Derin Moore, CMC, Executive Chef at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia, USA
Image right - Prime Beef Tartare
Reynolds Lake Oconee is one of the most stunning Golf Real Estate communities in the country, and to match the beauty of the community, they hired Derin Moore, Certified Master Chef (CMC), to upgrade the culinary elements from average to sensational. ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Where did you grow up, and who, and what influenced your interest in cooking?
I was born and raised in Southeast Michigan, but I spent the summers with my grandpa in Orchard Park, New York. That’s where the spark of cooking and fresh food began. I was very young and one of six children, four boys, and two girls. I was the middle child. I loved my grandpa. He used to pick me up right from school, and then I’d spend the entire summer with him.
We were a large family, and every Sunday, he would always have people over for dinner. He had a big house, a vast garden, and a lot of land. We would plant and pick his garden all summer long. Grandpa did a lot of canning, and he would make creamed corn and jellies out of the fruit trees. There were always activities outside of the kitchen; however, I’d still be up making homemade muffins before church. As I got older, we did a lot of harvesting and cooking together.
When I was in 10th grade, Grandpa took me on a trip across the New York State Thruway to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). He knew Joseph Amendola, a culinary mainstay at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. Amendola gave me a tour of the facilities, and I was mesmerized; he had such an extensive knowledge of his craft. He was known as the teacher who teaches the teachers. After a few days on the property, I was hooked.
GK: What year was that?
It was around 1982; at that time, the CIA was still relatively small. All the master chefs were there, including Ferdinand Metz, the President, Tim Ryan, and Mark Erickson. I had found myself in an ideal learning environment, and I was just 18. Many of the chefs in my class were older, and many were changing careers; they could all go out on the town, but because I was underaged, I just knuckled down and studied. It was a different school at that time, but it was an excellent education, and I made a lot of great contacts that I still have today. As time went by, I got on the United States Olympic Team while getting ready for my Master Chef exam. A lot of my instructors at that time became mentors and pushed me into the competition direction. I had graduated CIA by the time I was 20. After that, I returned to Michigan.
GK: What did you do next?
The Detroit area was bustling with higher-end cuisine and the integrity of good food and good cooking. There were many certified master chefs in Michigan, and I was able to easily find work in fine dining restaurants, where some of the best chefs could mentor me. These restaurants (The Bijou, The Pike Street Restaurant, and The Golden Mushroom) were all servicing celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, mainstay executives from the big three automotive companies, and sports teams. You don’t think of Detroit as a restaurant town anymore, but there are many great clubs there. They’re trying to come back, but there was a lot more support with the big three being so successful, and the auto industry thrived. I was in the right place at the right time, and I learned from some of the best chefs in the area for 12 years. I worked with Brian Polcyn, who wrote three books with Michael Ruhlman about charcuterie. Milos Cihelka, who was like the godfather of sorts for most of the successful chefs in Michigan, mentored Brian Polcyn, who in return mentored me for eight years at Pike Street. My gosh, I got the benefit from those relationships in the Detroit area.
GK: Tell us about the ACF and US Olympic team competitions.
I had an opportunity to enter culinary competitions hosted by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). I competed in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Everybody was competing in cold food competitions, and you’d get critiqued by Ferdinand Metz, Tim Ryan, and Mark Erickson. That was a precious experience, and it was fun to win gold medals. After that, I was invited to try out to compete on the US Olympic team. Keith Keough was the team manager and the ACF President. I traveled and competed from 1996-2000 on the National team. I was blessed to have traveled to Scotland, Switzerland, and Germany twice. The practices were at Disney.
GK: Where were you working during your US Olympic team years?
I was at The Golden Mushroom and Charlotte Country Club with General Manager Damon DiOrio. When I left the team, I went to Dunwoody Country Club in Georgia to work with John Knobbe, the General Manager. I was only off the Olympic team for a short while before I got my Certified Master Chef (CMC) accreditation in February of 2003.
I wasn’t looking to leave Dunwoody Country Club when I received a call from Medinah Country Club in Schaumburg, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. I interviewed with Michael Wheeler, who was the General Manager. I stayed five years, it was a great club with a considerable reputation and fabulous members, but it was so cold in the winters and snowed way too much! I was not looking for a new position when I got a phone call from Lawrence McFadden, who at one time was the corporate chef for The Ritz-Carlton and transitioned to the Food & Beverage Director at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
Lawrence called me and said, “Hey, listen, you are familiar with five stars, five-diamond, and we’d love for you to come to talk to us about this job.” I said, “Lawrence, I’m running an operation with four food outlets and 45 culinarians, and you’re asking me to come to one with 20 outlets and 170 culinarians?” Regardless, I took the role.
GK: How did you land at Reynolds Lake Oconee?
It was 2012, and my wife and I got tired of moving around. It was fun during our twenties and thirties, but you know, we had three young kids who were starting to get older and had never grown roots anywhere. I was in and out in four or five years at several jobs because attractive offers at prestigious places kept presenting themselves. We’re bringing our kids along, but we realized that they hadn’t had a chance to develop friends and relationships. We decided to pick a part of the country, and then I’ll focus on finding a job there. We liked the Georgia area from when we lived here when I was at Dunwoody Country Club. We moved back to the area, and then the opportunity came up at Reynolds Lake Oconee. The kids were starting college, so it was good timing to make one more move.
In our business as chefs, you don’t get to sit in the big jobs and the rewarding careers unless you’ve gained that experience. You can’t manage larger kitchens and multi-facet operations without an extensive background.
Reynolds offers a multitude of opportunities and is in a great location. You’re in the mountains in two hours, and you’re down on the beach in four hours. We are right in the middle of everything and can easily get to anywhere in the world from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport just down the road. When I got here, we had several clubhouses, but they were all very similar traditional menus. When you look at how the property is laid out, there was no reason for members to navigate to one of the other clubhouses; they just stayed with the clubhouse nearest to their home. That was one thing that I noticed when I started in July of 2015 here at Reynolds. When I assessed the membership needs, I wanted to define themes in restaurants with distinctly different menus and styles of dining. Doing this offers our members a unique dining experience from each of the restaurants across Reynolds. I also wanted to implement seasonal changes. We do three full property menu changes a year for all the restaurants, snack bars, and cafes. Fast forward five years, the members will ask us, “when are we getting another menu change?” We’ve gone through that whole cycle where the membership looks forward to it and expects it.
We opened The National Tavern, a hybrid of one of the restaurants I did in Naples called Bites. It was a tapas-sharing, casual concept that we created for the lobby. We put this concept together pretty quickly, from the menus to the china. This concept has become very popular at The Tavern, and pre-Covid, we were five deep at the bar and bustling every night.
GK: Are you busy when the Masters comes to Augusta National?
April is the start of the season, and the Masters takes place just about an hour down the road at Augusta National. Folks come to stay here and go down to the tournaments daily. Every house and room is booked.
GK: Tell us about the restoration that Jack Nicklaus recently did at Great Waters.
Jack Nicklaus oversaw a total restoration of the Great Waters course, which reopened in the fall of 2019. At Great Waters, we have The Overlook Restaurant and the Waterview Pub with a bar, indoor and outdoor seating, and a full kitchen. Both offer great views of the lake, and I like to keep the pub golfer friendly with casual pub fare.
It took me a little while to determine what menu items appealed to our members when I started. Most of our members travel and eat in high-end fine dining restaurants, so I had to balance that level of expectation and find menus that appeal to our members every day. In the end, it’s their club, and my job is to keep them happy by offering a selection of menus to give them different experiences to enjoy.
GK: What do your peers say when they visit you at Reynolds?
When I have colleagues come in, they say, “Man, you have everything from chicken fingers all the way up to luxury fine dining menus?” My reply, “I now have ten different dining locations to make that happen!”
GK: Tell us a little about Chef Zouhair Bellout at The Creek Club at Reynolds?
I enjoy working with him, all I have to do is poke him a couple of times, and then he wants to brainstorm. We come up with items that sell, what doesn’t sell, what’s working, and what’s not working. Many of our chefs are from different cultures or have traveled to many countries, so we can bring those influences to create our menus here. It is gratifying. Chef Zouhair is from Morocco, so once a month, we run a traditional tagine special for the members, which is going very well. Zouhair loves to go to the markets on his day off. He brings back the most incredible produce locally and worldwide to integrate into his specials.
GK: What are your plans at Reynolds Lake Oconee in the next few years?
We’re opening up new areas of development, and we’re continuing to see a great demographic mix of people move to the lake with a trend of younger buyers, especially with expanding work-from-home opportunities. We have a great variety of community members from different backgrounds and ages, which gives us so much freedom to create menus and events for all age ranges—from the grandparents, grandkids, young families, celebrities, and professionals.
GK: What new and current events do you have in 2021? Are you excited, and why?
Events, for the most part, are still on hold for 2021 due to Covid. One program that we have started over the last few months has become very popular for members is our meal kits. Every 2-3 weeks, I’ll offer a meal kit for two and shoot a video on preparing the meal. The kits include all ingredients portioned out for the meal, and I demonstrate how to prepare the meal from start to finish, including a select wine pairing from one of our sommeliers.
The 16th green at Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia, USA.
Image by Evan Schiller, courtesy Reynolds Lake Oconee