GK: You grew up in Minnesota. Can you tell us more about that experience?
When I was growing up, we lived in a big farmhouse on a farm in Minnesota. My family raised about 52 foster children, and I also have five siblings. My mother took care of us children, and my father was a bricklayer who worked in the mines. Maybe I had the right background for country clubs because I had a strong work ethic and the ability to get along and learn about so many different personality types.
When I was a student in the hospitality school at the University of Wisconsin South, I took a 9-month internship at the Registry Resort in Naples, Florida. During my stay, they invited me to work in management sales and finish up my schooling in Florida. My night manager grabbed me and said, “Troy, don’t let them talk you into being a sales manager. You recognize hotel guests every time and call them by name when they walk in the door from a prior reference, or because they had met you as a member or a guest."
GK: Tell us about your background as a General Manager and how you found your Executive Chef, Anthony Giacoponello.
I was very fortunate to have worked at several high-end country clubs on Long Island. Long Island has always been well-known for its five-star food at these prestigious clubs. I worked at Seawane Country Club, Fresh Meadow Country Club, and Muttontown Golf and Country Club, which all prided themselves in their food service department.
Muttontown hired me because they were aware of my culinary and hospitality experience from Seawane and Fresh Meadow. When I first arrived at Muttontown, I was impressed that the previous three or four chefs were all extremely talented and had vast experience all over New York and around the world. The last chef at Muttontown also owned a five-star restaurant on Long Island. When we needed to hire sous chefs to work with him, they were also required to have a variety of experience working with chefs from around the world. It was also important that they be creative and open-minded, Anthony Giacoponello fitted that mold.
When Anthony came to see us, we had learned that he had unparalleled experience from restaurants like Restaurant Daniel, Alfred Portale’s Gotham, Le Cirque and many more renowned establishments. For us, it was a no-brainer, and it was an honor to give him the sous chef position. Our Executive Chef moved on to a different country club. We had received hundreds of resumes because the chef had been one of the most sought out chefs on Long Island at that time. We were all in agreement that Anthony was the best fit for the position. He had proven himself, had demonstrated extraordinary recipes, delightful presentation, and he was familiar with our culinary staff. Anthony had so much experience at such a young age, many people who read through his resume assumed he had to be forty or fifty years old. The only question was: How did he get to all these places?
Anthony had only been the Executive Chef for a few weeks, and the members were raving and were extremely excited for this new change. Anthony had, in my opinion, helped to bring the club to the next level. We already had fantastic service and food, and the members were extremely happy, but Anthony raised the bar. Being so young and motivated, Chef Anthony wanted to prove himself. He did just that, and then-some at Muttontown.
GK: What year did you start working at Sebonack?
I started on January 1, 2008, we didn’t have a clubhouse; we were still designing and laying out the kitchen. When things were near completion, we started with a couple of great chefs, but it just wasn’t the perfect match. When the opportunity came for us to hire a full-time Executive Chef, the first person I called was Anthony. He had already been out here a couple of times helping us with the layout and the design. Anthony was ecstatic at the idea of accepting the position at Sebonack. Anthony said, “It’s the dream club, I think it's amazing what you guys are doing out here, and I’d like to be a part of your team.” I set up a lunch meeting with the owner Michael Pascucci, and his sons, Christopher and Ralph to discuss Anthony’s resume and his background. Without even tasting his food, they felt that Anthony would be the perfect match for Sebonack.
GK: How did the members react to Anthony?
At Sebonack, we have a big window outside and an open kitchen inside, where the members walk by and say hello. We always wanted our kitchen staff to be a part of the family here, and Anthony has created a great camaraderie with the members here.
GK: There is a big difference between a club chef and a restaurant chef. Tell us your thoughts about that?
One thing that most people don’t understand is when you hire a restaurant chef; they are used to cooking the same menu items a few weeks in a row, quarterly or seasonally. In a golf club, like at Sebonack, we have a new dinner menu every single night that we open for dinner. We might have a couple of repeat items from time to time, but for the most part, the menu has to change. A country club chef has dinner menus on a regular basis, and at the same point, manage large events, such as weddings, golf outings, and other functions. I remember when one of the former chefs had created a very nice menu for a Friday night dinner at the club. We presented the menu to one of the members and he said “You know what? I just want scrambled eggs for dinner.” The chef was frustrated because he had created this phenomenal menu that evening. I had said to the chef, “We are a country club, and we do whatever it takes to please the member, without question.” So, the chef who was extremely displeased with my decision made scrambled eggs that evening, and when he served it to the member, the member not only loved his meal but was extremely pleased the chef accommodated his request. There are not a lot of restaurant chefs out there that are willing to bend. Anthony is flexible and understands the importance of pleasing the membership.
I highly recommend to other club managers, when hiring a chef, to not only seek out an individual who can perform his culinary duties but one who also has the personality and capability to interact with the members, they must also have a kind demeanor. When we are in peak golf season here, we work very long hours. It is crucial to have a friendly face that we can talk to, and someone who is approachable, especially when things can change almost instantaneously.
I can’t tell you how many times we have had a special menu planned; we were all set, totally prepped, and someone walked in and said, “You know what, I have these new guests that just showed up tonight, I want to change up the menu entirely. Can we do a different menu, can you come up with some new hors-d'oeuvres?” We need someone who can think outside the box, be flexible at a moment’s notice, and be willing to change their set agenda.
GK: What do you do when there’s a change, but you don’t have enough product?
Great question. There are many times when we are doing dinner and someone says “Troy, we would like some passing hors d’oeuvres tonight.” Instead of telling the member that we cannot accommodate them, I approach Anthony and ask him what he can do. Anthony is great at putting something together last minute. He will say “We have some steak here, we can slice it up, we’ll make some quick garlic bread, some steak tidbits and send that out, or we’ll take some lobster, and we’ll chop it up and put it on some crostinis and send it out like mini lobster bites.” Sometimes he’ll run downstairs and go into the fridge and he’ll come up with eight different ingredients in his arms. So, he’s extremely creative in that aspect.
GK: What do you think about the newest breed of chefs coming out of the many culinary schools, and what is your advice to them?
It’s a different world now. The students that apply to be sous chefs do not have the vast experience, that chefs like Anthony have. They are not traveling around the world to stage; they’re coming out of culinary school, and think they can walk in and demand a position without any experience. My advice to the new generation of young chefs is to get out there and walk the pavement, to spend time traveling and staging at the top restaurants and clubs. I encourage them to build up their culinary experience and to be open to learning. In doing so, they are more likely to succeed in their industry and to gain the respect as a true Chef.
GK: How do your members influence your menu?
We are a non-denominational club at Sebonack, so we have a great variety of members. Being an extremely affluent, high-end membership, our members have dined at the best restaurants in the world, and so they understand, appreciate, and expect fine meals. We have some members that come in once every three years, and when they come in, we want everything to be perfect. We always joke around about the cheeseburger here. It better be just right, because if you have that member who only dines here every three years, he does not want to walk away with an overcooked cheeseburger when he ordered it medium rare. If so, his negative experience will linger in his memory and leave a bad taste in his mouth. Whether it’s a corn muffin for breakfast or a steak for dinner, every single dish that leaves the kitchen at Sebonack must be approved by Chef Anthony. Anthony will not allow for any meal to be served until it’s perfect for our members and their guests.
GK: How does the Pascucci family work with Anthony and the culinary team here?
The nice thing is the Pascucci family makes it easy for us to do our job. They give us the best tools, all the resources, and everything that we need to succeed. At that point, it is up to the staff to provide the membership with a pleasing finished product, and something that all the members will enjoy.
GK: What is your role in the club?
I have a couple of different roles in the club – one for the members and one for the employees. The members look for a leader in the club, the one person who will always take care of their needs. The staff sees me as a role model on how to behave at the club and how to interact with our members. At the end of the day, am I responsible for everything? Do I need to know every single thing? Yes. It’s very important for my department heads to inform me of any issue whatsoever. I let the department heads do their jobs, but I’m involved in every single department. The chef will go over all the menus with me; we’ll talk about buying, we’ll go over the specials, we’ll talk about his staff on a daily basis, but I let him do his own job. By doing that, I think it benefits the whole club. The department heads are happier because they can do what they want. But, we still talk every day to figure out how we can make things better.
GK: Describe a day in the life of Sebonack.
A day in the life of Sebonack starts from the moment you pull into the gates. There’s a certain aura as you drive up to the clubhouse, and, from the moment you pull in, you have this special feeling that this is a magical place. We call it “The Sebonack Experience.” I’ve had so many members approach me and say, “Troy, I just left the city. I just flew in from La Guardia; I just did this; I did that. All of a sudden, I pull into the gates, and everything is just lifted.” That’s a great feeling. Our members love that Sebonack offers a warm, friendly, casual environment that is all reflected in the building, the golf course, and the staff. On top of that, we have members who are the friendliest people. This is my eighth country club now, and they are the nicest membership I have ever worked with, hands down. No question about it.
GK: Please tell us about the level of service you provide the members here.
We don’t say no. And that’s the bottom line. The request can be for a Learjet, for a doctor, a dentist – whatever it is, we’re going to do it. We’re going to take care of it. You know, anyone can say, “We try and meet all member expectations,” but we’re so beyond that. We have meetings with the staff constantly – the department heads, all the way down to the dishwasher – and the theme is always how we can make it better. Every time we have an event, we get together the next day to discuss what needs changing or improvement.
We have many, many letters from members and charitable organizations who tell us how outstanding our customer service is.
If you put it all together – the owners, the friendliest members, and the staff that we hire based on personality – how can you go wrong? To top it all off, the owners give us all the tools we need to do it right, and they insist that we only buy the best products at all times for our membership. It’s a pleasure to work here, and because it’s a pleasure to work here, honestly, we go out of our way to make our members happy.
GK: What sets Sebonack Golf Club apart?
Besides not saying no to anything that’s reasonable and does not interfere with another member, knowing our members is what sets us apart. We pride ourselves and focus on knowing who our members are. We study everything from what they drink, to whether they asked for extra pillows or wanted a special green tea. We have a philosophy here that says, “Eyes on the member,” and that’s what separates us from most clubs.
` by Diana DeLucia