Perry Kenney CHEF PROFILE
From children’s classes to events with staff in full costumes, Executive Chef Perry Kenney directs a culinary operation at Sawgrass CC that provides fun and pleasant surprises at every turn.
Sawgrass Country Club, located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 20 minutes from downtown Jacksonville, is the premier private country club in northeast Florida. The club features extensive tennis and fitness facilities and a 27-hole, Armold Palmer-designed golf course that was the site of The Players Championship before that tournament was moved across Route A1A to the new TPC Sawgrass course in 1982.
With just under 1,300 members, Sawgrass CC, located within a gated residential community, reflects the changing mix of private clubs, with 32% of members living outside the gates and 20% under the age of 55. The club’s F&B operation, headed by Food and Beverage Director Jennifer Jolly and nine-year Executive Chef Perry Kenney, also embraces today’s culinary trends, with a total of six varied outlets that account for over 500 daily covers during peak season. Total annual F&B revenues are $3.3 million (half a million more than budgeted for the most recent year).
The crown jewel of Sawgrass is the recently constructed $7 million, 24,000-sq. ft. Beach Club, which features the elegant Ocean’s Edge dining room, the lively Topside Lounge for cocktails and casual dining, an oceanfront deck with tables for lunch and dinner and the Caribbean-style Oasis bar, and a seaside pavilion and snack bar. Executive Chef Kenney was kind enough to take time to share his insights with C&RB on how to ensure quality and maximize efficiencies in an operation of this size and scope.
Q: Chef, to most of us a “satellite kitchen” could be a halfway house or pool snack bar. You have a feature restaurant at your Beach Club Pavilion. How do you keep your finger on everything?
|“Les Petites Gourmets” classes at Sawgrass CC have helped to make the club a more desirable place for members’ children to dine, Chef Kenney reports.|
A: In reality, Sawgrass has a Beach Club (with two dining rooms), Pool Snack Bar, Pavilion Snack Bar, Golf Club Grill, and Halfway House. Not being able to be in six places at one time requires strong key players with an attention to detail and desire to be the best. I am lucky to have a very talented and motivated staff. The Beach Club is run by my Chef de Cuisine, Brook Adams, and The Golf Club by Chef Daniel Webber. These chefs run the day-to-day operations, managing 20 cooks, and that allows me to work on or create special functions, meet with members for event planning, or spend time interacting with members and guest in our dining rooms. Our Food and Beverage Director, Jennifer Jolly, also keeps a close eye on operations and alerts me to anything that may need attention.
Q: Working in northeast Florida, you have so many seafood resources. Can you talk a little about your daily menu planning procedures for fresh fish?
A: We are lucky here to be on the water with access to some of Florida’s freshest seafood. We are in close proximity to Mayport harbor, where fish and shrimp boats dock daily. I have developed a great working relationship with Safe Harbor Seafood—so great, in fact, that when I call, they will call me back when their boat comes in. My seafood comes straight from the boat to my kitchen! With this great opportunity we only feature seafood preparations. We tend to use Local Gray Grouper, Red Snapper, Trigger Fish, Mahi Mahi, and Fresh Mayport Shrimp.
Q: You have a great blog on the club’s website for your members to access. What type of feedback do you get from it, and how much member interaction have you experienced since implementing the blog?
A: I created the blog for many reasons. Most importantly, I want members to have the opportunity to see what they’ve missed! I also want them to be able to look at what we’ve done for past events, so they could decide which ones they’d like to try in the future. We have many events, all of which are continually sold out. Being able to see other members having so much fun creates a “buzz” around our club. I have received great feedback from members about the blog postings, as well as questions about the events. I also created the blog for my staff, which allows them to share their work with family and friends, and to share ideas with other country club professionals.
Q: You certainly do have some pretty creative special events at Sawgrass. Can you talk about your Ice Carving Demos that have attracted a large amount of a la carte diners, and also the “Chefs in Costume” events, with themed stations?
A: We have an incredible team that takes great pride in creating magical and memorable moments. The key to making it all work is the proper combination of support from our General Manager, good ideas from our F&B managers, good food from our talented chefs and cooks, and great service from our staff.
Everyone loves ice carvings, but these days it seems we’re seeing less and less of them. I carve about 50 blocks a year and feature them at all of my holiday and member events. Originally I just prepared them ahead of time, but then found that many members would inquire where I got the sculptures. After convincing them that I carved them—“yes, with a chainsaw”—many expressed interest in watching as they were made.
|The Sawgrass F&B team, led by (from left) Chef de Cuisine Brook Adams, Executive Chef Perry Kenney, Food and Beverage Director Jennifer Jolly, and Golf Club Chef Daniel Webber, beat budgeted F&B revenues by half-a-million dollars in the most recent year.|
So I picked Thursday, a traditionally slower night, for when I would do a carving as part of the event. To my surprise, 70 excited members showed up. I set up in the outdoor dining area, so members could view the show from inside tables as well. I gave a program, short lecture, and a demonstration. Many cheered as the snow flew and pieces of ice dropped to the floor!
As for “Chefs in Costume,” what better way to surprise your members than getting dressed up in an all-green tuxedo, with tails and top hat, to carve corned beef on St. Patties Day? We have had many events, like our member-guest, where we have themed stations. I have an account with a local theatrical costume rental shop, and I call ahead and have the Drama-Major students who work there pick out a selection for us. Then managers, cooks, and service staff get dressed up to surprise our members. When you can get your cooks energized about wearing tights, you are doing something right!
Q: Can you share some of the techniques you use for sous vide in menu planning and quality control?
A: Sous vide is not a novelty in our kitchen; we utilize it as part of our day-to-day menu preparations. For example, our lamb-rack appetizer would take eight minutes to cook and five minutes to rest. If we were lucky, it would take 15 minutes to get to the table—and we sell 20 portions a night.
Now, with our water bath set at 135 degrees, we can start the night off with 12 portions in the bath. The beauty of sous vide is that the meat will not overcook. When the order comes in, we open the bag, season the meat, and mark it on the grill. It doesn’t need to rest, as it is perfectly cooked. Pickup time is now five minutes.
Our vacuum sealer is on wheels, so we have it in the prep area before dinner and on the line for service. This allows my team to prepare our olive oil-poached fish. Since we have many fish choices, they can vacuum on the line. We also use sous vide for our Gourmet Society dinners, where we sometimes feature molecular gastronomy.
Q: Tell us about your “Les Petite Gourmets” classes for children—what’s the program like, and how do you engage kids for the full period?
A: Our children’s culinary class is rather unique. I wanted the kids to become a part of culinary program, learn important lessons, be creative, and be excited about dining at their club. When our students arrive, they are greeted with a chef hat and apron. We review sanitation, and then we all wash our hands. The classes are always different, but I incorporate real cooking techniques in them.
For example, at one class we made stuffed Cornish game hens. All students were lectured on salmonella and food safety techniques. Then we made stuffing, stuffed and seasoned the hens, and baked them, so they could be taken home (I always stress that the best part of cooking is when you get to share it with the people we care about).
Classes sometimes include a fun food experiment or demonstration, tastings, and a tour of the kitchen and facilities. In April, we had a Luau Class on the beach, where I cooked a pig in the ground. My students helped dig it up! On the day before Mother’s Day, we made edible arrangements out of fruit. Before that, we made calzones and Tiramisu. In the future, I plan to take a class trip to a local organic farm.
These classes have made the club a more desirable place for the members’ children to dine, as they now refer to me as “their chef.” When they come to dinner here, they run to give me a high five, yelling, “Chef Perry, you’re the man!” I feel blessed to get to make these kinds of connections, because that is what being a club chef is all about.