The fall and winter holidays give clubs ample opportunity to celebrate their members as well as the seasons, with special events featuring traditional and creative foods.
From festive themed family brunches and dinners to adults-only cocktail parties, spirit tastings and candlelight feasts, chefs are coming up with menus to persuade members to make their clubs a home away from home throughout the holiday season.
At The Legend Club at Brandybrook in Wales, Wis., the holiday season kicks oﬀ on Halloween with a family Trick or Treat Ball, for which more than 300 adults and their children dress up in costume. Surrounded by spooky décor such as melons carved into the shape of skulls, the guests tuck in to a buﬀ et of scary-fun foods such as “Mummy Pizzas” (Texas toast with marinara, mozzarella and black olives), “Bloody Tenders” (chicken tenders with BBQ sauce) and Pumpkin “Scream Cheese” Cupcakes, straight from the imagination of Executive Chef Keith Foster and his staﬀ.
Although Brandybrook is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there’s no shortage of themed events where members can make merry with family and friends throughout the season. Between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, the club hosts numerous themed brunches and tastings for wine, beer and other spirits. Foster’s six course holiday wine dinner, which he caps at 120 guests, ﬁlls up quickly. New for this year is a bourbon-and-appetizer pairing.
One event that is always highly anticipated is a Holiday Boutique, held the last week of November, at which 30 to 40 local artisans showcase and sell their work. Foster sets up chef-attended stations including pasta, carving and sushi rolling “for nibbling,” as members and their guests get a head start on their gift shopping.
To ensure that everything goes smoothly for any large, multi-course sit-down dinners prepared within the confines of his existing kitchen space, equipment and staffing, Foster makes sure his kitchen is always one course ahead of the service. For example, before he sends out the first course, he cooks and plates the meal’s second course and holds it in a hot box. Or he might use a sous vide circulator to hold courses until serving time.
Fueling the Fun
Members at Butterfield Country Club in Oak Brook, Ill., and especially the women, look forward to a similar boutique set-up at the club’s annual Mistletoe Trunk Show in December. James Terry, the club’s Executive Chef, sets up “heavy appetizer” stations to keep the shoppers fueled.
One popular specialty is Terry’s riff on the Southern classic “hot brown sandwich,” originally an open-face turkey and bacon sandwich topped with Mornay or cheese sauce. Terry makes his version in miniature, with turkey, bacon jam and aioli on pretzel crostini.
In response to member requests for a holiday event that would give them a chance to do more mingling, Terry is introducing a Holiday Gala that he describes as a “roaming feast” and a “black-tie cocktail party.” This year, he will feature passed apps such as steak tartar with anchovy aioli; pickled shallot, chervil and puffed rice; and a crispy Chipperbec potato nest with leek powder, house crème fraiche and salmon roe and wild mushroom gougeres.
There will also be displayed apps, including poached shrimp shooters with horseradish tomato, avocado and lime gelee; an oyster bar, and Boursin with artichoke arancini, red pepper puree and crispy basil. Stations will include carved rack of veal, whole fried red snapper and one where guests can compose their own rice bowls.
Brunch with a Punch
Themed buffet brunches, with traditional brunch foods, holiday-oriented entertainment and most with an appearance by Santa, never fail to fill the house. At The Legend Club at Brandybrook, Foster gets the season started with a harvest-themed brunch before Thanksgiving, and then follows that up with two Santa-centric buffets.
In addition to the usual fare of omelets, waffles and carving stations, members expect to find Foster’s signature blueberry bread pudding at every brunch buffet. The pudding is so beloved that, aside from brunch, members enjoy it for breakfast and dessert, too. They also often order pans of it to take home.
The Holiday Magic brunches at Butterfield CC are so well received that Terry schedules one every Sunday in December. Each brunch accommodates 700 guests.
“We start taking reservations on November 1, and all of the brunches sell out quickly,” he says. At Midland (Texas) Country Club, the Santa brunch was so popular last year that seating overflowed the ballroom into the lobby, notes Executive Chef Benjamin Lesnick. This year, he is considering adding a second seating. “The club is in the midst of a huge demographic change, with our membership getting younger fast, so we have a lot of families with children,” Lesnick says.
Thanksgiving dinner is “huge” at Butterfield CC, Terry reports. The 2 p.m., single-seating buffet usually hosts about 700 diners. “We cook close to 80 birds that day,” Terry notes. “Some clubs serve Thanksgiving dinner family-style, but we want to offer a wider array of food, such as rack of lamb, beef tenderloin and seafood.”
Butterfield also does a big business in Thanksgiving takeout, preparing more than 50 orders for at-home celebrations (“That’s big for Chicagoland,” Terry points out). He offers both full meals or a la carte options with turkey and a choice of six sides, salad and dessert selections.
The Party’s Far From Over
Reports of the holiday party’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, at least from the perspective of Benjamin Lesnick, Executive Chef of Midland (Texas) Country Club.
Between corporate and family parties and a full roster of themed member events, Midland CC has seen its holiday business grow by 20 percent over the past two years, Lesnick reports.
The club serves at least two or three lunch parties per day during the holidays, as well as the same number of dinner parties. Space is usually booked a year in advance, and the menus are selected in the fall.
“Our members choose our club rather than other venues, because they appreciate that they can sit down with me and our Food and Beverage Director and Catering Manager, and often one of our owners as well, to plan one-of-a-kind parties, instead of being given a standard package,” Lesnick explains. “We give them value they won’t get at a hotel or other event venue, such as member pricing and waiving room rentals, to have their parties at the club.”
Located in the heart of Texas’ petroleum region, Midland CC hosts several big oil- company events during the holidays. Because the corporate clientele likes the feeling of coming to an a la carte dinner instead of a buffet, Lesnick offers five courses of upscale dishes for these events, such as locally-sourced Wagyu beef or duck.
Helping members plan one-of-a-kind corporate and family parties has helped that segment of Midland CC’s grow 20 percent in two years, reports Executive Chef Benjamin Lesnick (above).
“There’s a definite market for luxury, elegance and an elevated level of service here that we feel has been underserved in our area—and we deliver on all three,” Lesnick says.
And members don’t even have to get out of their cars to pick up their meals. Upon their arrival, the club’s valets will contact the kitchen and deliver the food to them. “It’s like a Thanksgiving drive-through,” Terry says.
The takeout schedule is timed so that while the last orders are being picked up, Terry and his staff are putting the finishing touches on the 2 p.m. holiday buffet, with time even left over to set up a separate, kid-friendly buffet. “We do a single seating so we’re usually finished and cleaned up by 6 p.m.,” he says. “This way my staff and I can spend Thanksgiving dinner with our own families.”
Take-home accounts for about 30 percent of the holiday business at Midland CC, says Lesnick. Thanksgiving dinners are available for members to pick up or have delivered to their homes. “Turkeys with sides, hams, two to three hundred pies, especially pecan and fruit-filled—it’s all very traditional,” Lesnick notes.
For members who choose to take their Thanksgiving dinner at the club, but still want that much-anticipated midnight turkey-and-stuffing sandwich, Lesnick offers a special treat. At the end of the night, servers ask guests if they would like to take home a package of leftovers (priced separately) from the meal. “Everyone loves the leftovers, so we make sure our members don’t miss out,” Lesnick says. “We cook extra of everything so there will be [some] we can offer.”
Special Gifts for Grownups
During the hectic holiday season, members at both Midland CC and Butterfield CC like to take time for one or more grownups’ night out. On the Thursday before Christmas, the entire clubhouse at Midland is decked out with luminaria and candles for a four-course, prix fixe dinner.
Last year’s meal at Midland included such special fare as Sonoma County foie gras with croissant bread pudding and tart cherry compote; sweet potato agnolotti with sage cream; grilled prime filet with king trumpet mushroom risotto, salsify and cabernet butter, and pistachio cheesecake with port cream. Between 150 and 200 guests partake of this glamorous meal.
Reservations for Butterfield’s annual black-tie Mistletoe Magic Candlelight Dinners in early December are in such high demand that Terry will have to offer the event on two different nights this season, hosting 360 guests in the ballroom each night. The event begins with passed appetizers and progresses to a seated four-course meal typically built around a surf-and-turf entrée. A strolling orchestra from the local high school entertains the diners.
Other family segments get special treatment, too. Lesnick teaches a holiday cooking class for junior chefs at Midland. Last year, the youngsters tried their hands at baking the club’s renowned pies. The class is offered twice, each time for a group of 12 participants. “Both classes sell out every year,” Lesnick says.
The day before Christmas Eve, Terry offers an old-fashioned, casual, family holiday buffet dinner, complete with carving stations for roast turkey, ham and stuffed pork roll, and even carolers to set the mood. In the two years since this event made its debut at Butterfield, it has “really picked up steam” and been filled to its 550-guest capacity, he says.
A Christmas Eve tradition at Midland is the authentic hand-made tamales that are available by the dozen to go. The club prepares between 600 and 700 of these specialties in the days before Christmas, Lesnick estimates. “It’s traditional comfort food, which can be great holiday food if it’s done really well,” he says.
On New Year’s Eve, Butterfield members prefer to order a la carte. Appetizers are served at stations, so guests can mingle before they sit down to soup, salad and a choice of six to eight different entrees. The star of this year’s show will be a whole smoked suckling pig, boned and rerolled like a porchetta and carved tableside. It will be served with house-made aged cheddar and potato pierogies, miso-braised baby turnips, maple gastrique and blueberry salsa.
After dinner, the guests have another chance to mingle, as they peruse the selections in the dessert room.
“Even though we may be serving 300 guests, our kitchen staff and servers really love this dinner because not all of the guests come in at the same time,” Terry points out. “Also, the appetizers are already out and the first two courses ready to go, so there’s plenty of time to prepare and serve the entrees.”
View recipes for:
- Smoked Suckling Pig with Miso-Brined Baby Turnips, Aged Cheddar Pierogies, Blueberry Salsa and Maple Gastrique
- Hanger Steak with Sweet Red Pepper-Cilantro Chimichurri
- Blueberry Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce