience the local dining scene, attendees returned on Tuesday morning for another full slate of presentations that included:
• “The Three R’s: Relevance, Recruitment and Retention,” presented by Michael Matarazzo, CEC, Executive Chef, Farmington CC, Charlottesville, Va.
• “Inspiring and Retaining a Culinary Team at the End of the ‘Yes, Chef’ Era,” presented by J. Kevin Walker, CMC, Executive Chef, Ansley Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga.
Matarazzo and Walker’s presentations both focused on relating personal and professional experiences concerning how they have dealt with stress and work-balance issues for both themselves and their staffs; they delivered messages and counsel that would prove to be especially relevant after attendees returned home and were thrust onto the front lines of helping their clubs respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Reports that both Matarazzo and Walker wrote about their own clubs’ responses, along with those written by many other leading club chefs and managers, can be found on Club + Resort Chef’s special archive of its COVID-19 coverage, at https://clubandresortchef.com/covid-19/
Tuesday’s final presentations included:
• “Women in Hospitality: Promoting Their Success and Impact,” a panel discussion led by Rhy Waddington, Executive Chef, Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, N.Y. Panelists included Chrissie Bennett, Winged Foot’s Executive Sous Chef; Dana Ianelli, Executive Pastry Chef, Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla.; Katie McAllister, Winged Foot’s Executive Pastry Chef, and Colby Newman, Executive Chef, Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich.
• “The APPY Kitchen: A Paperless Approach to Managing Workflow,” presented by James Hudock, Executive Chef of Gibson Island (Md.) Club. Hudock demonstrated CIDE Kic, a digitally based touchscreen system for managing workflow (see photo at right) that is designed to streamline kitchen operations while reducing stress and miscommunication for all members of the culinary team and improving delivery and performance for F&B programs.
• “Play with Your Food: A Fun Approach to Casual and Fine Dining,” presented by James Allen, CEC, Executive Chef, the Blackthorn Club at The Ridges in Jonesboro, Tenn. Allen demonstrated his novel approach to using chocolate fountains (see photo, pg. 34) to provide red-eye and white-pepper gravy and other sauces as part of buffet action stations for serving cheddar and mini-biscuits, duck arancini, beef tenderloin skewers and breaded chicken strips.
Attendees then dispersed into small-group breakout sessions for the always-popular “Chef to Chef Live” segment of the Conference. Five speakers rotated from room to room to share experiences and moderate discussions with each group. They included: Paula Kelly, General Manager/COO, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.; Tom Birmingham, Director, Club + Resort Chef Association; Anthony Villanueva, Executive Chef, Edgewood Country Club, River Vale, N.J.; Nick Barrington, Executive Chef, East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga., and Ansley GC’s Kevin Walker.
An overflow crowd then returned to pack the Westin’s Grand Ballroom for the Conference’s final event, the Iron Chef Mystery Basket Cookoff. With Club + Resort Chef Editor Joanna DeChellis and the Club + Resort Chef Association’s Tom Birmingham providing running commentary, attendees enjoyed Happy Hour refreshments as they watched the action at the front of the ballroom that was also projected on two video screens. As a new feature this year, polling through the Conference app also let attendees vote for their favorites during the competition.
Four two-person teams battled for the title; the semi-final matches pitted the team of Mark Mathurin, Executive Chef, Eastward Ho! Country Club, Chatham, Mass. and Pedro Sanchez, Executive Chef, BraeBurn Country Club, Houston, Texas, against Jason Neal, Executive Chef, Providence Country Club, Charlotte, N.C., and James Patterson, Corporate Executive Chef, Sedgefield Country Club/McConnell Golf, Greensboro, N.C.; and Danny Profita, Executive Chef, The Merion Cricket Club, Haverford, Pa. and Kelly Morrow, Tavistock Country Club, Haddonfield, N.J. against Myers Park CC’s Scott Craig and Ansley GC’s Kevin Walker.
The Neal-Patterson and Craig-Walker teams advanced to the final, with Walker and Craig then emerging victorious, as judged by tasters Marshall Violante, Executive Chef, the Saddle and Cycle Club of Chicago (Ill.); Scott Ryan, Executive Chef, The Country Club, Pepper Pike, Ohio, and East Lake GC’s Nick Barrington. The winners and runners-up received prizes from Vitamix and Spiceology.
Following a raffle of a wealth of sponsor-provided prizes, the Conference ended (except for those who stayed for the optional tour on Wednesday morning of Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte campus) with the announcement of the dates and location for the 2021 Conference: March 7-9, 2021 at the Austin (Texas) Marriott Downtown. Visit www.CheftoChefConference.com for updates on the planned agenda and registration. C+RB