Even the most common ingredients get a wow factor when they are cooked outdoors by some of the private club industry’s top chefs.
You might think a burger is just a burger and a chicken just a chicken, but, when they are cooked outside on a grill, rotisserie or smoker, they give any meal an air of excitement and fun, say club chefs around the country. Even a pot of bean soup becomes something special when it is cooked in a cauldron over an open fire.
Charles Myers, Executive Chef at Summit Hills Country Club in Crestview Hills, Ky., breaks out his giant soup cauldron, which he describes as looking like “something from the Civil War,” to warm up participants in the club’s Snowball Scramble in November.
“Making bean soup outdoors for the event has been a tradition for decades,” he explained. “In the warmer weather, we use the same pot for shrimp boils.”
On the grill, Myers likes to prepare sausages, but not just any plain ol’ sausages.
“We’re fortunate in this area to have local purveyors who provide many different kinds of sausages, such as chicken and rabbit,” he noted. “Sysco also offers some different varieties including elk, wild boar and wagyu beef.”
Myers pointed out that anybody can grill Italian sausages at their homes, but they are less likely to take the leap to an exotic variety on their own. When they are on the club menu, he said, they are more willing to try new things.
For a recent member-guest event, he grilled individual foil packs of filet mignon and red potatoes. Before grilling, he cut up and par cooked the food then added garlic butter, making the outdoor preparation quick, easy and clean while still getting the thrill of the grill.
A large smoker with a warming box gets a great deal of use at the club. Myers employs it “for tons of stuff” from the usual pork, brisket, ribs and whole chickens to wings, smoked pineapple for salsa, tomatoes and mac and cheese.
At the top of Myers’ wish list is a brick pizza oven that could be set up by the snack shop or, ideally, hooked up to a golf cart and hauled around the property. He estimates that the oven of his dreams would cost between $20,000 and $30,000.
Simon Lewis, Executive Chef at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, Calif., has an Italian-made outdoor pizza oven that he uses every night for dinner. Introduced only two years ago, the oven has already proven to be an excellent investment, he said.
“Not only do the members love it, but Pizza Night on the East Lawn allows us to serve as many as 40 covers without using the kitchen,” he explained. “It really helps to relieve the pressure of a la carte.”
A pizza oven on a trailer does double duty at Baltimore Country Club in Maryland. Executive Chef Richard Jallet also uses the oven, which cooks at temperatures up to 800 degrees, to bake lobsters and oysters.
During the summer months, 30-40 percent of banquets and other special events at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, are prepared outdoors, reported Matthew Gilbert, the club’s Executive Chef. Helping to shoulder the load is a competition-size smoker that was custom-built to the club’s specifications.
“We use the smoker to create all kinds of dishes that have become our signature,” he remarked.
One favorite is smoked ribs lacquered with Dr. Pepper (in honor of one board member’s beverage of choice) or root beer. The ribs cook for four hours in direct smoke to allow the sugar in the soda to create a rich mahogany-colored, caramelized bark.
Gilbert frequently turns to his prolific herb garden to for grilling seasoning inspirations. One recent hit was a balsamic rosemary and thyme-marinated flatiron steak grilled over mesquite.
Other ways he packs maximum flavor into his proteins is by cooking his chicken with Jamaican jerk seasonings and serving buffalo-seasoned (like the ubiquitous wings) sausage. Sauces, such as a yellow South Carolina mustard barbecue sauce with Creole mustard, brown sugar, celery salt, paprika, chili powder and apple cider vinegar, also add unique spice to dishes such as Texas-style brisket burnt ends and baby back or St. Louis ribs.
“I love regional barbecue and it really resonates with our members,” he said.
Another favorite, also from North Carolina, is an apple barbecue sauce which has an acid level that is the perfect complement to pork and chicken. (Although he has not tried it on beef, he assumes that it would be a good choice for that as well.) For this sauce, Gilbert uses whole apple chunks, onion strips, whole cloves and apple cider vinegar all pureed together for a sweet and sour tang.
“Our members dine at the club up to 12 times a week, so we need to offer variety,” he said. “Fortunately for me, they tend to be adventurous, willing to try new flavor profiles.”
The club is equipped with three large grills made from thick metal to retain heat. He uses them two or three times a week in the summer. Two EVO grills expand the chef’s ability to offer a wider variety of grilled items at the halfway house.
Gilbert reports that the club is in the process of fitting out a food trailer with a large interior cooking space, including a 36-inch grill, 24-inch griddle, two burners, a double-basket fryer, a freezer, a refrigerator and counter space worktop. The trailer, which is expected to be ready for action by November, will make it possible to offer “outdoor cooking” during the winter months at the racquet club and other remote locations on the property that do not have kitchens, he noted.
Jallet makes good use of his ArtFlame grill at golf course and pool event action stations. For a recent Rio de Janeiro-themed dinner, he cooked a large piece of beef over the coals and served slices with chimichurri.
Popular at Wednesday family night dinners and special events are Jallet’s smash burgers and smash sausage, both of which he prepares on the ArtFlame. He has also used it for beer can chicken, brochettes, satay, fajitas and even naan bread.
“For one event, I started 24- to 28-ounce tomahawk steaks in the sous vide and finished them on the ArtFlame,” he said. “It’s probably the most versatile piece of equipment that we have.”
Lewis just got his smoker (which he described as “the size of a locomotive”) a few months ago, but he has already incorporated it into his regular culinary repertoire for Second Sunday buffets. In addition to brisket, chicken and pork butt, he uses it to prepare a beloved regional favorite called Texas Twinkies.
“Texas Twinkies are cream cheese and brisket stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon, glazed in barbecue sauce and smoked,” he states.
To give his pork chops a uniquely deep, rich flavor, Lewis brines them then lets them dry in the walk-in for a day. After that, he puts them in the smoker.
All four chefs pointed out that outdoor cooking gives them and their staff welcome opportunities to interact with members. But they also emphasize that it can be a staffing challenge when a la carte dining and/or special events are going on at the same time.
“The pizza oven takes three people to operate, and every action station needs a cook and carver,” Jallet noted. “But the wow factor from cooking outdoors with live fire right in front of the diners is well worth the effort.”
Grilling the Globe
Summertime means a trip around the world at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. With the view from the club’s fine dining veranda as a backdrop, Executive Chef Matthew Gilbert whisks his members to different countries for theme dinners, this year featuring Spain, Argentina, Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Thailand, Northern Malaysia and Myanmar.
“We don’t go super spicy or use a ton of fish sauce but want to give our members the essence of each country’s cuisine,” Gilbert said. “We know our members enjoy these dinners because we sell out at $155 per person.”
For Argentina night, Gilbert grilled skewers of meat asada style (“the Argentinian version of barbecue,” he states) and served it in the country’s traditional manner with 12 side dishes and five sauces. Not part of this year’s global dinner series, but a memorable dessert prepared for a Jamaican-themed dinner, was an outdoor version of bananas foster made with dark Myers’s Rum and Jamaican spices.
“We served the dessert after dark, and the members were extremely excited,” he said.
Summing It Up
> While members are less likely to grill an exotic variety of meat on their own, they are more willing to try new things when they are on the club menu.
> Outdoor cooking is more popular in the summer months, but fitting out a food trailer with a large interior cooking space makes it possible to offer the popular service during the winter months.
> Outdoor cooking gives culinary staff opportunities to interact with members, but can be a staffing challenge when a la carte dining and/or special events are going on at the same time.