Winged Foot GC has elevated its culinary profile to match the club’s storied golf reputation.
At Winged Foot Golf Club (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), culinary excellence is par for the course.
Under the steady guidance of Executive Chef Rhy Waddington—a native of Australia who opened a still-thriving farm-to-table restaurant on his parents’ 850-acre property—Winged Foot has significantly elevated its culinary profile to match the club’s storied golf reputation. (The club has hosted 11 major championships, including five U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship, on its two A. W. Tillinghast-designed courses.)
Winged Foot’s F&B status has grown so much, in fact, that in 2013, it was the first private club to be invited to cook for the membership of the James Beard Foundation (JBF). The club has been invited back to prepare sellout dinners every year since.
|Winged Foot Golf Club
AT A GLANCELocation: Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Annual F&B Revenue: $4.5M
A la carte/Banquet Mix: 60/40
Average monthly covers: 5,500
Food Cost: 28.5%
Annual F&B Minimum: $800
Annual Golf Outings: 30
Foodservice Spaces (seating capacities): Terrace (250-280); Grill Room (100); Mixed Grill (40); Main Dining Room (280); East Room (50-60); Pool
Foodservice employees: Back of house: 28; Front of house: 25
Kitchen Sizes: 3,000 sq. ft. & 2,500 sq. ft.
Clubhouse Size: 45,000 sq. ft.
“[Chef Waddington’s] background informs and directs everything he does,” says General Manager Colin Burns. “He takes a global approach to food that’s both modern and familiar. Members and staff respond to him.”
In the 24 years he’s been General Manager of Winged Foot, Burns says the current F&B management team—led by Waddington and Clubhouse Manager Lily Braswell—is the very best the club has ever had.
“I first noticed the impact they’ve had on the club when one day I came out of a Board meeting and went into the grill room,” says Burns. “There were 15 men watching a Thursday night football game and they were eating udon noodle soup with pork belly. It stopped me in my tracks. Never in my life did I expect to see a room full of men watching football and slurping noodles.”
Be it pork-belly noodles, sole Florentine or any of the other dishes featured at the club, Waddington’s savvy approach regularly “wows” Winged Foot’s membership.
A Dynamic Approach
Seasonality is the driving force behind Winged Foot’s culinary strategy. And menus change weekly to reflect the very best of what’s available.
“We have close relationships with our vendors, most of whom are local,” says Waddington, who has been Winged Foot’s Executive Chef since 2010. “We feature regional ingredients as often as possible, and we take bigger risks with our dishes than we could if we didn’t change our choices as frequently.”
Menus toe the line between classic fare and modern application. Every dish has a thoughtful twist. Take the club’s Caprese salad, for example. Instead of the simple tomato/mozzarella/basil variation, Winged Foot’s features Hamden burrata, heirloom tomatoes, and petite basil.
“Over the last few years, we’ve made a conscious decision to become our members’ favorite restaurant,” says Burns. “[Chef Waddington] has been a big part of that evolution. He’s humble, likeable and nothing riles him. He’s thoughtful, not overly emotional and takes criticism well. His food is intrinsically farm-to-table, because that’s what he knows, not because it’s trendy. He’s also a very good business partner.”
Those traits and skills have proved especially useful in building a strong culinary team.
“The kitchen is focused on motivation, not dictation,” says Waddington. “We’ve worked hard to establish a level of trust with one another and to understand and apply the fundamentals. Those things go a long way in creating an environment that supports creativity and constant change.”
Waddington is reluctant to take much credit for the success of Winged Foot’s F&B operation. Instead he cites Braswell, the staff, the membership and especially Burns for contributing to the program’s elevation.
“I can’t praise [Burns] enough for his support,” says Waddington. “Winged Foot has a legendary golf program, but he is as focused on the food as he is on the course.”
“Chef and I always say, ‘We’re one team,’” says Braswell, a Culinary Institute of America grad who now oversees the front of the house and is the brains behind the club’s reinvigorated wine program. “We strive to be proactive instead of reactive in all situations, and we are constantly talking with one another.”
“[Braswell] and [Waddington] speak the same language,” says Burns. “Her culinary background has enhanced her role as clubhouse manager and improved the program significantly.”
Winged Foot In the House
Chefs must be invited to cook at the James Beard House, and it’s considered one of the culinary profession’s highest honors. So when Waddington wanted to start the conversation, he first reached out to the JBF events coordinator.
“I asked her if they’ve ever had a private club do a dinner and she said no,” says Waddington. “That was our in.”
While the staff at the JBF didn’t know much about Winged Foot’s culinary program, they soon learned that the quality and attention to detail were worth highlighting. They invited the club to cook and in exchange, the club agreed to buy any unsold tickets to sell to the membership, so there was little risk involved for the JBF.
“The first dinner was a huge success,” says Waddington. “And every year since we’ve sold out, sometimes before our members even have a chance to buy a ticket.”
A Long Way from Lentil Soup
“When I came to [Winged Foot] 24 years ago, we were known for our lentil soup, hot dogs and rye bread,” says Burns. “We’ve come a long way. And when we’re able to showcase our excellence by cooking on a global stage like the James Beard House, it’s a very rewarding moment for the club.”
In 2016, Winged Foot will prepare two JBF dinners, one traditional and one tied to the launch of a book—Golf Kitchen: 19 Golf Clubs, 19 Chefs, 114 Recipes and Wine Pairings Globally—that Waddington has been working on with Diana DeLucia, a photographer and author of the book Golf Club World, Behind the Gates.
Waddington plans to leverage these occasions to further motivate Winged Foot’s team.
“Being able to include on your resume that you cooked at the James Beard House can be powerful,” says Waddington, who says he feels a responsibility to prepare his staff for a successful career, whether it’s at Winged Foot or elsewhere.
Chrissy Bennett is the perfect example. Bennett is Winged Foot’s Kitchen Manager and, according to Waddington, she can cook as well as, if not better than, anyone else on the team.
“When Chrissy started at the club, she had no culinary experience at all,” says Waddington. “A friend asked if I’d give her a chance and after a short time I realized she was unhappy. I sat down with her and asked her what she wanted to do with her life. We talked for a long time and I learned how to motivate her. She has blossomed into one of the strongest members of our team.
“She’s well-respected, motivated and one of the hardest workers we have,” Waddington adds. “There is nothing more rewarding to me than to see someone progress like she has.”
Next up for Winged Foot’s F&B operation is a $3 million renovation that will vastly improve the club’s two kitchens, which were built in 1921, and its back-of-house infrastructure, while also closing the dining rooms from December 2015- April 2016.
“Our members are sensitive to the needs of our staff,” says Burns.
To show them that the kitchens needed to be renovated, the club started taking members on back-of-the-house tours. “Once they saw the state of the main kitchen, they immediately embraced the need for a renovation,” says Burns.
“We’re completely gutting the kitchens and redesigning the flow and the layout,” says Waddington. “We’re putting in a custom island suite so we can better service the membership during banquets. The downstairs kitchen will include a pastry shop, too.”
The club’s kitchen will reopen in time for the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Golf Championship. And then Winged Foot and its culinary team will set its sights on playing host to the U.S. Open again, in 2020.