Those who came to San Antonio to be part of another record crowd came away with plenty of sizzling ideas for spicing up their menus—and a whole lot more.
Shortly before Club & Resort Business’ Sixth Annual Chef to Chef Conference began in San Antonio, Texas on March 2, Nelson Millán, Executive Chef of San Antonio Country Club and the Local Coordinator for the 2014 Conference, expressed his excitement over the quality and depth of expertise in Latin cuisine that would be offered through the program.
“If the chefs can’t make a good guacamole after this Conference, they just won’t have been paying attention,” Millán joked.
|Back to School
To take full advantage of having the 2014 Chef to Chef Conference in San Antonio, where the Culinary Institute of America’s newest campus is located, a special, limited-size class on Latin flavors was offered at the school before the full Conference began. Conducted by Chef Sergio Remolina, the school’s Director—Latin Studies, the class drew a sellout group of over 40 chefs who were treated to an up-close look at, and tasting of, four specialty dishes prepared by Chef Remolina.
A full report on the class and Chef Remolina’s recipe for “Tatemade” short ribs are included in the April issue of C&RB’s Chef to Chef magazine.
Three days later, it’s safe to say that the more than 200 club chefs, F&B directors and general managers who came to San Antonio left the 2014 Conference not only fully loaded with an abundance of knowledge on Latin cooking, but also with many other ideas and concepts to help elevate their culinary operations to profitable new levels.
The attendance total (and sponsor participation) both represented the sixth straight year of growth for the Chef to Chef event. And immediate reaction from those who were there indicated the bar was also raised for the value of the program and Conference experience.
“I would say it was an ‘out of the park’ conference,” Millán said after the Conference. “The caliber of chef presenters and what I took back from their demos and lectures is invaluable. I can’t identify any other venue or gathering where club chefs can go over so many answers to common challenges and share strategies and best practices, to refine their already-fine operations even more.”
Over 40 Chef to Chef participants got extra value from this year’s Conference by attending a special, limited-size Latin flavors class conducted by Chef Sergio Remolina at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus on the morning of Sunday, March 2. They were then joined by the full group in the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter for the opening reception and plated dinner on Sunday night.
After the dinner, attendees were motivated to not only make the most of the Conference, but also their professional and personal lives, by the rousing keynote address, “The Essence of Greatness,” delivered by Charles Carroll, CEC, AAC, Executive Chef, River Oaks Country Club, Houston, Texas. A new highlight of Carroll’s second appearance as a Chef to Chef speaker (he had also presented at the second Conference in Palm Beach, Fla.) was the inspiring video he showed of his involvement with “Operation HOT (Honor Our Troops).”
That effort involved Carroll’s helping to pull together a team of 20 celebrities and support staff, raise nearly $300,000, gather 30,000 lbs. of show gear and 5,000 portions of Cajun food, to produce a seven-hour, Vegas-style show as part of feeding 5,000 troops a home-cooked meal in the middle of a war zone in Afghanistan (the video can be viewed on Chef Carroll’s website, www.chefcharlescarroll.com).
Sufficiently charged up by Chef Carroll, Conference attendees reconvened on Monday morning for the start of the full educational program. Continuing what has become a popular Chef to Chef tradition, the program again began with a presentation by a local expert on regional cuisine featured in the Conference’s host city. This year, a demonstration on Latin/Mexican regional cuisine was made by one of San Antonio’s leading restaurateurs, Johnny Hernandez (owner/operator of The Fruteria-Botanero, Casa Hernan and La Gloria). Chef Hernandez’s demonstration included the preparation or description of dishes including pork belly en mole blanco, camarones al Aguachile (“shrimp in fire water”) and ceviche verde.
Chef Hernandez was followed by Scott Ryan, CEC, AAC, the Executive Chef at The Country Club in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Ryan, who will compete later this year as the Americas representative in the World Association of Chefs Society Global Chefs Challenge, entertained the crowd with his jovial style while also presenting, and demonstrating, some eye-opening comparisons for how to put distinctive and creative new spins on classic dishes that are mainstays on many club menus, including duck a l’orange, French onion soup, Dover sole, en papillote, and chicken coq au vin.
Chef Ryan was followed by Todd Rogers, Executive Chef of Miramont Country Club, Bryan, Texas, whose presentation on upscale club cuisine and off-site catering included relating his experiences of cooking for Queen Elizabeth of England, Presidents George H. and George W. Bush, and other dignitaries and celebrities, during a career that has included executive chef positions at five-star resorts such as The Cloister and Nemacolin Woodlands, in addition to private clubs.
The final presentation on Monday morning paired Holly Howell, a certified sommelier and wine columnist/consultant, with Frank Mirabile, CEC, Monroe Golf Club, Pittsford, N.Y., for a demonstration and discussion on “Vintage Food and Drink Matches.” Innovative dishes prepared and described by Chef Mirabile included Spanish octopus, rib cap of prime beef and the whimsical “Cadbury Gone Wrong,” a dessert made with white chocolate mousse, a broken chocolate “egg” and fruit coulis.
After lunch, attendees divided into three groups for the always-popular “Chef to Chef Live” breakout sessions, which provide an informal, open-forum format for Conference attendees to bring up common issues, and share effective ideas and solutions with their peers.
This year’s breakouts were led by National Conference Coordinator Jerry Schreck (Executive Chef, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.), Nelson Millán, and Daniel Pliska, CEC (Executive Chef/Assistant Manager, University Club of Missouri/University Catering, Columbia, Mo.). In his breakout session, Schreck was assisted by Joey Abitabilo, Executive Chef of Shelter Island Golf Club, Charlestown, R.I. (a presenter on chefs’ financials at the 2013 Conference in Denver) and Marshall Violante, Executive Chef of the Glen View Club in Golf, Ill. (Violante extended his streak of “perfect attendance” in San Antonio; he and Phil Benedetti, Executive Chef of Peninsula Golf and Country Club, San Mateo, Calif., have now each attended all six conferences.)
After the “Chef to Chef Live” sessions ended, attendees boarded buses for the short ride to a lively reception at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, where they were free to tour the demonstration and teaching kitchens at the school (the CIA’s newest, having opened in 2008), while enjoying music, drinks and food made by the CIA’s Nao Restaurant. Monday night was then free for exploring San Antonio’s burgeoning culinary scene (not surprisingly, many were inspired from his morning presentation to dine at one of Johnny Hernandez’s restaurants).
The Conference’s final day began with Nelson Millán’s presentation on “Innovative Buffet and Brunch Presentations That Please the Eye, Palate—and P&L.” After showing a variety of inventive and cost-effective ways to create eye-catching and appealing buffet displays using commonly available materials—including wood planks and boards, bricks, galvanized buckets, mason jars, large punch bowls and platters, salt blocks, vinegar barrels and old wine boxes and crates—Millán provided details behind his club’s highly successful in-house smoked salmon program.
He then ended by making an ice carving of an elaborately detailed fish; as he worked, Todd Rogers, a veteran of ice-carving competitions who mentored Millán on the skill while they both worked in Sea Island, Ga., narrated and provided insights on how learning what Rogers referred to as “a melting art” can help chefs distinguish themselves, especially in private-club settings. (Millán added that such distinction can bring profit as well as added appeal, noting that the block of ice he used to carve his fish in ten minutes cost $75, and he would be able to charge $350 for it as part of a banquet order.)
The next presentation was made by Tina Haldeman, Executive Pastry Chef of the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. Haldeman’s showcasing of her pastry skills included savory white cheddar mushroom dinner biscuits, using techniques that she said did not require a pastry chef to execute, and a variety of creative twists on apple pie, including pies baked in mason jars with flaky cream-cheese crust and a “deconstructed apple pie” presentation featuring a cinnamon cream-cheese biscuit and cinnamon ice cream.
Haldeman was followed by Daniel Pliska’s presentation on globally themed dinners that pay homage to worldwide cuisine—an effort that has proved very successful in reviving slow nights and bringing new distinction to the University Club of Missouri. Pliska, who has recently authored a new book on pastry and dessert techniques, also demonstrated his interpretations of lamb biryani and tea-smoked duck breast canapés as part of his presentation.
For the morning’s final presentation, Gary Whitecotton, Executive Chef of The Country Club of Virginia, Richmond, Va., presented his creative approaches to cooking for outdoor events. For his demonstration of dishes and ingredients including lechon asado pork, polenta foam, pickled trout, Southern sushi and an inventive apple-butter paper, Whitecotton enlisted the assistance of Pablo Corales, Executive Sous Chef at Salisbury Country Club in Midlothian, Va.
The Conference’s closing session began with presentations on career advancement and fulfillment for chefs by John McGee, CCM, a former chef in the Marriott organization who is now General Manager/COO of the Northwood Club in Dallas, Texas, and Phil Kiester, General Manager of The Country Club of Virginia, Richmond, Va.
Following their presentations, McGee and Kiester were joined by Christine Pooler, General Manager of Merion Golf Club and Eric Dietz, General Manager/COO, Interlachen Country Club, Edina, Minn., for an open forum on management and career themes, during which attendees gained valuable insights on how they can deal with issues they encounter with their staffs, memberships and GMs.
The GM panel, as well as “Chef to Chef Live,” highlighted what Nelson Millán cited as one of the Conference’s greatest values as Chef to Chef 2015 came to a close.
“This conference offers the perfect atmosphere of camaraderie and networking, where we feel comfortable talking about anything and everything,” Millán said. “Along the way, we discover we’re not alone in our quest of trying to offer the best and most unique service possible to our members.”