I write this not only for myself but to honor a Southern businessman and gentleman who, along with his family and community treated me with great respect and kindness.
In 2015 I was among those fortunate to visit Old Waverly Golf Club for a few days when I was producing the Golf Kitchen coffee table book. That was quite a life-changing experience for me; being an Australian, this was my first experience with deeply rooted Southern hospitality.
From the moment I stepped into the world of George W. Bryan, Sr., in Westpoint, Mississippi (like everyone on the property), I was treated like a family member. Mr. Bryan and his equally kind wife and life partner, Mrs. Marcia Bryan, were so kind to me, and during my visit, I noticed that this was a priority and a deep part of who they were.
George and his team were creating a new golf property nearby called Mossy Oak which was dirt, mud, and grass to me at the time! I am pretty curious by nature, and I was thrilled when George personally took me in a golf cart (one meant for muddy conditions) on a tour of the entire property; I was fascinated to learn how everything was created with such thought and care for the environment and how scientific it was, I was never to look at a golf course the same way again! Renowned golf course designer Gil Hanse and his team were installing the watering and irrigation system, which was eye-opening for me.
That evening, I was treated to a sit-down wine dinner with George, Marcia, and their guests that the Memphis Wine Society was hosting at the club. The concept was brilliant. The selected members would bring all the wines for dinner, they each planned them with the culinary team, and each had to personally stand up and explain to the guests why they had selected that wine to pair with the menu item. Laughter was the order of the evening, and this was presented with an attentive staff who were all expertly delivering a flawless synchronized service. As the night progressed, you can only imagine how much more amusing and elaborate these wine stories became. I am still Facebook friends with a few folks from that evening, and whenever I see a post, it reminds me of that old worldly evening, like I was transported back into time, how I loved that tremendous Southern experience.
George insisted that I tour the town of Westpoint; one of the highlights was Waverly Mansion. As a fan of history, this property had it all. It is a monument to a glorious time in Southern History, and the club is named after it. https://www.wpnet.org/index.php/attractions/waverly_mansion
Another notable memory is George and Marcia's passion for historical art; historical artworks were everywhere in the Old Waverly Clubhouse, and I was mesmerized by them. Marcia gave me a personal tour of the family home to experience the historical artifacts and paintings they collected over many years; it was astounding.
I was at Old Waverley to learn about the cuisine at Old Waverley,, but I got much, much more than I could have ever have imagined. Even after I returned to Connecticut, I was thrilled that I could run my ideas by George, and he would call back and entertain my visions.
I am proud that my book sits in the Old Waverly clubhouse and to have been a small part of the culinary history of Mr. Bryan's treasured property.
My deepest sympathies to Marcia and family, the entire Old Waverly team and membership, the Westpoint community, the golf community, and all those who the greatness of this incredible southern businessman and family man has touched.
~ Diana DeLucia
Grilled Bronzini with Quinoa Tabbouleh, French Feta, Heirloom Tomato Relish and Pomegranate Molasses
Recipe by Anthony Capua, Executive Chef at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Image by Diana DeLucia
Heirloom Tomato Relish
Take the Bronzini and stuff the interior cavity with sliced lemons, thyme, and rosemary. Chef Note: Be sure to pack it tightly. Next, score the skin with a boning knife, gently rub the extra virgin olive oil on both sides, and place it on the grill.
Bring the quinoa, salt, and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil—season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out quinoa on a large rimmed baking sheet; let cool. Transfer to a large bowl; mix in 1/4 cup of dressing then add the cucumber, tomatoes, herbs, and scallions to the bowl with the quinoa; toss to coat. Finish with seasoning.
Heirloom Tomato Relish
Place 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt on a work surface and garlic cloves on top of the salt. Chop cloves into the salt, alternating with mashing the cloves into the salt with the flat part of the knife until you have a fresh garlic paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a medium-sized bowl. Chop the tomatoes, olives, and jalapeños and add to the bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and gently toss to blend. Season with more salt and pepper if desired.
Reduce the pomegranate juice in a small pot on medium heat. After about 10 minutes, add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until dissolved. Chef Note: observe as pomegranate juice reduces by half and turns into a syrup in about 30-45 mins. Once pomegranate juice has turned to syrup, take it out of the pot, place it in a quart container, and keep it in the refrigerator.
Take a long horizontal plate, place tabbouleh linear across the plate, and crumble three teaspoons of french feta on top of the tabbouleh. Place the Bronzini on top of tabbouleh and feta, lightly garnish with heirloom tomato relish, and finish with a light sauce of pomegranate molasses.
Chateau de Sancerre Blanc 2020, Loire, France
You have a the sweet flesh of a fish, a little savory note, a little toast from the gill. I think about squeezing a lemon over it: I always go for a light, citrusy wine. That is a nice contrast to those smoky flavors. I will go with a a great Sencerre that I pour all the time. ~ Alfredo Hildebrandt, Assistant General Manager with sophisticated flair for fine wines and spirits.
Recipe by Chrissie Bennett, Executive Chef at Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York, USA
Image by Diana DeLucia
Season the salmon with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Cook the salmon, without moving, skin side up, until golden and crisp, about four minutes. Carefully flip the fillets and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking until done to your liking, four to five minutes more.
Cook the rice using broth instead of water. When the cooking time is up, do not open the lid; turn the heat off and keep the lid tightly covered for ten minutes to allow continued steaming. If the rice is too firm, mix in just enough extra broth to moisten all the rice, cover, and simmer for another ten minutes. While the rice is cooking, add the butter to a large/deep skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted and starting to bubble, add the olives and English peas. Stir to combine. Cover and cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the brussels sprouts, garlic, Italian seasoning, and black pepper, stirring for another two minutes until softened. Check rice for doneness. Fluff with a fork and add to a skillet with vegetable mixture, stirring to incorporate. Taste and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.
On a serving plate, spoon the wild rice in the center, place the salmon on top and garnish with zucchini blossoms.
Camaraderie Cellars Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, WA
Nice and earthy with hints of cherry fruit running through it, notes of truffle and mushrooms, very Bordeaux-ish, nice finish. It pairs well with this grilled Roasted Salmon recipe.
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York, USA
Image by Larry Lambrecht, courtesy Winged Foot Golf Club
"When Chrissie Bennett arrived at Winged Foot Golf Club in 2012 I never expected her to rise to the position of executive chef. Her rise to this position is a story of persistence, innate ability to develop delicate but
complex flavor profiles, and unrelenting charm. Chrissie has demonstrated without question that there is no substitute for hard work. We are most proud to have Chrissie Bennett as executive chef of one of the most famous golf clubs in the world."
~ Colin A. Burns, General Manager
Left: Chrissie Bennett, Executive Chef at Winged Foot Golf Club.
Right: Seared Salmon with Wild Rice and Zucchini Blossoms.
Images by Diana DeLucia
In 2014, I interviewed Chrissie Bennett when she was the Kitchen Manager at Winged Foot Golf Club, and I asked her this question.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“Hopefully, in an executive position, and most likely in a sous chef position. I love Winged Foot so much that I am happy to work my way up here and have no intentions of leaving. I am very family-oriented, and Winged Foot feels like home, which is why people stay here for 20 years and more. We’re always thankful that members and management acknowledge our performance, which happens every day! To summarize my feelings, Winged Foot has been great to me, and I, in turn, need to be great for Winged Foot.”
It is an honor and a privilege to return to Winged Foot and to witness this fierce Jamaican-born young woman from the Bronx take on one of the most significant culinary roles in the industry.
~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us when you realized that cooking inspired you?
My parents both worked, and they took turns cooking dinner. One rainy day when I was around 11 years old, I called my mom and told her I wanted to cook something to eat. She said, “No, you are too young, and you don’t know what you are doing!” I replied, “Fine, I won’t do anything,” and then I said, “Mom, I am going to cook something!” Defiantly I went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and made Chicken Curry with White Rice. When my mom came home from work, she was impressed and started calling everyone to tell them how her little Chrissie had cooked an impressive meal.
That is when I knew I was interested in cooking, and after that, you couldn’t stop me! I cooked for my family, school friends, and at any opportunity, I could. Both my parents could cook, especially on my father’s side, so you could say it’s in my DNA, my family’s genes!
My extended family is enormous, and I have many Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. I credit my family for showing me that cooking was a pleasurable activity, and to this day, I love it, whether cooking for two or 200! You can always teach someone the cooking techniques, but you can’t teach the commitment and passion needed to excel.
GK: Tell us about your journey to one of the top Executive Chef positions in the country.
When I first came to Winged Foot 11 years ago, it was just a Summer job. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with the place. I felt it; it was so different, and I loved the culture and began to make friends.
My first duties here were at the pantry station. I think everyone was surprised that I knew what I was doing; besides cooking for family and friends, I used to watch every culinary show in existence for hours. I would have my notepad and jot down everything; cooking became my second nature! By my third year, I was the kitchen manager. When our former Executive Chef, Rhy Waddington, moved on in 2021, I accepted the role. I knew I was ready.
GK: Winged Foot has been a great learning environment for you. Tell us about that.
Many people don’t realize that it is much harder to attain recognition at a private club, but the goal is there if you want to work for it. At Winged Foot, you learn much more than you would in a restaurant because you have breakfast, lunch, banquets, fine dining, events, weddings, and golf course food.
There’s so much more education in the private club space. Another great thing about this learning environment is that you have more freedom to be creative. Due to the number of oversized banquets and events, I can take traditional recipes, play around with the ingredients and find new ways to present them. I love that freedom.
Winged Foot has pushed me to be the best version of myself. The only way I could conquer Winged Foot, one of the most beautiful and fierce animals you can come across, was to be just as fierce!
GK: You sacrificed a lot on your journey. Tell us about that.
I knew how much I had sacrificed to get to this position. If I came here every day, not giving my all, would it be worth all the sacrifices? When I accepted this role, I took it very seriously. I’m a person who, if I dedicate myself to something, I’m going to work hard at it. As a woman of color in this male-driven career, I have grown a thick skin and learned much from the harshest criticism.
The most significant personal sacrifice I made during my journey to this position was missing my sister Tanya Bennett’s graduation in Italy. We are very close, and every time I feel low, I think about the moment I made that choice and how it has paid off. It helps me to push through hard times.
GK: What was the biggest challenge when you took on this role?
When I took this role, I took it very seriously. I’m a person who, if I dedicate myself to something, I’m going to work hard at it. As a woman of color in this male-driven career, I have grown a thick skin and learned much from the harshest criticism.
Creating a team is such a difficult task. One of the most challenging struggles is taking over a group of staff that the former chef led. Getting people who have worked under someone else to accept your vision isn’t an easy task. You have to figure out new ways to separate yourself from those who were previously on the same level and then get them to buy into your ideas and goals. That is not always possible, and that’s when hard decisions have to be made. You ask yourself, how do you create a culture with rotten apples?
GK: How do you lead your team now to build a better culture?
One thing I love to do is team building. I try to build each person up and encourage them to do their ultimate best. I talk with them daily about the service at the end of the shift. I give credit all the time. I’m honest and open with my staff and show them their strengths. I try my best to enable them to be creative. On the flip side, I might have a team member with an elevated ego, and I need to find a way to bring them back to earth, then rebuild.
When I first got this promotion, I received a letter from a girl congratulating me. I did not remember who she was. In the letter, she reminded me about a day many years earlier when she was feeling down and was in need of a little encouragement. She told me that my words made such an impact on her life.
It is mind-blowing that she tracked me down years later, congratulating me. It was just a conversation at the bottom of the Winged Foot staircase. This made me realize how important words are.
GK: You may not realize it, but you are a light for many people here.
Thank you! This moment is so unbelievable for me. Who would have thought getting this promotion would have touched so many individuals, both young and old?
I wanted this position for myself at first; I wanted Winged Foot. I have put so much of myself into it. However, when I was given the new role and started receiving congratulatory messages from so many people in and out of the industry, I realized what a huge accomplishment it was.
It would be fantastic for my story to go as far as God wants to take it. Words can’t explain how important it would be to me personally if I were to be an inspiration to even one person. GK: How has the membership responded to your new role?
I am overwhelmed by how supportive the membership has been. Rhy was here for ten years, and the members loved him; they were big shoes to fill. I knew some members wanted this for me, but the support has been much more than I had anticipated. It has made me want to do better.
That’s the beauty of it. That’s why I come here every day. I want to know when someone eats my food; I want them to be blown away by it. I see this place as my extended family; I need them just as much as they need me.
GK: Tell us about some people who have influenced your career.
The relationship I have built with Mr. Colin Burns, our General Manager, is phenomenal. He’s been behind my back this entire time. Chef Rhy realized 11 years ago how dedicated I was, and they have both championed my development.
My father always instilled in me that I could achieve anything if I had a dream or desire, worked hard enough, and made sacrifices along the way.
I want to bring more people into my surroundings. If I can get people to come into this kitchen, I can show them that what you put into a club is what you will get back.
GK: From my perspective, the younger club chefs are creating new ways to run kitchen operations, especially in the last few years of the pandemic. It is not based on the old-style brigade system anymore.
At Winged Foot, we have workers of all different age ranges. It’s hard to get everyone to buy into the angry brigade atmosphere. There will always be some tension because we all work so many hours, and we must try to create the best environment, so people want to be here.
GK: How do you manage the mental health of your team?
There’s so much happening in a person’s day-to-day life that we don’t know. I talk to everyone I hire, try to get to know them personally, and build a better working relationships. We all come from different walks of life. I come from a solid background, and I can honestly say that not everyone comes from that. It doesn’t matter how well someone looks or presents themselves; there might be some real deep-rooted stuff that’s happening outside of work. I try to figure out how to connect with all my staff and encourage and motivate them. If someone struggles from within, I need them to feel comfortable talking to me about it.
Our kitchen is a very stressful environment, and the expectations are high. We’re not saving lives; we’re just making food, but at the same time, everyone needs to receive approval from their peers, superiors, and members. You put so much of yourself into this kitchen. It becomes a massive part of your life, so I need to make it as supportive of an environment as possible.
GK: How do you think we can raise more awareness of the culinary career opportunities that the industry provides?
I honestly believe we have to figure out what we can do as an industry. Each person has to do their part to come up with a system that works long-term. We need to begin by inspiring young children and teenagers.
GK: How do we make future culinarians learn about the culture of our industry and all it has to offer?
I hope a face like mine will bring that awareness to many.
Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York, USA
the first annual golf Kitchen invitational and the fourth annual Golf kitchen Culinary Excellence awards, 2022 at GlenArbor golf Club
Left to right: Hannah Flora-Mihajlovic, Executive Sous Chef at Addison Reserve Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida, Zouhair Bellout, Executive Chef at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia, Anthony Capua, Executive Chef at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Dwayne Edwards, Culinary Director and Shawn Olah, Executive Chef at Highlands Falls Country Club, celebrate with a martini at Chef Bellout's live-action station during the cocktail hour. Image by Wei Liu
On September 8th, 2022, the first annual Golf Kitchen Invitational and the fourth annual Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards, sponsored by the National Golf Course Restaurant Association (NGCRA), took place at GlenArbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills, New York.
The Golf Kitchen Invitational kicked off at 11:00 AM with well wishes via video from Rob Labritz, Tour Champion and Director of Golf at GlenArbor. A continental breakfast, and a Transfusion station supplied by Fred Evanko, Owner of LinksDrinks, and practice shots at the driving range started the day. At 12.30 PM, foursomes enjoyed a shotgun start by GlenArbor Starter, Keith Hernandez, and the entire Golf Shop and Outside Service Staff and proceeded their day on the renowned Gary Player designed golf course.
Local area club chefs were stationed out on the course and served up a mini-feast that was enjoyed by participants and members of the prestigious club. Matt O'Connor, Director of Culinary Operations at Wee Burn Country Club, Darian, Connecticut, served up first-class course cuisine and signature cocktails including Citrus Cured Ahi Tuna with Avocado Terrine, Imperial Caviar, Yuzu Scented Crème Fraiche, Poppadum Crisps and Cilantro paired with a Tequila Lime Sparkler. Matthew Norman, Sous Chef at Pine Orchard Yacht Club, Branford, CT served Seared Diver Scallops with Native Corn, Chili Infused Tomato and Cucumber Froth paired with a Basil Cucumber Gin Fizz; Daniel Hess CC. CHS Chef de Cuisine at Westchester Hills Golf Club in White Plains, New York created a Street Taco Station with Pulled Pork, Shibazi Chicken and Duck Tacos with Lots of Add-Ins and paired a classic Azalia cocktail. Kelly Morrow, the Executive Chef at Tavistock Country Club in Haddonfield, New Jersey, served Tennessee Hot Chicken Sliders with Pimento Cheese, Habanero Hot Sauce, and Spicy Pickles and then packed a burning hot taste with his Cherry Moonshine Lemonade!
Winners of the Invitational were announced during the awards dinner; Gross Winner: Warren Burdock, Brian Conroy, Chris Meringolo and Philip Manceri of Wee Burn Country Club, Net Winner: Matthew Mosebrook, Branden Komm, Tim Hughes and Tim Mullen of Chefs Warehouse, Closest to the Pin on Hole #11: Patrick Waxin of the National Golf Course Restaurant Association and Longest Drive on Hole #15: Scott Vallary, Business Development, DE Title
Members of GlenArbor, Invitational participants and guests began arriving at 6:30 PM for this annual event's cocktail hour on the Lakeview Terrace. Michael Ruggiero, Executive Chef, and his staff at GlenArbor provided an amazing experience with not only Passed hors d'oeuvres but a fantastic live-action station consisting of Veal Breast, Wild Mushrooms and Butternut Spaetzle. Zouhair Bellout, Executive Chef at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia delivered his live-action station of Black Garlic Macaroons, Kabusha Squash, Cured Duck, Rosewater Pickled Onion Jam, and Micro Mustard Greens and his action station Crispy Rice, Tuna, Chili Garlic, Spicy Mayo with Caviar, Green Onions, and Micro Greens.
Cocktail hour tastings were provided by The Macallan, Wines by Caymus and Martinis by Lucinda Sterling, Managing Partner at Middle Branch cocktail lounge in Manhattan. A cover band led by Johnny Bliss entertained with classical jazz and Spanish music fitting for the occasion.
“It was a great experience; cooking with all the different chefs and meeting other industry individuals is always fun. Needless to say, being a part of the movement of showcasing the high level of culinary talent at golf clubs is a great honor.” said Zouhair Bellout, Executive Chef at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
The weather was perfect from start to finish, and at 7.30 PM, guests were ushered to the main dining room for more culinary adventures.
Fernando Silva, Wine Director, Sommelier, and Wine Critic, at GlenArbor, was the evening's MC and opened the dinner with an entertaining speech for which he is renowned, followed by Golf Kitchen's President Diana DeLucia. Delucia discussed the event's development and purpose and future initiatives and introduced Steve Cohen, President of NGCRA, the event's Lead Sponsor.
The first course was a Korean Braised Pork Belly with Red Beet Gnocchi, Yuzu Compressed Melon, Chipotle Honey Gastrique, Pork Fat Crumb, Strawberry Fluid Gel, Carrot Ginger Silk, Upland Cress, Basil Crystal, and Finger Lime created by Hannah Flora-Mihajlovic, Chef de Cuisine at Addison Reserve Country Club and the 2021 Golf Kitchen Rising Star awardee. Silva paired the dish with Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc, Fairfield, California, 2021.
The first awardee of the night in attendance was Chrissie Bennett, Executive Chef at Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York. DeLucia presented Chef Bennett with the 2022 Rising Star Award with a heartfelt statement about her journey to one of the industry's finest golf establishments.
Chrissie Bennett, Executive Chef at Winged Foot Golf Club receives the 2022 Golf Kitchen Rising Star Award.
Image by Wei Liu
The second course was served by Wes Tyler CEC, CCA, WCMC, Executive Chef at The Club at Carlton Woods, The Woodlands, Texas. His Epigrammes de Filet de Sole au Grand-Duc with Poached Crayfish Tails, Buttered Asparagus Tips, Sliced Autumn Truffles, Mushroom Liquor, and Soft Herbs was a hit and was paired with Mer Soleil Chardonnay, Saint Lucia Highlands, California 2020.
The Purveyor of the Year award was presented to Natalia Cabrera, President of Khayyan Specialty Foods, who has been a strong advocate for Club chefs and continuously brings superior products from Spain and Italy to the industry. Next, The Culinary Excellence Award for an Outstanding Private Golf Club or Country Club was presented to Wes Tyler on behalf of The Club at Carlton Woods.
The third course was Herb Crusted Loin of Domestic Lamb Cauliflower Cream, Golden Raisin, Parisienne Potato, Maitre D, Natural Ash and Griotte Cherry Glace presented by Shawn Olah, Executive Chef at Highlands Fall Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina, paired with Caymus, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2020.
Marisa Hernandez, the Executive Pastry Chef at GlenArbor Golf Club, ended the dinner flawlessly with a Brown Butter Hazelnut Cake with Lemon Mousse, Grapefruit, and Poached Red Wine Pears, paired with Peyraguey, Premier Cru Classe de Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 2009.
Fernando Silva presented the second annual Golf Kitchen Wine Program Award to Alfredo Hildebrant, Assistant General Manager at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“After an exhaustive review of Wine Lists and Wine programs from all the Private Clubs, I found that the most suitable candidate for this prestigious award was definitely Alfredo Hildebrandt at Sycamore Hills Golf Club”. The passion and sincere thirst for knowledge is key in defining role of the Modern-day Sommelier or Wine Director! It was a great Honor to discover such talent and qualities in an individual like Alfredo.” expressed Fernando Silva.
“The fourth annual Golf Kitchen Culinary Excellence Awards Dinner was a memorable night for all in attendance. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming from right when you walked in until the moment you left. The menu was outstanding with delectable dishes and the perfect pairing of wines. Every chef exceeded my expectations and took the time to speak about their dishes with such thoughtfulness. The awards ceremony throughout the night highlighted such wonderful and talented individuals. It was such a special night,” added Caroline Assumma, Member Communications and Social Media Coordinator at Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York.
Silva closed the event with a tasting of The Macallan, tea, and coffee, and guests signed the traditional aprons and collected gift bags.
“The Golf Kitchen Invitational and Culinary Excellence Awards dinner is a truly spectacular event that showcases the work of great Chefs from around the country. The planning, networking, and passion that went into every aspect of the day exceeded all expectations. The NGCRA was proud to be the Lead Sponsor!” ~ Steven Cohen, CEO, National Golf Course Restaurant Association.
“One of my Board members and I were privileged to be able to attend the Golf Kitchen Invitational and Culinary Excellence awards dinner at GlenArbor Golf Club. The young talent being showcased, including our own Executive Chef, was a unique gathering of outstanding professionals transforming the dining experience in Country Clubs across the U.S and beyond. The efforts by Golf Kitchen magazine to not only recognize these Chefs but also to help grow and recruit more talent to the country club industry is an effort I wholeheartedly support. Kudos to a job well done!” ~ Jason Macaulay, CCM, CCE GM/COO at Highlands Falls Country Club, Highlands, NC
Special recognition to Morgan Gregory, President, Fernando Silva, Wine Director, Sommelier and Wine Critic, Alisha Turchick, Director of Events, Jessica Perez Director of Concierge and Assistant Director of Events, and Michael Ruggiero for your hard work these past years making this event run as smoothly as possible!
Thank you to the NGCRA for your sponsorship and support, all members and guests, media partners Venu Magazine, and Total Food Service for your continued coverage of this industry event.
Thank you to Wei Liu, AMSE NYC & Your Concept Branding Consultancy and Ryan Rodrieguez for capturing the event with your photography and videos.
Thank you to Addison Reserve Country Club, The Club at Carlton Woods, Highlands Falls Country Club, and Reynolds Lake Oconee, for allowing your team to participate. Anthony Capua, Executive Chef at Sycamore Hills and Dwayne Edwards, Culinary Director, thank you for volunteering to help the culinary team, I know they appreciated having you there.
Robert Orlando, thank you for assisting us on the golf course! Dave Pasternack, it was an honor to have your presence at the event, your feedback is much appreciated. Hopefully next year our friend Jose Carles Fabregas can return to compete in the event in 2023!
Ann Liguori, renowned Radio and TV Sports Talk Show Host, WFAN-NY, Author and Business Woman and Scott Vallery, Business Development, DE Title, Highlands Falls Country Club, Wee Burn Country Club, Chefs Warehouse, Comport, NGCRA and Sycamore Hills Golf Club and all team members thank you for supporting our first invitational and I hope to see you next year.
The National Golf Course Restaurant Association team! Left to right Kip Mewborn, Senior Vice President, Faith Mewborn, Administrative Director, Patrik Waxin, Chairman/ Co-Founder, Peter Fischbach, Regional Director of Business Development, Steve Cohen, CEO/ Co-Founder, Tory Eulenfeld, National Director of Member Services and Programs Oliver Schindler, Executive Vice President
Christine Hazel, Chopped Champion and Executive Chef at Huntingdon Valley Country Club, Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Image by Diana DeLucia
Christine Hazel grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and Levittown, Pennsylvania. Her early culinary influences came from her grandmothers, and she spent many years learning how to recreate their recipes at family dinners and functions. Her first love was science, and she rose to Pre-Med at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; while doing internships, she found the creative spin missing. That would lead her to the beginning of a journey well worth the read. ~Diana DeLucia
GK: When did you leave Pre-Med and change course?
I was pre-med for three years and discovered I needed to use my creative side. I went on to bartending for a few years while trying to figure out my path. Then at 28, I decided to go to culinary school, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in culinary management. I enrolled in the Art Institute of Philadelphia and graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in culinary management.
GK: How did Hell’s Kitchen come about?
While I was in culinary school, a casting director approached me and asked me if would like to be a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen. They had heard about me through fellow co-workers. I was delighted when I got cast on the show. I had to take a break from school but the experience was well worth it.
Hell’s Kitchen was my first real job, and I was thrown in with the wolves! I learned so much working with Gordon Ramsay and realized I knew nothing about cooking! It was fun and exciting. I was still in culinary school and competing with experienced chefs. I thought that was pretty incredible. I was like a sponge and absorbed so much from Chef Ramsay and Andy Van Willigan-Cutspec, his sous chef. I’ve grown so much from that experience and finished ninth out of 18.
GK: How did you find the Golf Industry?
In 2013, I was recommended by my culinary school instructor Chef Futryk to work at the US Open at Merion Golf Club. I didn’t know at the time how much golf was to become a large part of my life.
I worked in the USGA tent, and it was very stormy that year. I remember tornado warnings and windy tents. I cooked for some extraordinary athletes such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps; I enjoyed it. One of the chefs in the tent was John Wion, who was working part-time at The Masters at Augusta National, and was adamant about getting me down there to start working for him. That year I went down to Augusta and started my career there. That was in 2014; I was a junior sous chef.
When I did my first season at The Masters, Scott Haegele was the Executive Chef at Augusta National. He was talented, structured, and disciplined and had very high expectations! All the chefs held him in high regard. I learned a lot from Scott. He earned his place, and others knew it and that was something that I wanted to be.
Left: Truffle Wild Mushroom Pizza
Right: Christine Hazel, Executive Chef (center) with her lead line cooks Harmonie Garner (left) and Candice Ray (right)
Images by Diana DeLucia
GK: What did you do after you graduated?
After I graduated, I started working for some of the big-name chefs in Philadelphia, such as Marcy Turney at Lolita, a Mexican-based restaurant on 13th street, which was high-volume and fast-paced. I worked the grill and loved it. After that, I started working for Garces Catering for Jose Garces, a renowned Latin-American Chef, Iron Chef, winner of the James Beard Award, and proprietor of a local organic farm. Garces Catering operates at The Kimmel Center, a beautiful building known for the arts. I had to learn so many different menus and techniques as we made all his recipes for restaurants and events across town. I became the sous chef, and then Hell’s Kitchen aired in 2015 two years later!
GK: What happened after the show aired? How did it change your life?
I became the culinary advisor for Chickie’s and Pete’s, which was the number one sports bar in North America. It is a fast-paced, high-volume sports bar in Philadelphia with over 12 locations. I got to do a lot of signature menu items and get my name out there. I started doing popup events all over Philadelphia and then down south.
GK: Work life balance.
This chef world can be a little daunting sometimes and run you down. In order to be a better chef, you have to find a life balance. It’s essential to take a breather sometimes. If you don’t, you will burn out; that happens often. Sometimes I have to tell myself to make sure I take a break because I’ll go for weeks straight without one, and then I wonder why I’m not performing my best. If you run yourself to the ground, you may decide that you don’t wish to be in the business anymore. In the last few years, I’ve seen many chefs that were passionate before and have left the industry altogether.
GK: Tell us about your love for events.
I love executing significant events. I love starting from the beginning and calculating the man-hours that go into the planning, structuring, and ordering. After all the tournament duties are done, we close up, clean up and then do it again. It is rewarding with annual events as you keep improving each year and learn from mistakes.
GK: Folks don’t realize how much work goes into a single tournament. Then when it’s over, I hear there is an emptiness.
Oh yes, I know that feeling. Did that happen? Is it over already?
The bonds you make with different chefs especially working with The Master’s tournament, are crucial. I have lifelong friends that have become people I work with outside of that event, especially when I do various popup events. I love collaborating with them and making magic.
GK: Tell us about your product line?
This is a harsh industry; when you get out of school, you have student loans, and you have to think outside the box. When I started doing food shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Chopped, I made a lot of relationships and networked a lot.
I’ve idolized Martha Stewart for as long as I can remember. I love her brand empire; she is an inspiration to me.
I partnered with Taste of Old Country after about three years of using their products. I found that I had value when it came to my brand. We started developing flavors for oils at first. Now we have six flavors and added a line of vinegar.
Networking is vital for chefs who would like to brand themselves. LinkedIn has been a great platform, especially during the pandemic. You could still talk to people and make new friends. I think that that’s how you grow. And then that’s how your business is going to grow.
GK: Tell us about Food Network’s Chopped?
I was asked by casting directors to do the show Chopped in the Winter of 2017. The show filmed in January of 2018. The episode was based on Halloween and leftovers. Martha Stewart, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Geoffrey Zakarian were my judges. I competed against three other chefs to be crowned Chopped Champion in October 2018. It was an absolute honor!
Hamachi Tartare with Seaweed Gelatin, Fried Seaweed, Fresno Chili Oil, Shaved Fresnos, Meyer Lemon Pith Purée Togarashi and Dragon Fruit. Image by Diana DeLucia
GK; How did you land at Huntingdon Valley Country Club?
Before the pandemic, I was doing some consulting work, and I was the culinary director for Moonshine in South Philadelphia for about two years. I did contract work with that same restaurant group, helped open new restaurants, and wrote the menus. I was a traveling chef. I would do a lot of appearances, live on-stage demos and work with my olive oil and vinegar brand. I also have a partnership with Rhineland Cutlery with my own knife line.
After The Masters in 2021, I ended up having health issues. I was experiencing tons of pain and just thought it was me getting old. I ended up having to get a hip replacement unexpectedly. I was out of work for a little while, but I had to figure out a plan during that time.
I started receiving all these messages from recruiters. I usually ignored them, but Huntingdon Valley always intrigued me. It was a club in the area that had a pretty significant history. I enjoyed the golf industry and wanted to find an opportunity closer to home. I went through the interview process, and it seemed fitting. However, I told them they’d have to wait because I was getting my final surgery that week. Two months after surgery, I hobbled my behind in here and started working, and, at the same time, I was trying to recover.
I was ready for the challenge, and it was a challenge! I’m blatantly honest that Huntingdon Valley needed a complete overhaul regarding the dining. I stripped it down to the foundation and created all new menus and recipes. The food costs and labor were through the roof. I had to clean house, start from scratch and put my mark on it, which I believe I have now.
GK: How have the members reacted to the changes?
Memberships often fear change, but I feel they’ve warmed up to my ideas and see the value. I talk with many members and guests to ensure I am maintaining relationships. I want them to feel they can ask me anything and contribute.
On the 4th of July, we did an allergy-friendly table that went well. We provided a full spread of gluten-free, nut-free, and vegan dishes. A member came to me in tears, saying this was the first time in six years that she could send her children up to the buffet and not be scared that she’d have to use her EpiPen, which was terrific—modernizing and moving to the future. We’re making actual changes one day at a time. And as long as our membership is happy, I’ll be satisfied.
Black Pepper Maple Pork Belly with Tres Leches Cornbread, Apple Pave, Smoked Apple Crema and Cherry Butter.
GK: Criticism? How do you handle that?
You have to have thick skin in this business. I feel like I’m getting better at not taking it home and not absorbing it entirely, which will affect my day. In the end, if someone didn’t like a dish that week, I have learned to use it as ammunition for my next dish.
GK: What are your plans for the next few years with Huntington Valley?
We are doing a complete kitchen overhaul. I have ordered a ton of new equipment, bringing us into the 21st century. I’m trying to use my experience when strategizing execution and using the tools we have to reduce labor. I’m excited to bring this equipment in and design the kitchen to get food out efficiently. It’s been a lot of planning and financials, but one thing I’m good at is number crunching!
I want to create the wow factor! I want our membership to keep increasing, and I want it to be so incredible that they will not blink an eye if there is a price rise. I want them to be here wholeheartedly and tell their friends at other clubs to be here. Recently I was asked to do a charcuterie class at another local club, which means that maybe the word is spreading that other clubs are interested in what we’re doing here. That makes me happy.
GK: Tell us about your other missions; I know you have a few!
My biggest struggle is having too many missions and ambitions, but my main focus is Huntingdon Valley.
My ultimate mission is to grow my brand empire and have my very own cooking show. I am paying attention to that again; now that I have Huntington Valley moving in a positive direction, my outstanding staff can support me. Starting in the fall, we’re going to be doing festivals again.
I am starting the lineup with Taste of Philadelphia and the Taste of Lancaster. I’ll be doing two days on stage and getting my brand back out there. You’ll see lots of social media. I’m doing some brand endorsements and getting myself back out there. Hopefully, everyone stays tuned.
GK: Tell us about your team.
My team at Huntingdon Valley is strong. I have two sous chefs, John and Bill, that truly support my mission. We have a team of fifteen line cooks and five stewards that run three a la carte venues, a large-scale banquet program (golf outings, weddings, member events, non-member events), and grab and go facilities. Our team is strong, adaptive, and always looking to learn and take on more challenges.
Cockle Chowder with Fried Fennel, Celery Root Purée and Fondant Potato
Image by Diana DeLucia
Anthony Capua, Executive Chef at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Image right: Baby Spanish Octopus Ceviche with Pickled Mustard Seeds, Our Garden Pico, Compressed Watermelon, Crispy Plantain and Citrus Lace
Anthony Capua is one of those rare culinarians who embrace the food and beverage operations at his club and understands that it is only as an industry as an entirety can we create a highly-skilled workforce nationally in this industry. His continued efforts to bring club chefs nationally to Indiana for collaborative dining events impressed me. We need to see more reciprocal collaborations like this. ~ Diana DeLucia.
GK: Remarkably, you are an Executive Chef at such a prestigious property at such a young age; tell us about that.
I was born in Plainfield, New Jersey. My parents moved to Northeast Florida when I was about six years old. When I was 14 and attending Flagler Palm Coast High School, I started working at a seafood restaurant as a dishwasher. I stayed there until 18 and fell in love with the kitchen atmosphere. At that time, I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do, but I loved being around the hustle and bustle of the line, the camaraderie, and everything that went along with it.
Ten days after graduating high school, I left for the Marine Corps and spent six years between Southern California and Jacksonville, Florida.
After being honorably discharged from the Marines, I needed a job, so naturally, I returned to the restaurant business. I took a position as a line cook at Hammock Beach Resort on Florida’s Palm Coast, and before I knew it, I was the lead line cook; within three years, I was appointed as sous chef and then chef de cuisine.
There were 13 outlets at Hammock Beach Resort; each was different and unique. In my role, I could float between the various outlets, a large banquet operation, a seaside restaurant, fine dining, Italian, and a massive pool complex, to name a few. I embraced the early grind in my career and thrived on the 60 to 70-hour work weeks. I genuinely feel the knowledge I gained from having to master radically different food and beverage outlets helped make me the well-rounded Chef I am today.
It was also at the resort where I met Executive Chef Ryan Daniels, who helped spearhead the resort’s food and beverage push to the five-star level. In total, Ryan was responsible for one executive sous chef, five chef de cuisines, five sous chefs, 60 line cooks, ten prep cooks, and 20 dishwashers. I naturally gravitated toward Ryan, and he quickly became one of my mentors. After about two years working with him, he left the property and took a job at the Greenbrier Sporting Club in West Virginia.
In my fifth year at Hammock Beach Resort, Ryan called me and said, “Anthony, I’m going down to Fiddlesticks Country Club, a Top 100 Platinum Club in Fort Myers, Florida. They want to push the envelope on the food side.” I remember talking to him and saying, “I’m not sure about clubs. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews that that’s where worn-out chefs go to live out their careers.” He responded, “well, I think if you knew more about the top 10% of clubs and what they want to do, you would understand and share my excitement.”
Ryan had a modern touch; he didn’t want to be the best club chef. He wanted to be like Thomas Keller. He wanted to change the perception of club culinary like Thomas Keller changed the perception of fine dining. That was indeed a vision I wanted to embrace. Within three weeks, I began my position as the executive sous chef at Fiddlesticks Country Club. Instantly, I knew the club industry was where I wanted to be.
Fiddlesticks wanted to push the envelope, and finances didn’t seem to get in the way of anything. If we needed equipment, we got it. If we wanted new plates, we got them. We couldn’t have been more well supported. Like any change in a private club, it took a little time for the members to get over the shock of their club menus taking on a more modern feel, but by year two, the membership had fully embraced our plan and loved the changes we implemented. We modernized the plating, created incredible action stations, began making in-house pasta, broke whole fish down, and worked with local fisheries and purveyors to source the best product from the ocean.
After spending four years at Fiddlesticks as the executive sous chef, that voice we all have inside started telling me it was time to lead my own kitchen. However, I didn’t want to be just a private club executive chef; I wanted to lead a kitchen that could impact the future of club culinary operations. Around the end of my third year at Fiddlesticks, I told Ryan and the club leadership that I was going to start the hunt for my first executive chef role. I interviewed for executive chef positions in some major markets like South Naples, Washington DC, and Seattle, Washington. Although all the properties were beautiful and seemed like great opportunities, that inner voice never came out and said, “this is the one.”
The front entrance to Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Image courtesy Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
GK: How did you go from Florida to Indiana?
On March 1st, 2020, I got a message on LinkedIn from a General Manager and COO, Mr. Christopher Hampton, from a club in NE Indiana. He said, “Anthony, I’ve seen your work and know all about your club. We just started a search for our next Executive Chef at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have a strong background in food and beverage, and I am a hands-on General Manager that can help you succeed in your goal of becoming an executive chef of an incredible club. We want to embrace everything you are doing at Fiddlesticks here at Sycamore Hills. If something like this intrigues you, we should get on a Zoom call asap.”
Throughout my life, I have always been advised not to let potential opportunities pass you because you never know where a journey might take you.
Within a week, I had a zoom call with Mr. Hampton and Mr. (Alfredo) Hildebrandt, the assistant general manager. I told them my vision, and they said, “we’re looking for somebody to push the culinary envelope and make an impact. We have a beautiful recently renovated golf course and clubhouse, and we need a culinary program to match. We have an ownership group that has invested significantly in the club. If you are interested, you should let us fly you up to see the property – it will blow you away.”
COVID started to ramp up; it was mid-March, just before the shutdowns. I told my wife about the opportunity in Indiana, and we discussed what a potential move would be like for us and our seven-month-old daughter, Deanna. My wife has always been my biggest supporter, and she could tell I was intrigued about the opportunity, so she insisted I go check it out. I remember we laughed at the idea of living in Fort Wayne, Indiana because we have always lived near the coasts and knew little about the Midwest, let alone the Hoosier state.
I went to Ryan and said, “I’m going to take an interview in a club in Fort Wayne, Indiana.” He said, “you know, we have an Invitational at the end of the week, so if you could make it quick, fly in and out, I completely understand and think you should go.”
I caught a flight to Atlanta at 5 AM one March morning and arrived at Fort Wayne at 9 AM.
When I landed, it was 22 degrees and snowing. I wore a nice suit but immediately regretted not bringing a winter coat, which I don’t own! Mr. Hildebrandt, the assistant general manager, picked me up, and we instantly clicked. I knew he was my kind of partner in the front of the house. He immediately started talking about building culture, something I love to talk about and can quickly get behind. We discussed the need for great food and impeccable service from a knowledgeable team, all hallmarks of what you need to make everything run like a beautiful Rolex.
The 7th hole. Image by Jim Mandeville
When we arrived at the Sycamore Hills Golf Club, I was greeted at the front door by a very tall Mr. Hampton. He was 100% correct in predicting I would be blown away by the property. After a quick introduction, we immediately went on a property tour as we had to fit a lot into the day because I had to be back at the airport by seven.
The club wanted to take a new direction and needed exemplary leadership for our culinary program. I met with all the department heads, and they couldn’t say enough positive things about the ownership group and the leadership team already in place. During my last hour, I talked about my vision, and Mr. Hampton said,” we want to help you achieve that vision, and we’re not afraid of some bumps along the way.”
Because it was a Monday, and the club was closed, they took me to a sushi spot for lunch around 3 PM before we headed to the airport. As we were ordering, the server came up to us and said, “I just want to let you know, um..., after your meal’s done, we’ll be shutting down the restaurant as the Governor of Indiana has ordered a complete lockdown.”
I called my wife and told her, “I have no idea what’s going on right now; it feels apocalyptic. She calmly said, “let’s talk when you get home.”
The following day I woke up, and every news outlet was reporting about the shutdowns. Ryan informed me that the Invitational was canceled, and we would shut down our food service in about three days. “Wow,” I thought to myself.
GK: Did you accept the position?
Not immediately, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want the position, but I wanted to give my wife Deanna an opportunity to see the area where we would potentially be living. Mr. Hampton purchased flights for Deanna and me to return to Fort Wayne, but when it got closer to our travel date, the airlines were in complete chaos, so I told Mr. Hampton we didn’t feel comfortable getting on an airplane. He completely understood.
This is where I need to give my wife Deanna a lot of credit. After lengthy discussions about the opportunity, in which she said it was easy to tell how excited I was to work at Sycamore Hills, she agreed to move sight unseen over 1200 miles to NE Indiana. I couldn’t be more blessed to have that support.
When I called Mr. Hampton to tell him I was going to sign and return the offer letter, I asked him one last question, “what was the impact of the pandemic on the team at the Club.” Hearing his reply was an enormous relief because many of the clubs in southwest Florida were already laying off whole departments due to the pandemic. Mr. Hampton quickly explained that the ownership group realized that even though the club was currently shut down, everything would open back at some point, and they didn’t want to rehire and train a new team. They committed to the team at the club that everyone would keep working, and they would make at least what they made the year prior.
On April 21st, my family and I took off from southwest Florida in a U-Haul. It was a tough week to settle into a new area because all non-essential businesses were still closed. We traveled to a home we rented just up the street from the club, where Mr. Hampton and Mr. Hildebrandt toured my wife and me through a Zoom call one afternoon. We ended up settling on a May 1st start date, roughly two months to the day of Mr. Hampton reaching out to me on LinkedIn messenger.
GK: Once you settled in, how did you tackle the task ahead?
I knew what I wanted to accomplish here in the first year, and it would be a challenge, but it wasn’t for lack of support. I had to look at the staff and change their way of thinking. We weren’t going to be competing in Fort Wayne; we would compete nationally, and it would take time. I sat down with sous chefs Mike Trabel and Aaron Ruble and said, “I don’t want to do this from a small-town perspective,” They both embraced it. We were on this mission together, building it from scratch with a team philosophy and a modernized concept that would challenge some of the more significant markets. When I met with the rest of the staff and explained what I wanted to do here, none of them left; they all stayed.
It wasn’t an easy transition as they went from a lot of pre-bought goods to embracing the scratch lifestyle. This included making stocks, sauces, desserts, and ice creams from scratch, breaking down whole fish, and making fresh pasta. They understood that we were teaching them the right ways of doing things, but at the same time, they also saw me, Chef Mike, and Chef Aaron working right next to them every day. I needed our team to know they were
The Club Grill room. Image by Jim Mandeville
supported by a team of professionals that wanted to see both the club AND them succeed. By the second season, we started to hit a good stride. Mike and Aaron’s plates were as good, if not better than mine, which let me catch a little bit more time with my wife and daughter, as one of my goals with this move was to be a better husband and father. My wife and daughter sacrificed a lot for me that first year, but with the restrictions easing, life started to turn back to a new kind of normal.
After the second year, we started running wine dinners, and we did about twelve that season, including multiple dinners with Master Level Wine Sommeliers. We applied for Club and Resort’s Private Club Culinary Programs Rankings and were ranked 20th in the nation. We know at the time, the other clubs were most likely thinking, “who is this guy, and where is this club? Our teams embraced the competition. It was never about being first; we wanted to make a statement. The team, both front and back of the house, thought it was the coolest thing in the world because they could say they were among the best.
GK: Tell us what you are doing in 2022?
Oh boy, where do I start? We’ve begun to integrate hydroponics in our kitchen with Fork Farms. They make these incredible, portable units that you can grow a ton of quality greens in a short amount of time. There is nothing like wheeling the unit out and making it a part of an action station. We want guests from other local Clubs in town to return to their club and say, “can you believe they grew the lettuce that they used to make my lunch salad at their Invitational!”
Another area we identified, which we feel is the next step for our industry, is collaboration dinners. This idea initially came to us when we invited my mentor Ryan Daniels and my younger brother, Vincent Capua (now executive sous chef at Fiddlesticks CC), to Fort Wayne for a Battle of the Club Chefs wine dinner last year. The event’s success showed us there was interest from our membership to come to collaborative dinners.
To further test the collaborative waters, we invited Chef Jeremy Leinen from Park Ridge Country Club outside of Chicago to make the two-hour drive to Fort Wayne to cook with our team at the club. The members who attended the dinner with Chef Leinen loved the experience and immediately asked when the next collaborative dinner would occur. We didn’t wait long to schedule a date in August with Executive Chef Wes Tyler from The Club at Carlton Woods outside of Houston, and then we have Chef Shawn Olah from Highland Falls Country Club in North Carolina coming later in the fall. We are working on a date for early 2023 with Jacob Adamonis, the Executive Chef of Oakmont Country Club, with whom our General Manager, Mr. Hampton, worked alongside for several years.
Not only do these dinners give our members a chance to taste some of the incredible cuisine going on at clubs across the country, but it also gives our team a chance to learn from chefs with different backgrounds.
These are just a few examples of our culinary program constantly trying to redefine what a dynamic club culinary program could be. I’m also sure that by the time this article goes to print, we have already discovered a few new culinary avenues to explore. We are constantly brainstorming ways to keep pushing that proverbial envelope.
A couple of years ago, I knew many people would have thought what we wanted to accomplish was crazy and that a small club in NE Indiana couldn’t make the noise that we have made in our industry. Now when people in touch with the Club culinary world hear the name Sycamore Hills, they don’t say, “where is that club?” They say, “keep an eye on that club in NE Indiana; something special is happening there.”
It all boils down to our incredible ownership group, a dynamic team at the club, and enthusiastic membership that is supportive of whatever we throw at them.
That’s our story, well, maybe the first couple of chapters. Although the story is still being written, we couldn’t be more proud of what our team and club have accomplished thus far.
GK: Tell us where you got this energy at a young age to be one of the best in your field? Many people take a long time to get to the executive chef position in the private club industry.
I grew up in a blue-collar family. My mom and dad instilled in us early on that it would take effort if we wanted more in life. If you want more, take it, don’t wait for it..., and that’s exactly what I did.
The Cottages. Image by Jim Mandeville
VICTORIA“TORY” EULENFELD, National Director of Membership and Programs at the National Golf Course Restaurant Association (NGCRA)
Victoria "Tory" Eulenfeld, National Director of Membership and Programs at the National Golf Course Restaurant Association (NGCRA)
The National Golf Course Restaurant Association (NGCRA) is a support system for the Golf and Country Club Industry with a focus on helping food and beverage departments network, increase volume and reduce spending without sacrificing quality. We are the first and only association strictly dedicated to the Chefs in this industry where most focus is placed on golf!
GK: What influenced your decision to pursue a career in food?
I was raised by two foodies who didn’t believe in babysitting, so they took me to all the fine dining establishments. I was introduced to escargot, fettuccini, cheesecake, and more as a toddler. In second grade, I struggled with math, and one Saturday, my tutor pulled out a menu and taught me addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by taking orders off a menu.
My mom loves to say there were so many signs that I would end up in the food industry. When I was 16, my dad’s girlfriend (now my Bonus Mom) gave me a copy of Martha Stewart Living Magazine, and it opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know for women.
I tried my damnedest to attend culinary school right out of college, but I was “encouraged” to get my four-year degree first. While at Appalachian State University, I cooked often and had a great support system of women in my sorority- after a year and a half of hearing, “you should be a chef!” I finally got the courage to transfer to Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina. I was one of three girls in my class rotations. I loved being an anomaly in a male-driven world and knew this was my destiny!
The first day of Culinary School was the first day of my American Regional Rotation. The Chef had said to the whole class, “Miss Lemming will not be in your graduating class,” after I had just “boiled” beef instead of searing, and I thought long and hard over this comment and decided I would not only prove him wrong, but I will be in the top of my class… A year later, I’m in French Classical (still one of the three girls in my rotation), and we all get our recipes for our final- Chef gives me Duck a l’Orange, and the girl next to me a recipe for French Onion Soup. What?? For a good 24 hours, from the time Onion Soup. What?? For a good 24 hours, from the time I received the recipe to the moment I presented it to the Chef, I thought he gave the other girl the slam dunk, and I was given the most challenging recipe because no one was going to pass with a perfect classical French dish. After receiving a pat on the back and a “rumored” first A+ ever given to a student, I asked why I got the hardest dish, and the other gal got the easiest, and I will NEVER forget this moment- Chef Nogel says to me “I only give people what they can handle,” and that changed my whole world- getting given the most demanding tasks was the best thing you could ask for and never doubt my worth again.
GK: How did you land at the NGCRA?
At a casual dinner, I met Anders and Stewart Forsbrand. I met this fantastic couple through my mom and Bonus Dad when I first moved to Ponte Vedra after a tiresome gig cooking and managing a golf club in South Carolina. Instantly I loved them and kept in touch over the years- Anders was on the European Golf tour but lived in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Years later, I married, had a baby, divorced, and became a single mom. I worked for a well-known Jacksonville-based chef, and I was getting burnt out juggling a single-parent life, kitchen life, and raising a 17-month-old. I ran into the Forsbrands again, and it changed me forever – Anders had just invested in one of his friend’s new companies in Sweden and thought I would be a good fit for this new, unique adventure in the world of food at golf courses, the NGCRA.
A couple of years ago, before this night, our founder and president, Patrik Waxin, and one of his best friends owned a restaurant at a golf course in Sweden. Because of the extreme seasons in Sweden, they were losing quite a bit of Money on inventory.
Fun fact in Sweden golf courses in golf course restaurants are separately owned and operated, Over the next couple of years they were able to get Groups of golf course restaurant owners to start buying together to save Money and it filled such a unique space if it came pretty popular and that’s how the international food association (IFA) was born.
Fast forward, the IFA was coming to into the United States, and I was getting introduced at the inception of the National Golf Course Restaurant Association.
Steve Cohen (the best boss ever) and our CEO, had been a part of the NGCRA for only a year when he agreed to meet me. The meeting went well, and I learned what a fantastic man he was with a fearless work ethic, passion for food, and is ONE OF THE MOST morally upright people I have ever encountered.
The World of Food sales isn’t something I would have imagined finding myself in. I accepted the 10-hour-a-week gig where I was calling my Chef pals to see if I could entice them to purchase their food from a private food distributor. I’ll be damned; I loved every minute of it.
It was just Steve and me for so long at first. We had a system where I would call a club and make an appointment as Steve would travel all over Florida, meeting chefs. He would drive, we would talk on the phone, planning our next moves, and he would mentor me.
Two years later, I was promoted to the Director of Member Services and have been in this niche role I have carved out for myself ever since. I will be celebrating 13 years with the NGCRA in February 2023. I thought this would be a short gig on my way back to the kitchen, but I was a newly divorced mom, and it afforded me time with my kiddo, so I “leaned in” and found out I liked fighting for other people! In two years I was given the new title of National Director of Member Services and Programs.
My job description is constantly changing, and I LOVE it! Being a chef is lonely. Not many people can relate to you, and vice versa. I often say that we are pirates; we hold sharp objects for a living and search for gold we may never find; covered in tattoos and scrapes, we bandage up instead of going to a doctor.
Water cooler moments are essential in all people’s lives – even Chefs. It’s critical to find your water cooler buddies. Gone are the days when we need to be the best and stay in our bubble. We should be building communities of Chefs in similar situations to grow, exchange, and bring more attention to the growth of our industry. This is precisely the culture I knew I wanted to grow by being in this magical role.
I love bringing a sense of community to our small, niche world. I want our members to know when I come calling; you will learn something, save money on something, or be celebrated for something. I can save a chef $21,000 a year just by switching mayonnaise or save 500 chefs money on fancy aprons, but I can also help you figure out how to pay the taxes you owe over the last five years.
One of the absolute highlights in my job is shouting from the rooftops to anyone that will listen that “club chefs are the best chefs” because I truly know they are; I know because I get to look behind the gates every single day.
We have all learned during the pandemic that sometimes, we need to hear that we are not alone. Whenever a chef called me and said they were struggling with X, Y, or Z, I could share that they weren’t alone and everyone was having the same issues and offer them any advice I could.
Someone once told me that if you can find a way to save the world, it makes dropping your child off at daycare much easier. I loved that I found that at the NGCRA. I did feel, in my own small way, like I was changing the world for the people that I knew who could really use it. Chefs!
GK: What plans do you have for your business in the future?
The sky is the limit. I hope to help our chefs with much more in the future. I would love to start a foundation to help chefs when they find themselves in need of mental and physical health issues. Food is beautiful and magical and life-changing, but it’s also at the expense of the kitchen team and Chef. It can be dark, alienating, and lonely, and you get taken advantage of quite often, and I am at my best when I am advocating for them.
I love recruiting in my free time, and I would like to see that being something we also offer! I want to start a podcast with chefs and talk about how they got where they are so that we can help the younger generations find a path back to the kitchens.
I like to think of myself as a glitter spreader and a selfish selfish eater! I help keep chefs happy, food sales low, and creativity flowing because if they aren’t cooking, then I’m not eating- my taste buds aren’t satisfied, and my stomach isn’t complete. I LOVE FOOD!
The National Golf Course Restaurant Association is a part of the IGCRA (International Golf Course Restaurant Association), the International Sport Facility Restaurant Association, and the International Food Association of Sweden (ISFRA and IFAAB). All were founded over a decade ago and are accessible to all Club members.
Showing no signs of slowing down, NGCRA has been eagerly servicing the needs of its growing number of members ever since.