.I was introduced to Royal Poinciana Golf Club by Scott Garvin, the General Manager at Naples National Golf Club, Florida. Garvin had recently toured the club and was taken aback by the kitchen rebuild as well as the culinary team. I took his advice and headed to Naples. Scott Haegele the Director of Culinary Operations at RP gave me a tour of what I can only call - every chef’s dream kitchen. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Scott, where did you grow up, and what influenced your culinary aspirations?
I grew up in Damascus, Maryland, in the most northern part of Montgomery County. It was a tiny dry town with a lot of farms and churches. My mom always cooked and from a very young age, I would watch her, and then I would emulate what she did visually. Eventually, I was able to cook dinner, and I enjoyed working at the stove. I was still in school when I started working in a small mom and pop restaurant, and coming from Maryland, they cooked seafood and steamed blue crabs. That’s where I began my career; I loved interacting with people and learning about the restaurant business. I started out washing pots, and I worked my way up through the kitchen. I did that through high school. I had no desire to go to college, that wasn’t my path, but my sister said, “you know, I know this guy, he went to culinary school, and maybe it’s something you should consider doing.” I took my sister’s advice and enrolled at Baltimore’s International Culinary College. I did a two-year program there. I had a natural knack for cooking, and I wanted to continue to learn and do an apprenticeship program. I looked at Hotel Hershey, I looked at The Greenbrier and interviewed at both, and I chose the Greenbrier. The Greenbrier is an extraordinary place, and I loved the culture and the hills of West Virginia. When I was very young, I was told, “you don’t get good to work in good places, you work in good places to get good.” There’s much humility in that. You have to work hard, you must be able to take criticism well, and when you get knocked down, you get back up and keep driving forward. Many chefs come out of the Greenbrier and are doing well in the industry.
GK: What was one of the essential lessons that you learned at the Greenbrier?
The Greenbrier is where I learned how to cook and sharpened my culinary fundamentals. The hotel is a great training environment for an aspiring chef. The hotels back of house was extremely large and the processes of moving things around the kitchen are vitally important. How do you move goods coming in, food going out, people, dishes, equipment, you know, where’s it all stored, what’s the flow of how we do business every day? I learned all of this at the Greenbrier. In any good resort or hotel, you shouldn’t see your dirty laundry. We know great things are going on behind the doors, but we don’t know how it happens when you’re sitting in the dining room from a guest’s perspective or a five-star, five-diamond perspective. When they come and inspect your hotel or your operation, it should be flawless. It shouldn’t be, “oh, I see the broom in the corner where you’re going to clean up later.” Everything should be impeccable.
GK: How long did you stay at the Greenbrier?
Eight years. I did my apprenticeship for two years, and then I worked through the ranks of the kitchen to sous chef. I left the Greenbrier in my late 20’s and headed to New York City. I have always taken the posture of a student and thought that working in Manhattan would be a good training ground. I first worked at the iconic Tavern on the Green restaurant. It was a culture shock coming from the hills of West Virginia, and I took the position of Executive Sous Chef. The restaurant was bustling and gave new meaning to the term high volume. We did omelets for 1000 people every Sunday brunch off the a la carte line, and the French Fries were hand-cut, we would fill 50-gallon rubber trash cans with cut fries and soak them in water until we had to cook them. The owner at the time was Warren LeRoy; he was a shrewd businessman. It was my first experience working in a multi-culture kitchen, and I loved the people I worked with.
My second stop in the big apple was at the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel. I worked in the fine dining restaurant Peacock Alley for Chef Laurent Gras, he was a French chef with Michelin experience, and he was Alain Ducasse’ Chef de cuisine. Laurent was super talented and worked every day in the kitchen. His station was right in front of me, which was a little nerve-racking. His food was classic French with much influence from Ducasse. We worked with the best ingredients, such as Osteria caviar, fresh truffles, and foie gras. I respected Laurent’s work ethic; if a cook called off work, he would work the station himself. He worked meticulously clean and efficiently; there was no margin for error with Laurent. He taught me how to cook refined food and the focus that is required in that environment. His kitchen was spotless, and we spent as much time cleaning as we did preparing food. My only regret is that I didn’t spend more time working with him, but this experience left an indelible impression on me about cooking food at a high level and the commitment it requires.
After leaving New York, I returned to the Greenbrier to be the Chef of the Tavern Room, which was the hotels fine dining outlet. During my two years there the restaurant was awarded the 4 Star Forbes rating. This was an accomplishment I was proud of and owed to my previous mentors.
My formative years working in quality environments prepared me to join my mentor John Johnstone once again. I took the position as the executive sous chef during the opening of the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia, and after a year I became the Executive Chef.
It was the Ritz Carlton that taught me how influential culture is at a resort or hotel. There must be guiding principles. Although you had your department, everybody had each other’s backs. If I needed help from another department, we made it happen. It was a reciprocal relationship; we did whatever we needed to do to ensure the guests had a great experience. I appreciated the array of incredibly smart people in that company. Steven Freund was the General Manager at the time, and he was a great man. He had humility, and this executive presence, he knew every person by name and had a genuine interest in helping people grow in the front or back of the house.
After five years at Reynolds Plantation, I took an ambitious position at Casa Marina, which at the time was an LXR property owned by Blackstone in Key West, Florida. They had invested heavily and redid the entire property. My position was the Food and Beverage Director / Chef. It was here that I learned how to set up a restaurant from scratch; I learned how to plan the flow of service during the design stages. The General Manager was Kevin Speidel was from New Jersey and was the captain of the wrestling team, that was his persona, he was a go, go, go, guy! Kevin took no excuses, but he was also very fair, if he ever called you out, it was the truth; he cared about making things better. No matter what you do in life, long term, it may not be what you want to do, but I think some people come into your life that you learn from and you have to be open-minded enough and humble enough to, to see where your defects are to improve. My biggest takeaway from Casa Marina was the front of the house experience. I learned how to manage the international staff who were all on H-2B visas. I was working with people from all over the world whom all came from different cultures; it was great.
GK: When did you join the club industry?
I took a position with Club Corp at the Citrus Club in Orlando; it was at the top of the Citrus Center and had 360-degree window views, it was beautiful, but for me, it was a city club, and I needed to continue to grow.
GK: How did you land at Augusta National?
In 2011, John Johnstone gave me a call and said that Augusta National was going through a tremendous growth spurt. John Johnstone is, in my opinion, one of the best Food and Beverage professionals I have ever worked with, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for nurturing me in my career. Everything about Augusta National is about growing the game of golf. What’s unique about the place is that people have worked there for their entire career. They grew up across the street, and they have seen the town and club evolve, they’ve been a part of that, and they take much pride in working there. The tenured staff are true ambassadors of the community. To make significant changes for the club and the tournament, they had the vision and foresight to see that they needed to bring in professionals that knew how to manage the expansion.
It was an exhausting four years. However, in the end, it was remarkable what we created there. There’s a reason why Augusta National is the number one Platinum Club, they have such integrity in what they do, and they have the resources to do it. They are committed to executing at a high level. That whole experience was outstanding.
GK: What did you leave behind at Augusta National that makes you particularly proud?
I think the most important thing is a good culture and a significant improvement to the food and beverage experience. I was the Executive Chef, and I was involved in the opening of Berckman’s Place. Berckman’s place is like walking through a museum full of the history of Augusta National and the people who made it what it is today. They have a retail store, a southern restaurant Ike’s, a burger bar Calamity Jane’s, a Scottish pub McKenzie’s, The Pavilion restaurant, and the New Orleans Restaurant Augusta. This was all built for membership use. They bring their guests and watch the game, eat excellent food paired with wines and beverages, and they enjoy the experience of being at the Masters. It is a genuine bucket list item for most people.
Royal Poinciana Golf Club, Naples, Florida, USA. Image by Stephanie Starr