Glenmoor CC’s Executive Chef Penelope Wong keeps an eye on restaurant and food trends while maintaining her focus on integrity and authenticity.
Recently I was asked to sit on a panel for the local CMAA chapter here in Denver to discuss what is trending today in the world of club cuisine. As part of the panel, I would share what I am doing in my operations to keep things fresh for my members. So what is trending today? The better question is, what ISN’T trending today?
If any of you are on any sort of social media platform and follow a minimum of twenty different chefs, you’ll see at least twenty examples of what’s trending today.
As a club chef, it is important to know what’s trending out in the market. Our job is to provide a product that will compel our members to come to the club to eat, rather than drive down the street to the overabundance of restaurants readily available nowadays. Currently, the increase of new restaurants in Denver and the surrounding metro area is at a rate of approximately twenty restaurants per month. Beer gardens are popping up all over town as they cover the four corners of the metro area. Street taco joints are somehow still opening all over town. Asian or Asian-fusion spots are popping up every time you blink. It seems every local celebrity chef we have in Denver now has an Asian themed restaurant included in their group. A little silly to me, though, when you have these local celebrity chefs who are known for such specific cuisine, try to venture outside of that to offer yet another multicultural outlet for the fan base.
It’s become a point of frustration for me. This is just my opinion, but if you’re going to offer something as specific as certain cuisines should be, then you should be offering something that is off the charts authentic (or in social media terminology, “authentic AF”). I know that when I choose to put specific types of cuisines (that may be “trending” out in the market) on the menu, I will R&D the f*** out of that dish if I’m not already familiar with its integrity.
Take Pho for instance—it’s all the rage. It’s been a growing trend for the last 6-8 years to the extent where you’ve got major conglomerate corporations trying to sell “Pho stock bases” to club chefs so we can stay on trend and offer this dish to our members. But shouldn’t we want to provide the absolute best product to our members? Why should our members have to settle for a sub-par product so we can say we’re maintaining trends in our F&B operations? They can easily go down the street to Pho 68, 74, 96, 88, or 55 and have a bowl of pho that is, once again, authentic AF with a stock that took 24 hours to make like it should.
At our club, like at other clubs, the members are certainly well versed when it comes to the trending restaurant and dining scene. Do we worry about what’s trending to attract and compel our members to come in to dine? Not exactly.
Is it important to stay up to date with what’s trending now? Or is it more important to continue building your OWN brand? Should you really try to ride the wave of the ramen burger, or the sushi-rito, or the poke craze that’s got everyone talking? Sure, but only if you can provide a true product. Otherwise, you have no brand. You have no ownership. You have no character. You have no integrity. Over the last several years, my team and I have put in countless hours of blood, sweat and tears into developing what is now the Glenmoor “brand.” We’ve created a name for ourselves. And the most important factor of that brand, in my opinion, is the integrity we put into it.
Rather than focus on staying up to date with trends, I focus on staying relevant. Meaning, I don’t worry about having enough street tacos or ramen variations on my menus, but rather applying more modernized approaches to my menus overall. As a private club chef, I have no choice but to provide the usual suspects on the menu- but it doesn’t mean I can’t modernize these items to make it an extension of our brand. For example, country club menus must have a turkey sandwich listed somewhere on the menu, right? Take the boring turkey sandwich and deck it out with House Smoked Turkey, Sharp Cheddar, the best and freshest local produce, and a killer Candied Bacon-Jalapeno Aioli on house-baked Potato Bread. Or take the traditional BLT and offer it with thick cut Peppered Bacon, House Bacon Jam, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Sweet Honey Gem Lettuce with a Vinegar Spiked Mayo. When members see these kinds of menu items, they will either be enticed or rest assured that they could get a simple BLT or plain jane Turkey Sandwich if they wanted. But at the same time, I’m offering a more modernized approach, I’m keeping these items and my menus relevant—and I’m maintaining our brand.
We all have the members who want exactly what they want when they come to the club. As a result, I don’t consume myself with tracking trends. I know what my members enjoy. I know how far I can push the envelope with them. I know exactly what I can experiment with and what will prove to be an utter failure. I’m more concerned with how far outside of the box I can train my members regarding cuisine, rather than providing what everyone else down the street is offering.
In recent months, one of my best-selling dishes has been Ma Po Monkfish with Cauliflower Rice. Ma Po Monkfish??! It’s not very likely you’ll find this dish in any of the hot new restaurants down the street, but it certainly is “trending” at my club—and I love that it’s authentic AF.