Left: Jason Voiselle, Executive Chef at Naples National Golf Club. Right: Lobster Cone
When I met Jason Voiselle, it was just before the Covid-19 shutdown began in New York. I spent an incredible five days at the club learning about the impressive dining scene as well as the advanced wine program at the club. On Saturday night, I was to have dinner at the club with guests from Outlier Jets, and we were all blown away by the evening menu, wine program, and service. My guests had a hard break to leave at 8.30 PM. However, they were so impressed with the evening they stayed until 11 PM! ~ Diana DeLucia
GK: Where were you raised?
I grew up in a restaurant family. My grandfather owned restaurants and steak houses, and my family worked for him. When I was very young, I was already prepping and making hamburger patties. The kitchen was home to me. By the time I was 14, I had worked as a busser, then in the dish room. When there were no dishes, I’d help with prep work, and that is when I felt gravitated to cooking in a more significant way. During high school, I worked at a restaurant called The Trolley Station, where we made soups and sandwiches from scratch. It was in Venice, Florida, and it was trendy. The menu showcased familiar, comfort foods, but they were famous for their soups. When I graduated high school, I was the lead line cook, and I would continue to work there during the summer breaks in my college years at Florida State University (FSU).
GK: What were you studying?
I was initially working towards a pre-med major, but I soon discovered that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I took a year off to figure out what I desired to become. During this time, I worked during the day doing lawn care and the evenings at The Trolley Station.
When I returned to FSU, I took a job at the Ramada Hotel in Tallahassee. The hotel had a full-service restaurant, and it was a step up from what I had been doing at the Trolley Station. It wasn’t fine dining by any means, but I was learning a different business aspect.
For personal reasons, I left FSU during my Junior year, I moved to Brevard, North Carolina, as my dad was building a house. I helped him complete the home over the next two years.
After that, I took a job at Connestee Falls Country Club, and it was at this time that I decided that if this is what I am going to do, I need to take it full steam. I looked at several culinary schools such as Johnson and Wales and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), but I didn’t want to leave Asheville.
I started looking for a local school and found that Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (ABTECH) had a culinary program that was well regarded. I applied and started shortly after. Two years later, I graduated at the top of my class. One of the most memorable experiences at ABTECH was competing in the Junior American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions.
GK: Where did you do your internship?
They had excellent administrative staff at ABTECH, who encouraged us to find internships in places away from our hometown. I took my training at Bacchanalia, a highly regarded restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia; it was the first time they had an intern as no one had ever approached them before. I had a second internship at 1848 House, a restaurant in Marietta, Georgia, on Sundays. I was working six days a week, trying to soak in as much as possible from these two very different restaurants.
After I graduated in August of 2001, I moved back to Southwest Florida. I took a job at The Colony Golf and Bay Club in Bonita Springs. I only stayed for a short time as unforeseen circumstances took us back to North Carolina. I took a job at an Italian Restaurant Chianti’s to help the owner get the restaurant established as he wasn’t experienced in menu creation and things of that nature. My family had a five-year plan to open a restaurant, but a space became available near where I was living. It was a large area of an old furniture store. My parents and I pulled the trigger, and we did it, we signed a ten-year lease and built a restaurant. I was 27, and it took six months, and we opened in December of 2002, and it was named Jason’s Main Street Grill. I ran the restaurant for almost seven years and decided to sell it in 2008 as the recession was taking its toll. I moved back to Florida with my wife Corey in 2009, we have been married for 11 years, and I adore her.
I needed a break from the food industry, so I helped my father out with his business dealing in imported architectural stone. In 2012 we decided to move to Fort Myers. I had stayed in touch with my old boss Jim Iacovino over the years. I initially called him to see if he knew of any positions available in the area, and he hired me back at the Colony Golf and Country Club. I had a large gap from cooking, so I had planned to use this job to get my feet wet again. Three months later, he was promoted to the General Manager position, and I took over as the Executive Chef. It was the right timing. I stayed for six and a half years.
GK: Where did you land next?
I worked at several places for short periods, but I wasn’t content with them. In the fall of 2018, I was approached about a position at a place called The Club at The Dunes. The Dunes is a substantial resort-style community with seven condominium towers and a vast swimming pool.
They were building a brand new clubhouse when I arrived. We opened two modern kitchens in the 11 months I was there. It was a great job. We had the Tiki Bar, casual fare, and a fine dining restaurant in the main clubhouse. It was great having the two different styles of dining and kept us busy. I have over 100 cookbooks and am continually searching for new trends online, and having two different dining venues was an excellent way for me to bring new menu items. I feel I left them with a great dining program.
GK: How did you go from The Dunes to Naples National Golf Club?
I had spoken to Dan Ano, the Wine Director at Naples National over the years, but I had never actually met him. He called me one day out of the blue and asked me if I’d be interested in taking the Executive Chef role.
I went to interview with the General Manager Scott Garvin and Dan, I was thinking of the future, and having the ability to excel as a chef and also be able to spend quality time with my family. I took this position in 2019, and it has been an excellent fit for us.
GK: Tell us about your menu process at Naples National.
The menus at Naples National Golf Club are what we like to call a “living” menu. We make changes to it often, but nothing drastic. We observe what is in season as well as what the membership desires and try to build from there. I work closely with my sous chef Zac Schatzman to try to walk the line of comfort and cutting edge. Zac and I have worked together for the last seven years so we seem to share the same vision for what we are trying to achieve.
GK: How has Covid-19 affected the dining scene at the club?
We had to shut down our clubhouse in mid-March as well as all operations for about six weeks. In May, we opened our Tern snack bar for carry-out deli sandwiches and snack items as our golf course was still open throughout the season. Our facility closes for the season after Memorial Day every year though mid-October, so we have plenty of time to develop a plan for the following season.
GK: When the season opens, what plans do you have in place?
We will be following the restaurant guidelines set in place by our county. We will also be adjusting our events as needed, such as our buffets will be more chef operated action stations trying to minimize the potential for cross-contamination. It will be a learning process for sure.
The Naples National Clubhouse. Image by Evan Schiller.