No matter the size of the chef, whether he or she had football-sized hands or a brain surgeon‘s fingers, they treated the food with a deliberateness and delicacy that impressed me.
If you ever want your faith in your fellow man reassured, all you have to do is attend our annual Chef to Chef Conference. This year’s conference (our 3rd) was held in San Francisco at The Fairmont, March 6-8. It was truly a “happening.” We had 110 club chefs from 38 states and as was the case with the previous two conferences, it was an orchestra of ideas. Here are some of the things that stood out to me.
Passion: The chefs attending were true professionals who clearly love their jobs. Equally, they love their customers (members) and devote most of their considerable creative talents to thinking up new ways to satisfy them. This is a far cry from a couple of decades ago, when members were viewed as captive customers who were coerced into dining at their clubs by the imposition of monthly minimums—and then had to use up those minimums on bad food.
“Pigs Rule”: This charming comment was made by David Scalise, Executive Chef at Sawgrass Marriot Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He of course was talking about the growing popularity of pork in today’s culinary world.
The night before Scalise’s presentation on Sustainability, Mark Erickson, CMC, VP/Dean of Culinary Education, Culinary Institute of America (CIA), gave us a glimpse of the most innovative cookbook since Escoffier. It has been written by Nathan Myhrvold, who could define the word “polymath.” For 13 years he was the Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft during its most formative years. After retiring, he founded a company that is developing a new, cheaper, safer nuclear reactor. And in his spare time he wrote a five-volume cookbook, Modernist Cuisine, that in Erickson’s words will “redefine what it means to cook in America, and the world.”
Sustainable Foods: Aside from pigs, fresh also rules. This is a long-term trend that bodes well for all of us in the club market. Most of the chefs attending the conference already had their own herb and vegetable gardens on the property; if not, they’ve contracted with local farmers to bring in fresh produce, every day. We have a fun “farmers market” a couple of blocks from my home in downtown Chicago, but I’ve learned that there is a difference between farmers markets that are actually brought in by the farmers themselves, and those with products brought in by wholesalers dressed up to look like farmers.
Ideas, ideas, and more ideas: As before, they were abundant, and we will be presenting many of them in future issues of Club & Resort Business. But here are a few that captured my attention and are adaptable at any club.
- Let the kids, or grandkids, make their own desserts. Chef Larry Abrams at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club in California personally comes into the dining room and invites the young children to come back into the kitchen and make their own desserts (usually sundaes). What a great idea! It gets the chef into the dining room, makes him more accessible to members, gives the kids the excitement of discovering the mysteries of the kitchen, and makes him a hero to the children. What kid doesn’t want to dine at the club—and by the way, bring their parents with them.
- Turn “farm to table” into “table to farm.” Most clubs have discovered the fun and success of “farm to table” events where local farmers provide the ingredients for a feast at the club. But some clubs are now doing ‘table to farm,” where they set up a banquet at a local farm. They will set up a long table outdoors (like in a “Godfather” movie), and have all the product, including freshly slaughtered protein (beef, pork, lamb, or chicken), prepared fresh, on site.
In all, there were two and a half days full of ideas; you can read more here. But why is my headline “Delicate Fingers”? During the demonstration portions of the conference, I was struck by the patience and precision of the chefs as they prepared their dishes. No matter what the size of the chef, whether he or she had football-sized hands or a brain surgeon’s fingers, they treated the food with a deliberateness and delicacy that simply impressed me.
These are real professionals.