Greg Volle has brought an innovative mix of signature dishes and contemporary cuisine to the Country Club of Roswell.
The Country Club of Roswell (Ga.) has something for everyone. Built originally by a developer for golf within a residential community in 1973, the club was purchased by the homeowners in 1984. Many enhancements have taken place at the club since then, reflecting how the membership has assumed a very special responsibility to creating enjoyable experiences.
In 2014, the club searched for and found one of the rising stars in our industry, Executive Chef Greg Volle, to run its culinary operations. Chef Volle has a very unique resume, with educational degrees in both broadcast journalism and culinary arts, and professional experience that’s included high-end public restaurants and as a private chef in the Illinois governor’s mansion, as well as private clubs. As a result, the menu offerings at the CC of Roswell feature some of the most innovative mixtures of signature dishes and contemporary cuisine to be found in our industry.
Chef Volle was kind enough to take time out of his busy day-to-day schedule to talk to us about his wide range of experiences and how he now draws upon all that he’s already seen and learned in his still-young career to help bring fresh concepts to club cuisine.
C&RB: Greg, you talk about “breaking the country-club mold” while still maintaining a comfortable feel at a club. Can you explain your philosophy on this?
Volle: Obviously, country clubs have come a long way from prime rib and baked potatoes, but that’s still comfort food and what some members are looking for. But it’s all about the right balance of variety, to please as many members as possible.
The two clubs I’ve been with have had a pretty even balance of 33% serious foodies, 33% moderately adventurous diners, and 33% meat and potatoes. So the menu has to read as fine dining, but not pretentious; casual, but not boring; and as a place for a quick burger or an impressionable occasion.
Our dinner menu is just one big menu, so we have the nicer apps and small plates, then the salad and entrees. Then the “casual fare” at the bottom, so the guest doesn’t have to ask for the casual menu and feel funny about not ordering off the “fancy” menu.
C&RB: What experiences did you take away with you from your first club experience that now helps you keep your staff engaged and focused every day, to bring new dishes and excitement to the CC of Roswell membership?
Volle: Basically, it’s more of the same as what I did at my first club: changing up the menu regularly, and allowing the staff to cultivate weekly features and possible future menu items.
I always tell my staff that I want this to be a learning kitchen, where you can try techniques you’ve never done before. If you want to work with some off-the-wall ingredient, let’s bring it in. Never broken down a whole fish? Let’s do it. Same goes for roasting a whole goat, making rabbit prosciutto or the tasso lamb we just made, which I loved.
I never had this type of creative freedom anywhere else as a line cook, and it’s a great way to keep chefs interested and to have them stick around longer. You can go downtown and work for any number of amazing chefs, but you’ll only be making their food most of the time. Here, you can come up with your own—with a little bit of collaborative approval, of course!
C&RB: Can you talk about the steps that you took in your first club chef position in Illinois, to energize a staff and a club kitchen that was a bit stale?
Volle: I was fortunate enough to inherit an extremely talented and driven crew at Panther Creek Country Club. So basically, I just scrubbed the whole setup and started from scratch. Everything was to be made in-house and a la minute. I told the staff we were going to change the menu five times a year, start shopping the farmer’s market, and using all fresh ingredients.
After putting an initial menu in place, it was really about empowering the staff to collaboratively create their own dishes from their respective stations, and it really took off from there. Next thing you know, they were writing a big portion of the menus, and the nightly feature board got to be almost overwhelming to the service staff, with multiple entrees and small plates. We also trashed the dessert menu and photographed everything and put it on a tablet, based on what we were making at the time.
But I can’t emphasize enough that it was the drive and passion of the crew that was helping to drive the creativity. They just needed that push, and that trust, to take it a little further.
C&RB: Before you got into clubs, you worked for a hospitality management group that owned some very popular restaurants in Charleston, S.C. How did line-cooking in trendy establishments early on in your career prepare you for a club chef position?
Volle: The first thing I learned at the Blossom Café was how to handle volume. It was a pretty tight-knit crew that I’m still good friends with to this day. I certainly learned the value of teamwork, and also that “trendy” doesn’t mean bland, boring or routine. Restaurants like that have a very similar clientele to country clubs: a lot of wealthy regulars who are looking for and appreciate good food, good service, nice atmosphere and being recognized as “regulars.”
C&RB: Right after college, you kept busy doing some very unique part-time jobs, because the line-cook shifts you had while you were in Colorado didn’t start until right before dinner service. What was your favorite “other” job? Was it donning the “Bubba the Bear” costume for the kids that you earned ski passes for, the record store that you opened, or the gas station breakfast-sandwich job?
Volle: The record store was what I thought might offer an escape from the restaurant business—but then I worked part-time in three restaurants to keep it going, and eventually realized there WAS no escape.
I’d have to say the Gas Café in Crested Butte was definitely the most fun “day job.” There were no fast-food restaurants there (or stop lights or chains), so the Gas Café was the closest thing (“Eat Here, Get Gas” was the slogan). Everything was cooked to order right at the counter, the music was always about four decibels too high, ski bums and outdoor sports junkies came in and out all the time, and there were lots of daily shenanigans between the owners and staff. And all the while, we were putting out a pretty tasty and consistent product.
C&RB: Chef, you’ve attended a number of Chef to Chef conferences, and this year you devoted a lot of time to helping the Atlanta conference be another success, as Local Conference Coordinator. Why do you think getting involved with these conferences is important, and what is the value that you see chefs taking away from these events?
Volle: I’ve taken something home from all of these conferences. The most important lesson is that we are all facing so many of the same challenges, and while we don’t always come up with the answers to those challenges, misery loves company, as they say. It’s easier to deal with certain complications when you know you’re not the only one! And having the conference come to Atlanta was especially exciting, because chefs from other parts of the country could see how it’s an exciting time to be here and how the southeastern U.S. is becoming the next big thing.