Forsyth’s CC’s new Pastry Chef, Cody Middleton, has big plans for the future of the club’s pastry program. Here’s how he plans to elevate and evolve all aspects.
On my very first day as Pastry Chef of Forsyth Country Club (Winston-Salem, N.C.), the Executive Sous Chef told me that the pastry program here was now my baby and that it was my responsibility to grow it into something of my own. Little did I know at the time what large aspirations upper management and I would have for this program. Here’s what I did first.
After service that day, I spent the next few hours cleaning, organizing, and becoming acclimated to the pastry kitchen. I had a vision of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to take the program, but I knew that those dreams would only materialize if I first made the kitchen mine and set it up in a manner that worked for me. Soon after this, I was asked by management if there was any new equipment I wanted or needed. So I came up with a wishlist. But a great chef can make something out of nothing so I was modest in my requests and I’ve found that it is gratifying to discover new ways of completing the same objective with the equipment we have on hand.
Once I had a working kitchen, I identified the menu items that I could not under any circumstance change. The item the members were most vigilant about is our Signature Country Club Pie. It consists of a graham cracker shell filled with a dome of vanilla bean ice cream. It is topped with torched meringue and garnished with fresh berries. The members are extremely protective of this pie. From the amount of meringue to the design in which the meringue is piped to the plating and even the garnish—it must remain the same. Any slight deviation is totally unwelcomed.
I learned that this pie is part of what makes this club unique. Without dishes like it and the members who protect it, there wouldn’t be any culinary trademarks that distinguish us from others. So I accepted this pie with open arms and I’m pleased to carry on its tradition. But as Pastry Chef, my job is to dream up what can be while incorporating what was.
I know that we can’t flip a pastry program overnight. It would send the members into shellshock, especially some of the members who are accustomed to simple pastry items. But as FCC continues to welcome a surge of younger members, we must marry traditional pastry with modern applications.
What has worked well for me so far in doing so has been using classic flavor combinations and presenting them in a fresh and modern way. I do this with contemporary plating designs and with modern techniques such as molecular gastronomy. (I’ve found that some chefs believe molecular gastronomy is the next big stride in the culinary world. Personally, I’m not sure the degree to which it will progress, but I do appreciate the variety, complexity and excitement it can provide to a member’s experience.)
As I continue to evolve our program here, member feedback will be paramount. Their opinions dictate my success. At the end of the day, whether I love or hate a certain dish is irrelevant. I must listen to them and find ways to please them.
To become better acquainted with our members’ tastes and preferences, and to showcase some of the innovative dishes I was looking to bring to the club, we decided to offer a French pastry buffet during a member event. French pastries are familiar, but by using emerging techniques I was able to blend vintage with novel. The display consisted of iconic classics like éclairs, pain au chocolat and macarons, but these items were made new with modern techniques I learned in France. Sharing with members the translations and processes of making a croustillant or glaҫage was mesmerizing. It gave me a way to connect with them.
Through this event, I learned that some of my members possess the same passion for pastry as me. I was able to hear about their experiences and get a better understanding of what they like and don’t like. These conversations truly make what I do worthwhile. This opportunity also provided somewhat instant and direct feedback which was invaluable.
Ultimately, a successful program can never be stagnant. It must evolve with trends while balancing the diverse expectations of our members. Fortunately, and unfortunately, there is no definite right or wrong answer regarding what should and shouldn’t be on a menu. But at the end of the day, that is what makes this job and this club so exhilarating, challenging and rewarding.