On October 15th, 2021, at 5.30 p.m., members and guests from the renowned GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York, arrived at an exquisitely decorated dining room and patio that overlooks the 18th green in fall splendor on the valley below the expansive Mark Finley designed, 30 000 square foot clubhouse.
Guests were treated to a Charcuterie and French Cheese Board followed by Passed Hors d'ouevres including Foie Gras and Duck Toast, Duxelles Chevre Stuffed Gougers’, Baby Lamb Chops, Tuna Tartare Spoons, and Brandade Croquettes with Saffron Garlic Aioli prepared by Michael Ruggiero, Executive Chef, and his team. Wei Liu, guest sommelier, presented Wines and Champagne including Gosset, Champagne Brut, Grande Reserve, NV France, Yacochuya, Torrontes, Salta, Argentina 2020' Mariflor, Malbec, Uco Valley, Argentina 2017, Chateau Malescot, St Exupéry, Margaux, Bordeaux, France 2016 and Château Fontenil, Fronsac, Bordeaux, France 2015.
"The Michel Rolland and GlenArbor Golf Club Dinner collaboration was bliss for the senses and intellect. Bravo to the GlenArbor team for the exceptionally smooth execution of this highly anticipated dinner.
Presently, due to travel restrictions, having a non-U.S.-based Winemaker at dinner is extremely rare. However, having a legendary Winemaker such as Michel Rolland at dinner is an entirely next-level honor. As a long-time wine lover and member of the Wine and Spirit business, sitting, sipping, and speaking to Monsieur Rolland has been such a career highlight." ~ Wei-Liu
The agenda of the evening was to celebrate the fourth "Traditions in Wine Excellence Award' honoree, Mr. Michel Rolland. Silva kicks off the schedule with a heartfelt speech honoring Mr. Rolland.
"The Traditions in Wine Excellence Award has reached a new height, with the exclusive and unique presentation to the most prestigious consultant winemaker in the world, Mr. Michel Rolland, at GlenArbor Golf Club on October 15th. I appreciate the continuous support and entrepreneurial vision of the Gregory's and the staff of GlenArbor Golf Club.
Since its creation, The Traditions in Wine Excellence Award at GlenArbor has brought a new and refreshing concept to the wine tastings events, with creativity, vibrancy, and exclusive special guests from around the world!" ~ Fernando Silva.
The french dinner began with a classical bread service followed by the first course which was a Poached Sea Bass with Dill Tomato Broth, Potato Fennel and Rouille, paired with Mariflor, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza, Argentina, 2019, the second a Short Rib Bourguignon with Fall Vegetables and Braising Liquid Reduction paired with MR, Michel Rolland, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2016.
After the second course, Rolland, who was uncharacteristically vocal, shared his life's stories from his beloved industry which spans over 40 years.
"To be honored is always a great pleasure. Life is lovely when we are in a beautiful place like GlenArbor Golf Club, with charming people, wine lovers, and a chef creating exquisite cuisine.
Thank you, Fernando, for presenting our tasting of beautiful wines.
Congratulations GlenArbor!"~ Michel Rolland
Attending this event was one of the few times I was present as a guest and spectator, and I witnessed Silva at his finest as he addressed the room with artistic flair and historical tales of each wine's journey to the table. Charl Marais, Food and Beverage Director seamlessly worked with his team to ensure that communication between the dining floor and the kitchen is seamless.
At that moment, the details that accompany the planning of this and other events occurred to me. There is more to the evening than the Food and Beverage team. A prominent fixture of the evening's success lies with Jessica Perez, Director of Concierge and Assistant Director of Events.
"It has been an honor to be a member of the GlenArbor team since 2015 and see our Traditions of Wine Excellence Award Dinner grow for the last four years. Fernando Silva, GlenArbor's Wine Director, and Sommelier, never fails to raise the bar for our membership and elevate our wine program. Thanks to his efforts, some of the world's top wine connoisseurs have graced us with their presence. I am proud to say I have had the privilege to meet people such as Laurent Drouhin, Jean-Charles Boisset, and the recipient of the 2021 Award Michel Rolland.
For everyone who attended and serviced this unforgettable evening, I am sure you will forever cherish it as I will. My contribution to such events is to plan and help execute to the standard our members are accustomed to and manage their reservation and seating needs. Creating eye-catching yet simple touches in décor and printed materials is what I am all about! Together the entire Food & Beverage and Culinary Team make each time a success. Specials Guest Wei Liu is always a pleasure to be around and is full of knowledge and sophistication." ~ Jessica Perez
As the conversations and bonds grew during the evening, Marisa Hernandez, Executive Pastry Chef, served Classic Profiterole, Praline Crème, Salted Caramel, Plum Compote paired with Château Lafaurie, Peyraguey, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 1997 followed by a much appreciated speech by Ruggiero and a standing ovation for his culinary team. Coffee and house-made truffles followed.
Many thanks to all that attended this event.
2018 - Laurent Drouhin, Maison Joseph Drouhin
2019 - Jean-Charles Boisett, JC Collection
2020 - Sir Nick Faldo.
by Diana DeLucia
Recipe by Marc-Etienne Hoffmann, Mizner Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
White Chocolate Coconut Espuma
White Chocolate Coconut Espuma
Add the white chocolate chips and the coconut crème to a small pot. Heat the pot in a water bath and stir until melted. Add the mix into siphon bottle and charge with two capsules. Shake well and keep at 130 °F in a water bath. Refrigerate after service. Mixologist Note: A pan and stovetop might be quicker, but it destroys the delicate aroma of the white chocolate and coconut milk. The espuma will just taste like heated milk.
Muddle the pineapple in a shaker with the white rum, bitters, and agave. Squeeze in the lime quarters and shake. Double strain in brandy balloon. Top decadently with the white chocolate coconut espuma and garnish with the banana flowers.
A tropical, deconstructed dessert asked for a tropical, deconstructed cocktail. At the same time, I wanted to mirror and complement some of Hannah’s flavors. Pineapple to connect both. Aztec chocolate bitters with the banana and white chocolate coconut espuma with the creamy marshmallows.
~ Marc-Etienne Hoffmann, Food and Beverage
Operations Manager and Sommelier
The 8th Green at Mizner Country Club | Image by Evan Schiller
Gia Liwski, LPGA, Founder, Golf Experiences for Her®
Gia Liwski showed extraordinary determination to bring her vision Golf Experiences for Her® to an industry that was struggling to introduce women to the lifestyle of golf. I applaud her and highly recommend her program to all levels of the private golf and country club industry. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Gia, tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in central New Jersey together with my older sister, younger brother, and parents. I attended Rutgers Preparatory School, where I was a decent student and a better athlete. I began as a competitive gymnast, I skied, and I played basketball. Even as a child, I was very goal-oriented and had a solid work ethic, which was instilled in me by my parents. It wasn’t until I was 15, however, that I picked up my first golf club.
My parents had a home in LaBelle, Florida, which we’d visit in the winters. During one of those trips to Florida, my father first sent my brother and me for golf lessons. I began taking lessons at Oxbow Golf Club with a lovely British gentleman, Gary Keating, who lived there at the time. He was impressed at the speed with which I picked up the game and immediately encouraged me to pursue the sport full-time as he felt I had the potential to play at a collegiate level. I, however, had other plans. I wanted to play basketball in college. I found golf difficult, and I didn’t enjoy it. Regardless, and even though I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I started entering junior golf tournaments and just tried to mimic what the other girls were doing.
In the end it paid off. I received a golf scholarship to the University of South Alabama, which was a bit crazy because I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing out there. Following my sophomore year at South Alabama I realized I wasn’t enjoying school as much as I wanted to be, and made the decision to return to NJ. I can clearly remember telling my mom over the phone what I was feeling and her saying: “Pack up your car and come home. We’ll figure it out.”
That was the summer of ‘96. I played some amateur events that summer against a couple of girls from Rutgers that I knew from junior golf. That fall, I walked on the Rutger’s Team, earned a scholarship, and by my senior year, I was co-captain. Coming home to New Jersey was the best decision I could have made.
GK: Tell us about your Television Series.
After working in the industry for many years, and at several great clubs with absolutely wonderful professionals, I was hired at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster in 2004. I helped open the club and assisted in building their instructional from scratch.
It was a fantastic experience, but after two seasons, my brother kept pinging me about commercials that were running for the Fine Living Television Network and the network’s search for a new host for their show called The Wandering Golfer. I did an open casting call, and I was selected! I was once again out of my comfort zone, but I was over the moon with excitement. The crew and I shot 13 episodes that took me all over the globe. In addition to a bunch of beautiful courses here in the US, we also traveled to the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand.
More so than the golf, however, I think it was the travel that inspired me most. I realized there was much more to golf than just the game—it is a lifestyle full of culture, cuisine, and unique experiences. During my time as the host of The Wandering Golfer, I interviewed everyone from golf legends like Arnold Palmer to groundskeepers in Costa Rica. I learned from everyone and found inspiration all around me.
GK: What were some of your most memorable moments?
I met an Australian artist; he was in his late eighties. He was a fascinating caricaturist. He drew famous golfers, and they would sign his drawings. He didn’t play golf, but he loved the industry. In meeting with him, I realized that it wasn’t the game that I loved about the industry, it was the teaching, helping others, and everything that surrounded the game that drew me in most. I learned to surf on Bondi Beach in Australia. A little intimating doing this on camera for the first time, but nonetheless, I got up and savored the moment.
GK: What did you do when the television show ended?
When the show ended, I returned to New Jersey, moved in with my fiancé, dabbled with a few more regional television shows, and began teaching again full-time.
A few years later, in 2010, while down in Florida, I first began to visualize Golf Experiences for Her®. I found that the industry was missing something that catered to women and provided them with more than just a lesson on the tee or time on the course. I wanted to offer them what I loved about golf—and everything that goes along with it.
At that same time, one of the world’s best teachers and future Hall of Famer, Mike Adams, also asked me to take a teaching position alongside him at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, New Jersey. I love working with Mike and enjoyed Hamilton Farm, but between 2012 and 2015, I had twins and then a third, and I recognized that I could no longer work the long hours of an in-season golf professional.
I wanted to adjust my teaching schedule, and my husband agreed. I struggled with it at first, and I missed my time at the club and that accompanying sense of my professional career. And although I loved raising my children, the golf industry was not ideally set up for working mothers. As a result of that sense of something missing, it pushed me back towards the idea I’d come up with years earlier.
In 2016 I started Golf Experiences for Her®. I began by running exclusive women’s clinics at Hamilton Farm and adding lifestyle elements—wine tastings, yoga on the beautiful fairways, cooking courses, fashion styling, and others—and my female guests responded eagerly. At first, a female guest instructor concept with so many details and added lifestyle elements was completely foreign to many clubs that invited me to host an Experience. It took several years to hone the concept, but the demand was there, and the phone started to ring.
GK: How did you secure bookings?
Many of my initial bookings came through other golf professional friends who recognized I had something unique to offer their membership. Other instructors who followed me on Instagram reached out and wanted to add value to their already fantastic instruction programs.
Initially, I felt many clubs didn’t recognize that their female membership was starving for something new. As more events take place, however, and word-of-mouth spreads, more clubs are becoming receptive to stepping outside their traditional comfort zones.
GK: How did you switch gears when COVID-19 emerged?
At first, we had the lockdown, which was very challenging for all. But even as clubs started to reopen, the concept of group experiences was still challenging to pull off. Like so many others, the pandemic had an impact on my business as well.
I used the time to hone my programs. I created new event itineraries, collaborated with a variety of new lifestyle professionals to incorporate into my programs, and networked with a host of new clubs to line up events post-pandemic.
GK: Tell us about a typical day at a “Golf Experience for Her®” event.
Our events strengthen relationships and build comfort, leaving women feeling energized, enriched, and confident in their golf games, excited to spend time at their golf club and ready to accept their next golf invitation.
Through Golf Experiences for Her®, we offer clubs and guests the opportunity to customize their day by supplementing their golf itinerary with a variety of lifestyle modules.
A typical day might begin with a working mimosa breakfast on the driving range, while I get to know my guests, review with them their pre-event questionnaire responses, and run them through a short individualized biodynamic body-assessment before moving to the instructional portion of the morning. Lunch will typically be a delicately tailored seasonal meal, paired with exquisite wines, and followed by a lifestyle experience that rounds out my guests’ day with something special and unique. And all our Experience guests leave with a gift or two that I personally select based on our special day.
My goal is to take care of my guests, and of course, showcase the club and its staff. I love working with the food and beverage staff to create female friendly bites for breakfast and dazzle the ladies at lunch. Over the years, I’ve learned that by the time we reach the lifestyle portion of our day, the la-dies and I have created a nice bond. It makes the day extra special when I host the mixology, cooking or fashion portion. Another wonderful way to showcase the clubs staff is to work them into the life-style portion, we’ve done everything from creating soups, charcuterie and cheese boards to learning to temper chocolate
GK: How can clubs contact you to arrange a Golf Experiences for Her® event?
Interested parties can visit my website at
DM on Instagram @trywithgia
or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Right: Gia Liwski , Left: Golf Experiences For Her® guests.
Callie Meyer, Executive Pastry Chef at Wycliffe Golf and Country Club, Wellington, Florida, USA
Image left: Callie Meyer | Image right: Key Lime Panna Cotta
In January of 2020, I had the honor of visiting Wycliffe Golf & Country Club to produce a magazine story and a book chapter. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of talent and excellence with all operations of the Club. Callie is no exception; her talent as an artist and communicator, paired with her love of the discipline of distance running, is a true testament to her character. ~Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us about your early experiences with baking.
CM: I was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is about 70 miles west of Philadelphia. I lived in Pennsylvania until I was eighteen. It is a great farming community, and it was great having fresh produce available while growing up. The farmer’s market was right up the road, and we would frequent it nearly every Saturday in season. We also would visit Lancaster’s Central Market. All the local farmers and local bakers were there with produce and baked goods. Walking through the market, I fondly remember the smell of fresh-baked pastries and Danishes. Experiencing that at a young age inspired me to explore the culinary arts when I got older. I have had a love for baking since I was five years old, and it is something that I have always treasured. I remember making Christmas cookies with my dad, who taught me much about the basics of baking.
After high school, I enrolled at the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont. From there, I had two externships: one at Hotel Hershey and the other at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. Both externships were unforgettable experiences. Although the kitchen at the Greenbrier is enormous and intimidating, it served as a building block for my future. As a young chef, I was in awe of Executive Chef Peter Timmins. His apprenticeship program was one of the best. Sadly, Chef Timmons passed away in2014, but I will always remember everything he taught me.
GK: Did you study pastry initially?
CM: When I was doing my externships, I did a little bit of both. The New England Culinary Institute (NECI) wanted every chef to be well-rounded. They insisted we move around with our externships to learn as much as possible to prepare us for our future careers. When I moved to Florida in 2003, I worked as a sous chef at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach. I learned a lot under the chefs there, plus it was my first taste of the private club business.
I stayed there for almost eight years, and then I came here to Wycliffe Golf & Country Club in 2011.
GK: What was your first role at Wycliffe?
CM: When I began at Wycliffe, I was in banquets for a while. I was helping the Pastry Chef when he needed it, and when he left the Club, they put me in the position temporarily while searching for someone more permanently.
However, my “temporary” work with pastries changed their mind. In 2013, I was officially offered the position of Pastry Chef.
GK: I notice you are very popular with the membership. How did you win them over?
CM: First, I started talking to the members. I wanted to find out what they wanted in pastries and desserts. When visiting the ladies’ card room, I would bring them samples, offering them something new each time. I continued to
do that, and over time, I was able to incorporate their feedback into new recipes – this really made the difference. After all, it’s about pleasing the members, and who better to ask what they prefer than them.
GK: It sounds like Wycliffe always is a big pastry/dessert club?
CM: They do appreciate fine pastries and desserts. I love it when we have creative events that have a fun theme. Everyone can get involved.
GK: Tell us about some of those themes.
CM: We had a British theme, which was “jolly good” fun. We made a four-layer “Beatles/60’s British Invasion” themed cake. We supported the bottom with Styrofoam and actually spun it on a record player to a Beatles tune. Needless to say, it was a “hard day’s night” but we got it done!
Halloween is also always fun, and happens to be my favorite! Our members look forward to seeing all the spooky creations we come up with. We have many special events per season, and we try to exceed the member’s expectations every time.
GK: How do you and Executive Chef Christopher Park work together?
CM: Honestly, Chef Park is unlike any other Chef I have ever worked for or with – and I mean that in the best way possible! He is a true leader who encourages us every day. Chef is huge on inclusivity. While there may be times that he writes the main portion of the menu, more than anything, he looks to us for inspiration and creativity, especially when it comes to special events. Chef is a staunch supporter of the local farmer’s markets, and he always tries to use local produce wherever possible. Depending on availability, and because we are in Florida, most fruit and produce is available year-round. I’ll create a dessert surrounding the specific ingredient chef has in mind. Usually, this profile will reflect on what he has presented in the menu for the event.
GK: As a pastry chef, how do you source your product because you’re not necessarily married to the ingredients solely from the farms?
CM: I usually choose ingredients that are available from our sources that we know and trust to deliver quality ingredients on time and on budget.
GK: Do you dabble in molecular and scientific techniques?
CM: Our members prefer classic desserts. If I am experimenting with a molecular recipe, it’s a hit or miss. My style is elegant, straightforward and clean, versus the scientific approach of molecular creations.
GK: What is the process when you are designing your creations?
CM: Let’s use the Key Lime Pie recipe we have published in this magazine as an example. How can I change the standard key lime pie into a more elegant dessert? I imagined adding a nice reflective glaze. Then I start thinking about what goes well with key lime. Maybe it’s cream or raspberries? Then I break it down even further. The components need to work well with a graham cracker base. Finally, I like to consider the tiny side elements, balancing the key lime’s creaminess and tartness. Once I have considered all these factors and the type and shape
of the plate or vessel, I finalize the recipe and start creating.
GK: You create like an artist. That must come from somewhere.
CM: My entire family consists of artists. My dad is a creative director in advertising. My mom is a music, art and dance teacher, and my sister is a writer for Disney children’s television. We all have an artistic flair.
GK: What programs did you put in place during the pandemic and what will you retain from that period?
CM: The pandemic created challenges for everyone, maybe even more so for food service. During the early lockdowns, members were not coming in to dine. Take out was available, but we wanted to do more. Our members, who are usually very social, suddenly, like everyone else, had a lot of free time in their homes. Our pastry team came up with a creative way to fill some of that time with what we called “Take & Bake” program. We selected recipes that members could successfully bake at home, gathered all the ingredients into kits and made them available for pick up. Then, I posted a video on Wycliffe’s You Tube channel with detailed instructions on preparation and bake times. The members loved it – they would even send us photos that we’d include in our weekly publication. However, since our members are now back to enjoying being active and social, we have discontinued Take & Bake. It could be something fun to revisit on a special occasion.
Wycliffe Golf and Country Club, Wellington, Florida, USA
Hannah Flora-Mihajlovik, Executive Chef at Mizner Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida, USA
Images: Diana DeLucia, Make up by Laura Watts. Special thanks to Katie Chase and Marie Mitchalk and the team at Mizner.
It was a pleasure working with Executive Chef Hannah Flora-Mihajlovic at Mizner Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida in July. I have not seen such an accomplished chef at such a young age in the industry. Hannah has the ability to please a diverse membership of all age groups and is potentially the catalyst to influencing young Americans that there are incredible career opportunities in the Private Golf and Country Club space.
~ Diana DeLucia
GK: What was the catalyst that drew you to cooking at such a young age?
HFM: I was born in Akron Ohio, and grew up outside of Chicago, in DeKalb, Illinois. With cornfields as far as the eye can see, the ability to extend my creativity was limited. Finding inspiration to be creative in such a rural area was my challenge. I took cooking, pottery, art, dance and painting classes in and out of school to keep my restless and creative mind stimulated. I fell in love with cooking with the strong pull and desire towards art, I decided to challenge myself in the kitchen and combine the two mediums. I would fall asleep every night watching The Food Network and Iron Chef, always thinking how impossible it seemed to create such amazing dishes. It was my goal to teach myself how to be as excellent as these celebrity chefs.
I started baking and creating recipes myself at home when I was nine. I began a side job after school, making dog treats and holiday cookies. That exercise drew me to cooking more seriously where I began to extend my knowledge and create other items.
Originally, my heart was set on becoming a pastry chef and soon changed currents to overall culinary as my focus in my career. Since the age of nine I felt it in my heart that I was destined to be a chef. When I graduated high school, I ventured to Florida, entirely on my own and enrolled at the Florida Culinary Institute/Lincoln Culinary Institute. I was attracted to Florida because it was utterly different from Illinois. There were no cornfields and no cold winters. Fresh produce, fish and farmers markets were easily accessible on a daily basis which enticed my creativity for local and unique flavor profiles.
When I graduated culinary school in 2013, I ventured into the professional field and this only reinforced my decision of becoming a chef. I applied at The Everglades Club and remained in their kitchens for 5 years, studying under Master Chefs Peter Timmins and Russell Scott. These extremely talented Chefs taught me to keep my nose down, work hard and listen. They were very open and allowed me to draw on my creativity and culinary instincts in a very professional atmosphere.
GK: What was your role at this time?
HFM: I started as a line cook, rotating from lead grill cook to lead sauté as well as banquet experience. I made it a goal of mine to master all areas of the kitchens. You must constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone to achieve excellence. If you are comfortable, you are not growing.
The Everglades Club was a seasonal club, and my restless energy drove me to a new adventure in Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts in 2015. It was an amazing experience and new way of looking at the culinary industry. I would often sail out on oyster boats and harvest fresh oysters for the restaurants and visit the local shiitake farms for farm to table experiences. Truly a remarkable island if you are a Chef!
GK: Did you return MV the following season?
HFM: Yes, there’s something about the Vineyard that keeps a hold on your soul. From the smell of the fresh sea air, to the amazing product right outside your door, I had to go back and learn as much as I could. For the next three years, I returned and worked at a restaurant called Down Island under a very talented Chef, Scott Cummings. Down Island featured a five-course tasting menu that changed every week making it exciting for the locals and tourists, as well as ourselves.
GK: Tell us about your experience with Chef Cummings?
HFM: Chef Cummings made me the chef I am today; he molded me to be creative and welcomed my avant-garde culinary concepts. I’m forever grateful for Down Island because this was where I blossomed into the Chef I always aspired to be. I had found my niche.
Being seasonal for both The Everglades Club in the winters, and Down Island in the summers, I decided to stay year-round on Martha’s Vineyard. Let me tell you, it was a brave decision. The winters, oh my goodness! (laughs), I made it one full year. The winter wind was brutal; and being such a seasonal island, you lose track of the real world. I lived in a little cottage in the woods that was adorable and perfect but, it was cold! It was during that winter that myself and my two miniature greyhounds decided our blood was too thin for the chilly weather and I decided to come back to Florida where our hearts were.
GK: How did you land at Mizner Country Club?
HFM: When I returned to Florida, there was a vacant position. I was interviewed by the Executive Chef at the time, and it was the most casual interview I’ve ever had. I instantly clicked with the club, and I felt like this could be my new home. I wanted to show my worth, talent, and dedication, and I quickly climbed the ladder.
I was 26 at the time and took the role of sous chef. I wanted to change how the world views country clubs. I wanted to show that country club dining can be Michelin-style restaurant food in a country club setting. Within one year, I was promoted to Executive Sous Chef.
GK: How were your ideas received at the club?
HFM: The Mizner management gave me the freedom and support to make my job an everyday adventure! That is why I feel at home here. Out of the box pairings, creative works of art as a dish, and new concepts feed my hungry heart. To be an Executive Chef was always my goal; I watch, observe and execute. I am the most demanding of myself in terms of mastering something. It’s not unusual for me to be in the kitchens until 1:00 AM teaching myself new techniques. In my mind, I was training myself to be an Executive Chef and reach my goals. Failure was not an option. I knew that even if it weren’t at Mizner, I would need to learn as much as I could to excel in my future.
In October 2020, I assumed the role of the Interim Executive Chef. In November 2020, Mizner made it official. Hannah Flora-Mihajlovic as Executive Chef. My childhood dream and everything I have pushed myself to be was now manifesting into the universe. Time to make waves.
GK: How did it feel to have the role officially just six days before Thanksgiving and in the middle of a pandemic?
HFM: “Bring it on!” Covid-19 posed an unexpected, yet welcomed challenge. Luckily, my brain thinks in combination of extreme organization and hyperactive creativity, making it more than possible to execute over 400 Thanksgiving dinners flawlessly. We set up the library and boardroom as a satellite space to package over 400 Thanksgiving dinners. Under my direction, the team was able to execute this feat, allowing the membership to gain even more confidence in my new position.
GK: What were some other innovations you created due to the pandemic?
HFM: We created the Mizner bubble within our community during the pandemic. Our team needed to make sure our membership knew that they were both safe and entertained as well as satisfied with our programming. It was then that we introduced “Craft-Mart”, a grocery store within our club walls that would provide home essentials as well as prepared meals available for online ordering and home delivery.
Our team created a Shopify platform for our members to order from their phones. Product was delivered to their doorstep and a notification of the confirmed delivery was sent. Watching the program unfold into a well-oiled machine was unbelievable. It truly was a well-orchestrated event behind the scenes.
GK: What changes did you make in regard to liquor and wine?
HFM: It took us a moment to accumulate our permits for alcohol sales, but we had a massive market for wine, and the membership showed great interest with sales from the online market. This ignited our decision in creating a structured and permanent Wine Boutique, where members could purchase wines in-house and have them delivered. They enjoy having the unique and curated wine selection from our Sommelier, Marc Etienne-Hoffmann.
GK: What ideas would you like to implement at Mizner in the future?
HFM: I recently began experimenting with small plate tapas-style buffets where we have chef-attended stations that serve and create small plates right in front of the members; it’s always fresh, new, and different. Fresh and local is always our goal. Being in such a rich agricultural atmosphere, I want to bring only the best quality into the kitchens and onto the plates. I will also be looking to implement an outdoor kitchen where we can offer brick fired pizzas and flatbreads as well as new and interesting items to showcase. Being in Florida, our weather is definitely something to take advantage of.
GK: How do you manage your team? Do you give them opportunities to be as creative as you have been permitted?
HFM: My way of management is hands on, creative and empowering. Keeping my team excite, encouraged and supported, allowing my chefs own creative minds to blossom into something special. As a team, you set yourselves apart from the standards. There have been many restaurants and clubs that I’ve worked at personally where creative freedom isn’t always welcomed. My goal as the Executive Chef is to constantly swim against the currents and welcome new and fresh ideas under my leadership. Empowering, encouraging and allowing each individual thought process to come into play, makes Mizner kitchens a force to be reckoned with.
Having a strong art and dance background, I view my kitchens in a unique way. Working on the line during a service should be an elegant dance. Each individual has a role and a rhythm. When we all move in harmony, it’s a beautiful ballet. I encourage my team to be creative. After all, culinary is an ever-changing ocean, and I want to make the first waves. I never want to discourage my chefs creative thought process; I want to empower their creative side on a personal level and witness how it comes into fruition on the plates. I often ask my staff, “What was your favorite childhood memory? How can you recreate that memory on the plate?” Then as a team, we create a beautiful menu full of memory and feelings that become our specials. If my team is excited to come to work every day because they’re doing something that they love, it’s going to show 110% passion and quality in our menus and improve the experience for the membership. My responsibility as their leader is to encourage that leap into their personal growth.
GK: How do you create your menus?
HFM: Creating menus is an intricate process. We invite the staff in before menu changes, to prep and plan together as a team with the leadership of our Restaurant Chef. I love to create new recipes for the kitchens with a combination of our individuality.
GK: Tell us what goes through your mind when creating a recipe.
HFM: What goes through my mind while creating a recipe is more of a story than an instruction manual. How can I re-create the feeling of calm, anger, passion, or home through food? Sometimes something as simple as a single smell can send my mind spinning into an eight-component dish. When I think of a recipe and how I’m plating it, I see shapes and colors. I use my sense of smell to bring me back to a moment in my life. How can I recreate that life experience on the plate for someone else? My feelings come through in my food, which makes it more personal to me.
I’ve always loved showing my emotion, commitment, talent, and passion on a blank canvas. Whether with paints, clay, dance, or food, a true experience will emerge leaving the individual experiencing it at awe. I absolutely love seeing the emotions of a creation I have molded together, be expressed on another individual.
Often, my ingredient choices that I choose are opposites on the color wheel, but blended together in the perfect way can create an amazing work of art. That is my signature as a Chef.
GK: Tell us about your new Culinary Lab?
HFM: The Culinary Lab is a program I started with our HR department in June, to extend an opportunity for growth within our club. Growth is one of our values at Mizner and we pride ourselves to be able to extend any learning opportunity to our most important assets, our employees.
We offer one course per month over a 12-month period. This program is open to the culinary and service team. Our mission is to educate them with hands-on tours and masterclasses to better understand the depth of the culinary industry. It is a voluntary option to participate, yet if you attend all 12 classes, Mizner will completely fund an ACF certification for them. The incentive is to give our employees something that they can be proud of and build on top of their skills and career goals.
The 8th Green at Mizner Country Club, Delray Beach, Florida. Image by Even Schiller
Recipe by Marc-Etienne Hoffmann, Food and Beverage Operations Manager and Sommelier
Tokyo Lima Sour
Homemade Campari Dust
Make a Campari mirror by adding about 150 ml of Campari on a lined baking sheet and stick it in the oven at 170℉ for about 30 hours with a slightly opened door. Once the Campari has hardened, remove it from the baking sheet and blend it into dust.
Tokyo Lima Sour
Dust the rim of your coupette glass with the homemade Campari dust.
In a cocktail shaker, add the sake, pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, and bitters and dry shake. Mixologist Note: No ice and only with a strainer spiral to beat the egg white foamy. Remove the spiral and add the ice.
Shake until the shaker frosts from the outside, and double strain into the dusted coupette glass.
The lime cuts through the umami flavor from the miso, while the sake and pisco are light in taste and compliment the Asian notes without overpowering the lemongrass. The Peychaud bitters adds depth to the drink while the Campari dust catches the sweet and bitter notes of the blood orange.
The 8th hole at Mizner Country Club with a view of the stunning clubhouse.
This is the title of the new book by The Chef’s Garden and, in it, Farmer Lee Jones shares the knowledge they’ve gained over the years on how to select, prepare, and cook vegetables. It’s a guidebook with more than 500 entries, ideal for home cooks who love to include fresh vegetables in their family’s meals—and it also contains 100 recipes created by the head chef at the Culinary Vegetable Institute of The Chef’s Garden.
Entries range the gamut of commonly known veggies to unusual ones, and from herbs to edible flowers. Recipes include the following: Beet Marshmallows, Cornbread-Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms, Onion Caramel, Ramp Top Pasta, and Seared Rack of Brussels Sprouts.
The tone of this comprehensive guidebook is approachable and friendly, just like Farmer Lee Jones himself, and it shares innovative techniques to transform vegetables in your kitchen. The book captures the essence of the farm, one that grows and harvests with the belief that every part of a plant offers something unique on the plate.
Vegetables are at the forefront of cuisine in this increasingly plant-forward world, and this book will transform the way you think about, eat, and cook them.
This book (one you’ll reach for, again and again!) will be available on April 20, 2021. Although A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables—with Recipes is big news, that’s not all that’s happening on the farm. Farmer Lee and his team are busy with their home deliveries of fresh vegetables and they’re excited about nutritional information about those vegetables being confirmed by an independent lab.
The Soil is the Heart of The Chef’s Garden.
Farmer Lee and his family have long believed that, if they nurture their soil and treat it like its own crop, the added flavor this provides would also result in fresh vegetables that burst with nutrition. This was confirmed in their own agricultural research lab—and now has been independently verified: vegetables from The Chef’s Garden actually have 300 to 600 percent more in nutrients than the USDA baseline.
Vegetables grown at The Chef’s Garden are especially nutrient rich because they use regenerative farming techniques that allow them to naturally enrich the soil. At a high level, this means they strategically use diverse cover crops to build up the soil; till, only as needed, and gently at that; and allow two thirds of their fields to lay fallow each year so that the soil can rest and be appropriated, fed and watered.
This is in direct contrast to today’s conventional farming techniques where crops are grown for maximum yield—rather than for optimal flavor and nutrition—and where chemicals are used. At The Chef’s Garden, the team farms in harmony with Mother Nature for healthy soil, healthy crops, healthy people, and a healthy planet.
This is in direct contrast to today’s conventional farming techniques where crops are grown for maximum yield—rather than for optimal flavor and nutrition—and where chemicals are used. At The Chef’s Garden, the team farms in harmony with Mother Nature for healthy soil, healthy crops, healthy people, and a healthy planet.
So: new book, home deliveries, and powerful nutritional verifications! With all of this good news, you can understand why Farmer Lee is smiling on the new book’s cover.
Story by Kelly Boyer Sagert
Juan Pablo de la Sota Riva Leal checking on his hydroponic crop at Royal Poinciana Golf Club.
Image by Stephanie Starr.
At Royal Poinciana Golf Club, we were committed to buying locally farmed produce for our Membership. Two years ago, we started a partnership with Jonathan and Isabel Way of Calusa Farms in Naples, Florida. Not only are they dedicated to growing environmentally friendly, sustainable produce, but they maintain Royal Poinciana Golf Club’s hydroponic garden.
Isabel comes from a multi-generational family of farmers who still produce quality products in Colombia. She moved to the United States after earning her degree in environmental sciences. Her expertise in plant science led to Collier County’s Master Gardner and Florida Friendly Landscaping Coordinator position from 2013 until 2018.
Jonathan’s love for building hydroponic gardens started when he was young and became his business after moving to Florida. He worked with local chefs to develop the quality of produce that their high standards required. Calusa Farms does an excellent job of meeting that need.
From Farm to Fork
In addition to Calusa Farms, we have also connected with other great local businesses to ensure we always get the quality ingredients we need to provide our members with healthy, delicious food. One of those business includes Southern Florida’s Farmer Mike’s.
Just a few miles north of Naples in Bonita Springs, Farmer Mike’s started more than 30 years ago as a small roadside produce stand and blossomed into one of the state’s premier growers. They have more than 200 acres. They grow squash, zucchini, beans, corn, strawberries, onions, eggplants, every kind of tomato and pepper you can think of, and even numerous types of ornamental and edible flowers. Many of these items you can pick yourself on the farm or stop in quickly at the farm stand — both of which can be done every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
Recently, our culinary team had the opportunity to visit Farmer Mike’s for a tour given by Farmer Mike himself and his Sales Manager Dustin. They educated us on their growing processes of many different fruits and vegetables, in addition to some of the newer things they have been working on. They are always innovating and learning how to create the best organic products. They don’t use pesticides or any other harsh chemicals. They made a water irrigation system to save water during the rainy season to use during the dry season. They have beehives for pollinating their plants and have developed better vertical growing methods to maximize the use on their farm’s land.
We have built a strong relationship with Farmer Mike’s. We can place an order for products in less than 24 hours, and it comes from the farm’s fields to our hands. Supporting local businesses help to keep our communities prospering during challenging times.
Royal Poinciana Golf Club’s Executive Chef Juan Pablo de la Sota Riva Leal was born in Mexico City and studied at the Ambrosia Culinary Center. He later moved to Madrid, Spain, for an internship in a two-Michelin-Star Restaurant called La Broche. Juan Pablo has worked at many prestigious restaurants before joining “Team RP.”
Some of the veggie rows at Farmer Mike's farm.
Image by Stephanie Starr
“Fernando is a quintessential wine professional, and it is rare to find someone as accomplished. He is a leading light in wine expertise in the private golf club industry. GlenArbor Golf Club and its team of professionals have the industry accolades to give authority to this very prestigious and worthy award. It is a tremendous honor for the recipient and speaks loudly for their passion for the traditions of wine, the respect of nature, the land, and the game of golf. The Traditions in Wine Excellence Award, I believe, will become a legacy award that will continue well into the future.”
Image by Michael J. Fiedler
I was fortunate to attend the previous two “GlenArbor Traditions in Wine Excellence Award” events in Bedford Hills, New York. Fernando Silva, Sommelier, Michael Ruggiero, Executive Chef, and team seamlessly delivered an unforgettable experience to the club’s members and guests. I believe that this significant annual event will be a gamechanger in the private golf and wine industry. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Fernando, how and when did the vision for the “GlenArbor Traditions in Wine Excellence Award” come about?
GlenArbor Golf Club was inaugurated in 2001, and I joined the team in 2005. At that time, a wine program did not exist. The food and beverage manager selected some of the wines, and I remember that the members would bring numerous bottles of expensive wines from their private cellars to enjoy at the club.
I developed an interest in fine wine in 2009 and started reading and studying wines seriously in the following years. I signed up for every seminar and wine tasting I could find in Manhattan. This process and exposure to wine tastings and in-depth study of the wine world changed my approach to the fine dining experience. Every weekend I waited to see the wines the members would bring to dinner. I used to take pictures of the labels and researched the places of origin and the quality levels. All of that effort paid off and the members noticed. The food and beverage director at the time, Bryan Smithwick, promoted me to be the official Sommelier at the club.. Mr. Grant Gregory, the owner, gave me enough freedom to experiment and launch a series of wine tastings, which would take place at the end of every golf tournament to test our membership’s enthusiasm. The response was excellent; they wanted more and more wine experiences.
In 2011, I had to leave the USA for a year to wait for my green card approval. I decided to take a long-awaited wine field trip to discover and learn about the most famous wine regions. I traveled to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and then returned to Argentina to visit Mendoza’s vineyards.
In 2012, I returned to the USA and visited the Napa Valley in California. When I arrived back in New York, I simultaneously registered for the prestigious Court of Masters Sommeliers and the American Sommelier Association. After much work and study, I obtained the proper certifications.
GK: When and how did you introduce an official wine program at the club?
2013 was a period of test and trial. By 2014 the idea of a serious wine program had begun to take form in my mind. I am also a passionate artist, and in the the same year, my work featured at a prestigious art gallery in Manhattan for the first time. I had overcome some serious challenges and gained much education and knowledge, which I could not have done without the mentoring and support of the Gregory family and GlenArbor. I wanted to show my gratitude to the people that believed the most in me. I researched other private clubs and some notable wine clubs in the city. I reached out to Mr. Laurent Drouhin, whom I met through my studies at several wine seminars. I took his advice and expertise to create a new concept in the wine experience at GlenArbor.
GK: How did Mr. Drouhin help you develop this program?
Mr. Drouhin suggested that I discuss creating an effective and more interactive wine program for the club. Mr. Grant Gregory gave me some practical ways to execute long-term plans. After meeting with him several times, at the end of the conversation, he asked me to write down forty different ideas about implementing a wine program even if the idea sounded crazy!
“Family and tradition are some of the core values of our passion for wines in Burgundy and Oregon. When Fernando Silva contacted me on behalf of the Gregory Family to receive the GlenArbor Tradition in Wine Excellence Award, I felt tremendously honored., not personally but in the name of the entire Drouhin family current and past generations. GlenArbor, Golf and wine is a paradise for tradition and passion...”
~ Laurent Drouhin
Maison Joseph Drouhin
Image courtesy Maison Joseph Drouhin
GK: What were some of your final visions?
To create a unique new wine program, we needed to complete the first idea on the list, installing a state-of-the-art wine cellar located on the second floor in our Players Lounge. I reached out to Mr. Adam Strum and his team at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, they helped us create the cellar, and it was complete by 2017. The next step was to implement a marketing campaign among the members with a series of Wine Educational seminars to attract more attention not only from the members but also from wine aficionados in general.
I explained to Mr. Grant Gregory that we needed to create a series of awards to recognize the diverse personalities that impacted the wine world. Help came from Mr. Morgan Gregory with his true entrepreneur style; he came up with a name, mirroring the already existing “Traditions in Golf Awards.” The first “Traditions in Wine Excellence Award” was inaugurated in 2018. It was received with excellent attendance and created a pathway for more events at the club. The following week I presented Mr. Grant Gregory and Mr. Morgan Gregory at least 45 ways and strategies to create, execute and enhance a wine program for private clubs. After reviewing the concepts and removing half of them, he instructed me to select five or six of my most robust visions, and to my delight, he gave me the freedom to try them out at the club.
GlenArbor has always strived for excellence in multiple areas – golf, instruction, food, wine, and “the experience.” We have been blessed to identify and celebrate the leading industry winemakers, families, and originators but, it’s a much bigger platform. The Excellence in Wine Awards celebration recognizes those individuals who excel in moving the needle and those willing to create a platform, vision, and growth for the generations to follow
~ Morgan Gregory President
GlenArbor Golf Club
Image by Michael J. Fiedler
GK: What were some of your final visions?
To create a unique new wine program, we needed to complete the first idea on the list, installing a state-of-the-art wine cellar located on the second floor in our Players Lounge. I reached out to Mr. Adam Strum and his team at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, they helped us create the cellar, and it was complete by 2017.
The next step was to implement a marketing campaign among the members with a series of wine educational seminars to attract more attention not only from the members but also from wine aficionados in general. I explained to Mr. Grant Gregory that we needed to create a series of awards to recognize the diverse personalities that impacted the wine world. Help came from Mr. Morgan Gregory with his true entrepreneur style; he came up with a name, mirroring the already existing “Traditions in Golf Awards.” The first “Traditions in Wine Excellence Award” was inaugurated in 2018. It was received with excellent attendance and created a pathway for more events at the club.
GK: How do you select the recipients?
The recipient of the “GlenArbor Traditions in Wine Excellence Award” does not necessarily have to be a winemaker. The main idea is to select from a group of well-known personalities in the wine industry that has an actual and long-term impact not only in the wine world but also in the hospitality industry, especially in the private club sector. Every recipient of the Award should have a strong respect for the hospitality industry, nature, the land, and the traditions of the game of golf. The Award is the perfect link between the World of Wine and the World of Golf!
GK: Who was the first recipient?
Our first recipient was Mr. Laurent Drouhin, co-owner of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, France. Laurent currently resides near New York City. He manages the market’s development and the brand’s image in the United States and the Caribbean. He graduated from the Ecole Supérieure de Gestion in Paris.
The second recipient was Mr. Jean-Charles Boisset in 2019. He was born into the world of wine in the village of Vougeot, Burgundy, France. His lifelong passion for wine began as a child. He grew up above the cellars within the view of Château du Clos de Vougeot’s centuries-old vineyards, the epicenter and birthplace of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Mr. Adam Strum, President of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, attended the event with his wife and family and was thrilled that Jean-Charles was the recipient.
“Exhilarating, inspiring, magnetic and so enchanting ! A vortex of joy, happiness, and a true experience of the senses... I feel honored and privileged to receive such recognition and to be part of such a fabulous and exciting collection of grand minds and energies ! Here’s to the rhythm of life and the swing of all senses in motion !”
~ Jean-Charles Boisset Vintner, Proprietor and Wine Entrepeneur
Image by Moanalani Jeffrey
The third recipient was Sir Nick Faldo in 2020. I discovered Sir Nick’s serious wine projects while I was attending a blind wine tasting seminar in Soho. One of my mentors, Mr. Phillipe Newlin, at that time was the Director of Duclot la Vinicole in New York mentioned that he recently came across a famous Golfer at The Harvard Club in Manhattan, Sir Nick Faldo. After several meetings, Sir Nick, invited him to review his wine projects.
I set my mind on inviting Sir Nick to be part of the event, but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, that seemed impossible. The second option would be via video conferencing. After exhaustive months of uncertainty and back and forth emails, I received a video acceptance speech from Sir Nick, which I shared with Mr. Morgan Gregory immediately.
A day after receiving the video from Sir Nick, former American football linebacker and Steelers coach William Laird Cowher came to the club for dinner with his wife, famous rock singer Veronica Stigeler. Mr. Cowher is also a wine enthusiast and with the the proximity of the event, he enquired who was going to be the honoree this year. When I mentioned Sir Nick’s name, he reacted with a big smile saying, “Fernando, you know he is a good friend of mine, and it will be an honor for me to do the introduction and presentation of the Award.”
Thank you very much for this honor of Wine Person of the Year! I am beyond thrilled to receive something like this. If there were a Ryder Cup of wine, it would be Napa vs. Bordeaux, and I will be supporting the European team. I can assure you the playoffs will be really fun! I will be flying back to the United States soon, hope-fully, and will have a wee glass to celebrate!
~ Sir Nick Faldo
Image by Michael J. Fiedler
GK: How do you feel Covid-19 will affect the event in the future?
The year 2020 presented a real challenge for us with the strict enforcement of safety protocols in the hospitality industry. But it also set a new way of looking at the industry. As professionals, we have to adapt quickly to the changing times and demands of our membership. In our case, our wine events are planned according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) safety regulations, including testing staff, wearing gloves and masks, social distancing, and frequent sanitation of workstations, dining, and limited clubhouse areas. We maintain the number of attendees for this and all other events to the minimum recommended by the government.
GK: How do you work with Chef Ruggiero to come up with the menu for the GlenArbor Traditions in Wine Excellence dinner?
Executive Chef Michael Ruggiero has an incredible resume and vast experience in fine cuisine. I begin by presenting Michael with the event’s theme and share my ideas while we taste the wines. Every wine and honoree has a different personality, and it shows in the way they represent their terroir, their aromas, and flavors, Sometimes we need to change some of the wines because the actual profile does not match the envisioned dish; there is a lot of creativity involved in the process and also flexibility. Everything progresses, evolving to present the best culinary experience for the members, guests, and staff.
“When tasked to pair food with amazing wines for an event like this the process takes on a variety of factors, cuisine origin of the wine, seasonal ability of ingredients, presentation, among a few thoughts. While the goal is to match flavors with each dish, I won’t let it restrict me from the goal of wanting to create this intense flavor profile. We have to honor the wine, attempt to rival each wines great finish but also not overpower the many delicate notes. We love these opportunities and these marquee events, we circle on the calendar be-cause they only happen a few times a year.”
~ Michael Ruggiero
GlenArbor Golf Club
The GlenArbor Clubhouse at dusk. Image courtesy GlenArbor Golf Club
Left: Dominic Calla, Executive Chef at Round Hill Club, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. Right: Olive Oil Poached Halibut
For ten years, I have wanted to produce an article featuring the Round Hill Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. I had heard from many influential industry people about the grace and talent of their Executive Chef Dominic Calla. It is an honor to bring his story to you. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Tell us about your background and how you developed an interest in cooking and cuisine.
My father Gaetano Calla was born in Calabria, Italy, and his family moved to the United States when he was just eight years of age. I grew up on Long Island. The majority of my family is still in Italy. I am the fifth or sixth generation born in this country, and I have an older brother and a couple of older cousins. They lived in Brooklyn. My early childhood was a typical Italian household; we had the Sunday dinners that lasted from two o’clock until seven o’clock, took naps, and watched soccer. That was my introduction to food. I don’t think it held any meaning for me at that time.
GK: Where was your first job?
A little restaurant in Ocean Beach, New York, called the Sand Bar and Grill. It’s not in operation anymore, but that was my first introduction to the kitchen. I was 15, and I washed dishes, scrubbed mussels, cleaned calamari, peeled potatoes, and basically performed the kitchen’s grunge work. I enjoyed it, and it was where the initial attraction began. Being there got me out of my head. It was a place where I didn’t have to think about anything else that was going on. I could focus on work. I enjoyed the people that I worked with, the pace of it, and the chaos. The thrill of getting through to the end of the night as a team was memorable.
I started traveling when I turned 16. I worked as a line cook in California for a year and a half, then I did six months in Maryland, and a year or so in Athens, Georgia. When I was 20, I moved back to New York and started a job as a line cook at The Inn Between in Ocean Bay Park for the summer. The Executive Chef Scott Everett offered me the Sous Chef position, and I accepted.
Towards the end of the summer season, I was looking for something to fill in the time until the next season. My brother and his then-fiance moved to West Virginia, so I decided to go with them after the season closed.
When I arrived in West Virginia, I found a small restaurant, Mario’s Fish Bowl. It was a little dive bar and restaurant in Morgantown. They were opening up a fine dining restaurant next door, and I ended up landing a job to open up this restaurant for them. I had no idea what I was doing! None. I had never built or designed a kitchen. I walked into an old automotive shop, and there was a car lift in the kitchen, and they said, “Dominic, this is your kitchen.” Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. There was no internet back then, and I had to search through catalogs to research kitchen equipment and the rest of what was needed. I spent six to eight months designing that kitchen, and I succeeded. I wrote the menus and had them ready to open.
After that I returned to New York, which was always my home base. Shortly before the September 11th attacks, I decided to take a South Florida position in Naples as a line cook at Gabrielo’s of New York. It was a fine dining restaurant. They had a grand piano and celebrity clientele such as Carol Burnett and Tony Curtis. The Executive Chef got fired, and that was my first introduction to the Executive Chef role. I was just 23.
Once again, I had no idea what I was doing. However, I was still learning when I took over as Executive Chef at Gabrielo’s. That is when the light switch turned on for me. Previously it was a means to travel; I could go wherever I wanted and would pick up a position at that location. Now I could see that this was a career. I wasn’t a great manager or leader, but I knew how to operate a kitchen, write menus, and order. I made a ton of horrible dishes, and I’m not even kidding. (laughs) The internet was in its infancy, so magazines like Food and Wine and Art Culinaire are where I found inspiration. I would dine at other restaurants, and if I loved a dish, I would try to recreate it. Trial and error and pushing myself were a big part of my career path. So much of my early career was me biting off way more than I could chew! I stayed at Gabrielo’s for two years, and it was excellent training and boosted my confidence.
At that point, I found a restaurant group that owned three restaurants in Athens, Georgia, a French bistro called Basil Press, a high-end steak house called Porterhouse Grill, and a brewpub, Copper Creek Brewing Company. All three restaurants were in downtown Athens, Georgia. They were looking for an Executive Chef of all three, and I went for it, and I got it.
I had a sous chef at each restaurant. I still worked the line every night, but I was introduced to three restaurants’ inventory and mass ordering. I learned how to set up prime vendor agreements and ordering under the company name and not each restaurant. Andy Urell, one of the owners, was a chef. Michael White, another owner, was a server and bartender who was studying to be a master sommelier. It was great because I got a lot of training from Andy, who taught me a lot about French cuisine. Michael taught me a lot about wine. My time there was instrumental to my career, and I stayed for two years. After that, I decided to move back to Naples, Florida, and look for the next step in my career.
GK: How did you land in the private golf and country club industry?
I applied for a supervisor position at The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, Florida, which is getting closer to a Country Club environment. They offered me a sous chef position, and then a year and a half later promoted me to the chef de cuisine of their fine dining seafood restaurant. I had a lot of fun at this restaurant. I had no food costs. I could order whatever I wanted. I ordered $70,000 worth of Chef’s Garden product in one year. I got to play around with whatever food I wanted. It was a seafood restaurant, and at one point, I had 18 different catches on my menu. It was fish from Honolulu Seafood Company and Europe. I brought in Chinese Black Chickens because I had heard how good the soup is with them. I even ordered duck tongues, and I did Buffalo Duck Tongues as an appetizer at the bar. I continued to be enthralled for another year and a half.
The executive sous chef position for the entire hotel opened up, and I applied for it internally. I got promoted to the hotel’s executive sous chef at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs. This was another huge learning curve because now I got pulled out of the kitchen and my little comfort zone playing with food every day. The Executive Chef there at the time was John Benson. He’s now a General Manager at a Hyatt in Hawaii. John Benson started to teach me the other side of operations, such as scheduling, forecast budgets and carrying myself as a professional. I stayed in that position until 2010.
I was burnt out by this time as they had me taking interim chef positions at other properties in South Beach that needed over-the-top menus but relied on temporary kitchen staff. I left Hyatt about two months later. I needed a break.
GK: What did you do during your break?
A group of executive chefs and executive sous chefs in Naples worked as private chefs for folks who rented the big mansions for a week. I did this for a year, and I then wanted to explore working in a private golf or country club. I had enough confidence and a great career portfolio that would overpower the lack of a culinary degree.
GK: Tell us about your first private club experience.
I was hired as the executive sous chef at The Hillsboro Club in Hillsboro Beach, Florida. It’s a small racket club, but it’s been there forever. The members live there for about seven months of the year. So you see these people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. If something is wrong at breakfast, they will let you know at lunch, and then at dinner, they would tell their friends. The next morning they’d come in for breakfast to see if you fixed it. It drove me crazy! It wasn’t like a hotel where they check-in Friday and check-out Sunday and see you later. No, no, it was more like Ms. Montgomery was upset with breakfast, and I’m going to see her the next morning!
It was a wake-up call to me, plus I needed to learn everyone’s names by heart and talk to every member during service. But for some reason, it felt a little better. It wasn’t always about the bottom line. Your food cost was 23.4% in the hotel, and then they want you to come down to 22%. At Hillsboro, I could blow the budget on an event for the members because we wanted to create a memorable experience. We could make up for the budget later in the season.
I stayed at Hillsboro for three years, and during that time, I had met David Meyers from David Meyers and Associates over the phone. Two and a half years into my position at Hillsboro, I gave him a call to see if he could help me gain a position in Richmond, Virginia. My brother had moved there, and we hadn’t seen each other in years. He called to tell me how great the food scene was. David had found a position at Hermitage Country Club. I flew to Richmond, did all the tasting tests, but the food and beverage director didn’t like my background and flatly said no.
I went back to Florida, and David called and told me that he might have something at The Country Club of Virginia (CCV). David was having a conversation with Phil Kiester, the General Manager at CCV, and Phil told David that he needed a chef to run the James River clubhouse. David’s said, “I’ve got a guy in Florida who is trying to move up here. He has a colorful background.” Phil asked, “can he do the job?” And David replied, “yes.” From there, I was fast-tracked to CCV.
After interviewing and some cooking demos, I took over as Executive Chef of the James River clubhouse. The first day I showed up at work, the Executive Chef of the entire property Gary Whitecotton welcomed me and then said, “This is my last day. I have resigned.” I remember calling David Meyers and said, “what did you do to me? You just started me at a club, and the Executive Chef is leaving on my first day, and then three weeks in, the Executive Sous Chef had a month off.”
I settled in quickly and adjusted. After a few months, we started interviewing for the next Executive Chef position of the entire compound. Keith Armstrong was one of the candidates, and fortunately, they hired him. I immediately connected with Keith. He was no stranger to clubs and knew the routines well. Keith was an outstanding mentor for me for the next three-plus years.
We did many creative events and had a garden that we eventually turned into an event space. We started doing parties at an old farmhouse on the property. We were coming up with many ideas together; we fed off each other. CCV had signed up to do the Dominion Energy Charity Classic; we worked really hard to plan and execute menus and all the other facets of this PGA event. The first year was the most challenging as we planned 200% of what we didn’t need and six percent of what we did need!
The following season, Keith turned up in my driveway with this huge wooden backdrop with things hanging on it. He said, “we’re going to have stations, and we’re going to have backdrops. They will have lanterns hanging from it and flowers.” His creativity was endless.
After that second PGA Tour event, I learned that Keith took the Westchester Country Club position. After another year at CCV, I started looking around for an executive chef position where I was the chef in charge of the property. I gained a job at the Dominion Club. It was owned by the Heritage Golf Group who had about nine properties. I had the impression it was a financially stable operation. They hired me to turn around the food and beverage operations, and I would have everything that I needed to make it happen. However, when I arrived at the club, it was nothing that was painted. I called Phil Keister at CCV and told him that I did not want to work in a corporate golf club. They were in talks to buy and take over the Heritage Golf Group properties. I handed them my resignation and thought, “that was a crazy nightmare.”
Phil asked me to return to CCV as it was a few months before the next PGA Tour event. I stayed for seven months and worked with John York, who took over from Keith. It was great for a time, but Phil and I knew this would not be a long-term arrangement.
GK: How did you land at Round Hill Club?
I got a phone call from Keith, and he told me about an opening at Round Hill Club (RHC) in Greenwich, Connecticut. He said, “RHC is right up your alley.” I got off the phone with Keith and called David Myers, and I said, “David let’s go with this.”
I interviewed with Brian Walshe, the general manager, and his assistant GM Mary Schaffer. They flew me up here for a night, and a day later, they asked me to return for a second interview. I returned and enjoyed dinner with Brian and Mary. We got along very well, and it was very much a personality fit. Positions like this one at RHC only become available every 10-15 years.
I continued with the interview process and the cooking demo, and about a day later, Brian offered me the position, and it was like, “okay!” I started in September of 2019. I experienced the end of the golf season and the entire holiday season, and then we shut down in March.
GK: That was a shocking time for all; how did you find the positives?
During this Covid time, I tried to find the positive side of it. I used the time to get to know many of the members better as it was not as busy. I made it my mission to learn more about what they want, what they like, what they don’t like, and how much I can push them to try new things. They had the same chef for eight years and then the same chef for 20 years; I had my work cut out for me for sure.
Brian and Mary were great presenting me to the members. There are way fewer members at RHC than CCV, and it was excellent as I could talk to them freely and ask them questions about what they want and need.
GK: Apart from Keith Armstrong and your work peers, tell us some of the Chefs that inspire you.
Chef Gunter Seeger, the German Chef, who anchored himself at the forefront of Atlanta’s fine dining scene for 25 years. I started to follow chefs like Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gabriel Kruether. They inspired me immensely. I knew at a club, I couldn’t make the food they were doing at their restaurants, but I could experiment with larger versions.
It’s an art form in a club, more so than a restaurant, because you want to be creative and you want to present amazing things, but you still have to be not too big and not too small. It has to be presented well, and you’re able to do something fine, but in a proportion that’s going to make everyone happy.
GK: Have you changed much of the menu in your year and a half here?
There’s always a portion of the menu that you can’t touch. However, slowly I’ve started making small changes to a couple of them. Currently, I have about half the menu that I can change. That’s 12 or 13 dishes. The first Wednesday of every month, we change five dishes on the dinner menu and four on the lunch menu. I would come up with new specials each week. We became bold with the specials. I was making Peking Duck as a special to see if they order it.
GK: What are your culinary plans at Round Hill Club in the future?
I have quickly come to realize this is a special place. The membership has been so welcoming and a pleasure to get to know. My first six months were what you would expect, the end of the golf season, the beginning of paddle season, and all the holidays. We close for three weeks each March, and the first half of my season was perfect. When lockdowns began mid-March, it was time to make a plan and strategize. We started offering curbside menus and making cooking videos in my kitchen at home for the membership. We increased the number of wine dinners we did and got creative with every event we would have normally had.
Despite this past year, we have continued to make strides forward for the membership. We change the menu monthly and are always running different specials. As the chef, I continue to teach and develop my staff. I ordered a whole swordfish to show the team how to break it down. We recently brought half of a hog to teach the staff how to butcher it and make charcuterie. I continue to try and plan trips for the culinary team to visit farms or other clubs to keep their interests peaked. We are getting ready for our March closure again, and I am excited that we have a hectic season coming up. I am looking forward to getting back to normal and offering all we do for the membership and more.
Image by Ambria Michelelle