Alain Sailhac, Dean Emeritus and Internationally know culinary artist of the ICC (International Culinary Center, NYC) admires Chef Rhy Waddington's culinary delights at the James Beard House, NYC
Rhy Waddington is an Australian Chef from Albury Wodonga, located in North East Victoria. He grew up on his parents Hereford beef farm. As a young child Rhy was very well travelled. His parents Rod and Jan Waddington once took him on a nine-month world trip where he experienced many cultures and developed a skilled palette.
Rhy left school at age sixteen to begin his culinary apprenticeship. He spent his earlier years working for restaurants in Mission Beach, North Queensland and Melbourne, Victoria, and opened his own farm to table restaurant before moving to the United States.
What are some of the most memorable restaurants that you worked at in Australia and why?
At the very beginning of my career, I worked for Noelle Quinn at Mon Cherie Restaurant and Zillion Food Studio both in Albury Wodonga. Noelle was a real ambassador for local farms, and it was with her guidance that I became even more enthusiastic about creating new menu items. I was later to sit on the board of the Hume Murray Food Bowl for which Noelle was the Food and Wine Development manager. The Hume Murray Food Bowl’s objective was to bring exposure to the regional producers, restaurants and chefs.
In 2002, I was offered a position at a restaurant called Bank, in Beechworth, Victoria. It was a regional, fine dining farm to table establishment owned by Wayne Mclaughlin at that time. It was there that I met my wife Samantha Whitford. She was coming home after living in France, Europe and Japan for a few years.
You opened your Restaurant with Samantha. Tell us about that experience.
Yes, we opened our restaurant on my parents 900 acre Hereford Beef farm. We called it Waddington’s at Kergunyah. We wanted to take the farm to table experience to the next level and grow and supply our own produce. We wanted it to be a real farm life experience; you even had to get out of your car to open the gate!
What motivated you to travel to the United States?
I was offered a consultancy position with the Bondi Group to come to San Diego in California to help open Bondi Bar and Kitchen, located in the Gaslamp district in San Diego. Chris Behre was the consulting chef of the company, and I was the executive chef of the venue.
Winged Foot Golf Club, photo by Lawrence Lembrecht
How did you find your way to Winged Foot Golf Club?
I was offered a position here at Winged Foot Golf Club in 2008. My good friend Jeff Santili introduced me to the then executive chef of Winged Foot Golf Club. I was hired as the executive sous chef and then promoted. Jeff and I worked together in San Diego for a year. Jeff loves golf, and he has been the High School Golf Coach at Greenwich High School in Connecticut for the last 16 years.
What were your thoughts about working at a private golf club such as Winged Foot?
I had never worked at a private club before, or a golf club; I was always a restaurant person. I never thought a private club would be for me. But once I got here it really changed my mind. Our members eat at the best restaurants in the world, and that is what they demand here. I have a lot of freedom here to practice my culinary visions.
Do the members drive your menu?
We always try to balance it out. We try to keep everyone’s favorites and also introduce them to new cuisine. The menu changes every week. We have to carry a lot of different products to make members happy, but that’s a part of the job.
How do plan your menus?
We try to create a balance with our menu; we don’t get overly molecular. We try to use the best produce and present it in more of a modern way than you might expect at your local eatery down the street.
I write all the menus Sunday afternoon by hand and then they are typed up, emailed to the staff and loaded onto our website. We have a lot of events that drive menus as well. For example, we might have a wine or cheese company holding events here during the week, but then Thursday through Saturday are our A La Carte evenings. Then come Sunday we change it again.
Only the members and their guests can eat here. Since they are coming back all the time, it’s necessary to change our menu weekly, so they are experiencing new and exciting items. I also get to know the member likes and dislikes this way.
The entrance gate to Waddington's at Kergunyah.
How do you source all of your products, especially having the passion you have for farm to table dining?
It’s tough as we do things here on such a big scale, you know, we can do up to 400 covers a day. We have a lot of corporate functions and upscale events as well. It’s always busy. This makes it challenging for me to use smaller farms as they don’t have the infrastructure to get me the produce at a reasonable price. I found this great company out of Upstate New York called Farmers Door Produce. They are like a co-op so I can get farm to table produce this way. I am able to source quail, Hudson Valley foie gras, fresh duck eggs and other produce. I order from them weekly, and they deliver it to us here at Winged Foot. We have built great relationships with our vendors over the years, and it shows in the quality of product. I have very strict guidelines on what is acceptable, and we only want the best!
We also grow some of our produce here, and I just got approval to build our own vegetable garden onsite. It will be great for our children’s program. We will teach them how to grow vegetables, and they will cook them for their parents later in the year.
Tell me about your culinary team here at Winged Foot.
When I took the job, I knew we had to have a culinary team that was well respected in the industry.
What I found was that a lot of chefs and culinary staff think that a golf club is where you go when you retire. They have a notion that the chefs in golf clubs don’t know what they are doing. I tried to get a young modern team that was passionate about cooking. I retained some of the staff that had been here for 23 years, and I had young students come in from CIA (Culinary Institute of America) on externships and we set a training program to educate both kitchen and front of house staff.
You are the first golf club team that has ever been invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City, tell us about that experience.
The events coordinator at the James Beard House invited us to cook there. I had to get it approved by Colin Burns our General Manager, as well as the members. They loved the idea. They were so supportive. We put a menu together and it was a really good experience and great exposure for the young kids and seasonal staff that were in the kitchen and also for the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) students to experience at the end of their externship. It was like a celebration for the time they were here at Winged Foot.
A lot of the members that I thought were plain eaters were blown away by the dinner. Many had not heard of the James Beard House or realized the honor that it is to be cooking there. Once they did their research, they understood how special it was for us to be able to cook there. We did our second dinner there this past October, 2015 and hope to do it again in 2016.
Do you enjoy working with the General Manager, Colin Burns? He has been at Winged Foot for over 20 years.
Colin knows the members very well. When I came here, Colin wanted to change things up. He knew that to remain relevant it was necessary. He wanted to keep up to date and fresh. The previous chef had a menu that only changed three times a year. It wasn’t what you would have expected for a place like Winged Foot. It’s a very prestigious place. If you have two of the best golf courses in the world and a club house that is recognized globally, you need to have a culinary program to match that. That has been our goal. Colin has been a huge supporter. We are very grateful.