With vaccines and proactive COVID safety practices at clubs and resorts making members and guests feel more comfortable about dining out, top chefs have prepared for a healthy rebound in attendance at holiday meals and events.
For Daniel Kozawick, Executive Chef at Vanderbilt Country Club in Naples, Fla., member enthusiasm for summer and fall meals and events has demonstrated a hearty appetite for in-person gatherings, and pointed to a return to a robust in-club holiday season.
“Usually, summer in Naples is slow, because so many members spend that season in the north,” Kozawick says. “But this year, we broke records when it came to food and beverage. Our traditional fall ‘Welcome Back’ event booked to capacity in just 10 minutes, and for the holidays, we are expecting a season filled with great times, parties and memories.”
The club’s Thanksgiving buffet featured, as Kozawick describes it, “traditional fare with a twist.” The turkey, for example, got a sweet and savory maple pepper glaze, and the sweet potatoes were combined in a salad with kale, brown rice and candied pecans, dressed with a vanilla-bean vinaigrette.
“The ingredients are humble, but the salad is delicious and filling enough to serve on its own,” Kozawick notes.
Vanderbilt CC is closed for Christmas, but hosts a big New Year’s Eve bash. This year the theme will be Italian, with a buffet that will include a risotto station, antipasto, seafood cioppino and a gelato/dessert station.
Plenty of Options
Christopher McCook, Executive Chef at Athens (Ga.) Country Club, also sees a desire, both from his staff and the membership, for a return to pre-pandemic dining and events. The banquet and catering parts of the club’s food-and-beverage operation have “really picked up” along with on-premise dining, McCook reports, including a sellout wine dinner in November.
“Members are clamoring to get back to their pre-pandemic lifestyle and events,” he notes.
Thanksgiving is usually 50 percent curbside pickup at Athens CC, because members like to dine at home with their families. The other half is dine-in for a buffet, at which between 200 and 300 diners are served.
This year’s takeout offering, which McCook calls “Turkey on the Fly,” featured different-sized smoked breasts wrapped in prosciutto and fresh sage. Two kinds of stuffing were available—a Southern-style
cornbread stuffing and a New England variation with chestnuts.
Members who came to Athens CC’s fine-dining restaurant had a choice of roast turkey or prime rib. Sides included such festive fare as Waldorf salad made with dried cranberries and toasted candied walnuts, followed by an array of desserts such as trifle, Black Forest cake, and banana pudding.
Athens CC’s casual restaurant also offered a traditional turkey dinner for two. “We try to be all things to the different segments of our member population,” McCook notes.
Throughout the holiday season, McCook offers numerous upscale menu options. They include cedar-plank salmon with celery-root puree and chive butter sauce; cold-smoked beef tenderloin with horseradish cream; beef Wellington with Bordelaise sauce; oysters Rockefeller, and house-smoked, bacon-wrapped diver scallops with melted leeks and country ham.
On the first two Sundays in December, a Luncheon with Santa is offered, to provide a family-friendly event for members. McCook was expecting December 2021 to once again be a heavy catering month as it has been in past years, with banquets and parties for businesses of all sizes. He also was anticipating that the club’s New Year’s Eve prix fixe dinner would quickly sell out.
Going Big, So They Don’t Go Home
The restaurant at the Frankenmuth (Mich.) Bavarian Inn Lodge and Conference Center, which includes a 360-room hotel able to serve up to 1,000 guests in its banquet facility, averages 2,200 covers for Thanksgiving. Most are dine-in buffets, but there are also some a la carte and to-go orders, according to Jason Wellnitz, the resort’s Executive Chef.
Wellnitz orders in 14 whole tom turkeys to carve for show at the buffet station, and serves most of the meat as whole white and dark muscles, to save breakdown time and effort. The turkeys are brined and roasted, keeping the ovens full all day, he says.
A traditional—and very popular—side is blue Hubbard squash, roasted and pureed and seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter. Other favorites are basil garlic poblano corn and tater tot casserole.
Wellnitz describes his cooking style as one that takes traditional dishes and instead of changing them, just elevates them with modern touches.
“My goal is to create Instagram-worthy dishes,” he explains. “Everybody’s a foodie today.”
Ringing In the New Year with Flair
For a multi-station dinner on New Year’s Eve, Wellnitz was planning to offer a French fry station (a beloved comfort food), with upscale toppings including duck confit, house-smoked barbecued pulled pork and Asian grilled chicken. Another appetizer will be Thai chicken satay, and passed hors d’oeuvres will include candied bacon and prosciutto pear brie pinwheels.
The club’s signature fried chicken and carved prime rib will be the entrees. Dessert will display a variety of minis, such as lemon squares, petits fours and macaroons, as well as cherries jubilee and chocolate fountain stations.
A “Midnight Celebration Station” will appease late-night appetites with barbecue-seasoned French fries; gourmet grilled cheese with bacon, cheese curds, sriracha aioli and tomato herb relish; and three different soups—cream of tomato, chicken noodle and cheddar ale.
A new dessert for both private parties and a la carte at the property will be a Salted Apple Campfire, consisting of caramel blondies with cinnamon-roasted apples, ice cream-stuffed marshmallow and maple butter sauce served on a salt block.
“This dessert comes to the table with everything except for the sauce on the salt block,” Wellnitz describes. “As the sauce is poured, it is lit on fire.”
Another inventive selection is Smoked S’mores, made with a chocolate brownie, hot fudge, graham cracker, marshmallow and ice cream in a jar. It is smoked in the kitchen, and when brought to the table and the lid is popped open, the smoke billows out.
For a private, multi-course dinner the club will be auctioning off for the holidays, Wellnitz plans to begin the meal with an appetizer of snow crab beurre Nantais (beurre blanc with cream), roasted red pepper corn pudding, pickled watermelon radish, red onion and fennel fronds. Taking another appetizer—mozzarella sticks—to the next level, he slices and hand-breads logs of fresh mozzarella, fries the cheese and serves it on a bed of arugula with a cherry tomato herb relish.
“It’s like a fried caprese salad, a step up from the regular fried sticks,” he notes.
Even breakfast gets a holiday touch, with carrot-cake French toast created by Sous Chef Matt Jensen. The carrot cake is baked in a loaf, dipped in French toast batter, and grilled on the flattop. Cream-cheese maple frosting eliminates the need for a syrup drenching.
A regular a la carte menu is offered through the holidays at Frankenmuth (“We’re the only place in town open on Christmas Eve,” Wellnitz notes). New Year’s Eve is a double celebration, serving 500 meals at a family dinner and another 250 or so for a later adult seating. The menus are similar, with more elegant items and adults-only food stations added for the second seating. There are also two ball drops, giving kids a chance to also ring in the New Year without having to stay up until midnight.
Prepared for Anything
For a pandemic-affected holiday season plagued by supply-chain issues, chefs have learned to be clever to avoid disappointing members and guests. At the Frankenmuth (Mich.) Bavarian Inn Lodge and Conference Center, Executive Chef Jason Wellnitz has been keeping menu descriptions short and sweet, avoiding language that’s too specific in case a need arises for last-minute changes or substitutions.
For example, instead of specifying roasted and pureed blue Hubbard squash seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter, the menu now just shows herb-seasoned squash. “That way, if the Hubbard squash doesn’t come in, I can substitute something like butternut squash with rosemary, and no one will feel that they’re not getting what they ordered,” Wellnitz explains.
He has also done a lot of his ordering well in advance of the holidays and is using local purveyors as much as possible. “[They] are often more flexible about ordering; some will hold onto items and let us take them as needed,” he notes.
And while the prices for turkey and other holiday staples have been spiking, chefs still need to keep their food costs within set limits. “I try to balance the volatile commodity items on the plate with less costly sides; for example corn pudding, which makes a very nice presentation, but is a lower-cost item,” Wellnitz says.
Daniel Kozawick, Executive Chef at Vanderbilt Country Club in Naples, Fla., also orders early when he sees that the items he knows he wants to use are available. “When the items arrive, I plan accordingly,” he says.
Christopher McCook, Executive Chef at Athens (Ga.) Country Club in Athens, Ga., notes that members are being more understanding about menu changes, because they too have been experiencing out-of-stocks at the supermarket and hearing about the situation on the news every night. Still, McCook says, “We always have a backup plan.”
Summing It Up
> Club and resort properties are anticipating a return to a robust in-club holiday season, while maximizing the choice of options between takeout, a la carte and buffet meals.
> Giving traditional fare a twist with new ingredients or presentations can help bring distinction and appeal to a property’s holiday offerings.
> Be prepared for pandemic-induced supply-chain issues that can affect the availability and timely delivery of needed ingredients by ordering early, relying on local purveyors and simplifying menu descriptions to allow substitutions if needed.
Holiday Harvest Salad of Winter Greens
with Citrus Vinaigrette
YIELD: 6 servings
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SALAD:
1 bunch frisee
2 small bunches baby arugula, washed and spun
1 head Belgian endive, leaves separated and washed
4 ozs. crumbled goat cheese
18 grapefruit sections
1/4 cup toasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CITRUS VINAIGRETTE:
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. orange zest
1/4 tsp. lime zest
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
to taste cracked black pepper
to taste flaked sea salt
1. Assemble salad in a chilled mixing bowl, except for the goat cheese and macadamia nuts.
2. Add vinaigrette and coat ingredients.
Arrange on salad plates. Add goat cheese and nuts, and finish with a touch more vinaigrette, salt and pepper.
Submitted by Christopher McCook, Executive Chef, Athens (Ga.) CC
over Roasted Pepper Corn Pudding
YIELD: 1 serving
1 snow crab cluster
3 portions roasted pepper corn pudding (recipe follows)
3 slices pickled radish (pickling recipe follows)
3 slices pickled onion (pickling recipe follows)
3 ozs. beurre Nantais (recipe follows)
3 sprigs fennel fronds
FOR THE ROASTED PEPPER CORN PUDDING:
YIELD: 2 – 13×9” pans (enough for 12 final plates)
INGREDIENTS FOR THE ROASTED PEPPER CORN PUDDING:
50 ozs. sweet corn, fresh off the cob or frozen
1/2 gal. milk
4.75 ozs. sugar
4.5 ozs. flour
1.5 ozs. kosher salt
10 ozs. melted butter
1 roasted red pepper
1 roasted poblano pepper
1. Clean and dice the peppers, removing the stems and seeds.
2. Mix the milk, eggs, sugar, salt, flour, butter and corn together in a large container.
3. Blend with immersion blender.
4. Whisk in the diced peppers.
5. Butter two 13×9” pans and split the mixture evenly between the two pans.
6. Bake at 350º F. for 50 minutes.
7. Rotate the pans and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until just firm.
8. Let cool and cut once fully chilled.
9. Cut with a 1 1/2” circle cutter.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE BEURRE NANTAIS:
8 ozs. butter
4 ozs. heavy cream
1 sprig tarragon
1 sprig parsley
2 ozs. white wine
2 ozs. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
to taste lemon juice
1. In a saucepan, gently heat the oil. Add the shallot and sauté until aromatic.
2. Deglaze with the white wine and white-wine vinegar.
3. Add the herb stems and reduce the liquid by half.
4. Strain the reduction and add it back to the pan.
5. Turn the heat back on and add the heavy cream.
6. Bring the cream to a simmer and reduce the heat.
7. Dice the butter and slowly add it to the liquid a couple of pieces at a time, whisking constantly. Be careful not to break the sauce and regulate the heat accordingly.
8. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, season with salt and pepper.
9. Add a squeeze of lemon to taste.
10. Reserve the sauce in a double-wall insulated container for service.
Ingredients FOR THE PICKLING LIQUID FOR RADISH AND ONION:
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. peppercorn mélange
1 tsp. dried tarragon
• Mix all ingredients together and bring to a simmer.
• Pour the pickling liquid while still warm over the item(s) to be pickled.
1. Steam the crab cluster to loosen the meat.
2. Carefully crack the shells and remove the crab in whole sections, being sure not to tear the meat.
3. Bake the corn pudding at 350º F. until heated through, approximately 10 minutes.
4. Gently heat the crab meat in the beurre Nantais in a sauté pan until just heated through, again being careful not to break the crab meat.
5. Using the heated sauce, carefully spread three separate portions of sauce evenly on a plate.
6. Place the heated corn pudding on the center of each section of sauce.
7. Top the corn pudding with the butter-poached crab, splitting the crab evenly among the corn-pudding pedestals.
8. Lay one slice of the pickled radish off center on each portion of crab. Follow with the pickled onion.
9. Upon pickup, place one fennel frond on each pedestal of crab for final garnishing.
Submitted by Jason Wellnitz, Executive Chef, Frankenmuth (Mich.) Bavarian Inn Lodge and Conference Center
Roasted Sweet Potato and Kale
with Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette
YIELD: 4 servings
3 large-diced roasted sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup arugula
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
-edible flowers (optional)
-candied pecans (recipe follows)
-vanilla bean vinaigrette (recipe follows)
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CANDIED PECANS:
2 cups pecan halves
2 ozs. whole butter
6 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tbsp. water
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, butter and water to a medium skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring often until the brown sugar melts into a bubbling sauce (about 1 to 2 minutes).
3. Stir in the pecans so that the brown sugar coats them. Cook, stirring the entire time, 2 to 3 minutes. As the nuts heat up in the pan, the sauce will slowly coat them and become shiny. Keep a close eye on the pecans to ensure they do not burn.
4. Transfer the pecans to the prepared baking sheet and spread into one layer. Allow the pecans to cool down, then break them up before serving.
5. Store cooled candied nuts in an airtight container.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE VANILLA BEAN VINAIGRETTE:
1 vanilla bean, split
2 ozs. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 tbsp. white granulated sugar
8 ozs. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
dash white pepper
Place vanilla bean pulp, apple cider vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and mayonnaise in a food processor. Turn on and mix well, slowly adding the oil until thickened. Check flavor and consistency; adjust if necessary.
Submitted by Daniel Kozawick, Executive Chef, Vanderbilt CC, Naples, Fla.